On the surface, NEEV may only appear to be a luxurious home furnishings company that creates and offers everything from elegant table linens to stylish scarves for consumers to purchase. If you look a little closer however, you’ll notice that these materials are also eco-friendly, fair trade, and handcrafted. Founder Ruksana Azhu Valappil, PhD has partnered with Indian artisan-owned cooperatives to ensure that artisans are able to keep their handloom weaving artistry traditions alive while still being paid livable wages and the guarantee of a steady job — which provide opportunities for women artisans and help empower them. Read on to find out more about Ruksana and her San Jose, CA-based B Corp.
How I started NEEV: “NEEV, which means ‘foundation’ in Hindi, is a social enterprise and lifestyle brand aimed at empowering women in underserved communities around the world. We implement our mission in two ways. First, we strive to achieve equality through our supply chain. We partner exclusively with majority women-owned artisan cooperatives that ensures they earn a livable wage. Second, we give back a majority of our profits to charitable organizations who are aligned with our mission of empowering women; thus, creating opportunities for economic advancement for under-served groups.
I am a strong proponent for equal opportunities for all and passionate about empowering women. Therefore, it was only natural for me to start NEEV as a social enterprise working towards gender equality and bringing opportunities for advancement for women everywhere. As a scientist (and human being), I am troubled by the mind-numbing statistics on poverty, about 2 billion individuals living under $2.5/day globally. Of the poor, six out of 10 are women. So, I decided to start with the rapidly declining status of the handloom artisans in my native country, India. Working with the women artisans, we are ensuring that NEEV’s entire supply chain is ethical and eco-friendly and provides livable wages and steady jobs to artisans while keeping the exquisite handloom weaving artistry and traditions alive.”
What it’s really like to be a Certified B Corporation: “I founded NEEV in 2013 as one of the first 50 California Benefit Corporations; defining our purpose and ensuring legally binding transparency and accountability. Another proud moment came a year later when NEEV became a Certified B Corp. It seems like a natural way to validate our commitment to social and environmental justice. Besides, the B Corp assessment is a great way of measuring our impact. In the Bay Area, we are also very fortunate to have a number of fellow B Corps. The monthly meetings, the yearly gathering of all local B Corps and the ongoing camaraderie between us is absolutely great. Just recently we have also started a B Corp Women CEO group that is fabulous and taking concrete steps to act on our shared vision for a better world.”
It’s an honor to be considered “Best For The World” by B The Change: “I consider each small step a success, from seeing the smiles on the artisans to receiving wonderful emails from customers. However, I would have to say being in the B Corp Best for the World lists of those making the greatest positive impact is a super great feeing! Only the top 10% of all Certified B Corporations in the rigorous and comprehensive B Impact Assessment make it to the list. NEEV is honored to be on the Best for the World 2017 and 2018 lists. We are also proud and honored to be among the honorees in several categories – Best for the World: Overall, Best for Community, Best for Long Term and Best for the World: Changemakers in 2017 and Best for the World: Overall, Best for the World Community and Best for the World Governance in 2018.”
How NEEV is able to “B The Change” with women: “NEEV exists to empower more women. Each day we are in business means there is an artisan earning a living, a customer who enjoys fine ethical and sustainable goods, someone who gets a chance to better their lives with our charitable giving. Being the change is one step taken to a more equitable world and to lead a fulfilling life. ”
If you want to become a B Corp… “First, know why you want to be a B Corp. Is a triple bottom line part of your mission? Second, understand the key difference between the two terms that are often used interchangeably, B Corp and Benefit Corporation. A mission driven for-profit can be either a Benefit Corporation and a B Corp or both. The former is a type of legal structure (such as a C Corp, LLC, etc.) while the latter is a certification (such as LEED, Fair Trade). Both provide accountability and transparency to a business. Third, once you decide to go the B Corp route, prepare to take the B Impact Assessment. Don’t be intimidated by the questions, they are a great way for one to understand the businesses’ triple bottom line and brings great clarity to the mission. Fourth, adopt early. The path to becoming a B Corp is simpler when one is just starting out. The B Corp community is an inclusive, helpful and connected community. Plus it gives you visibility. Go for it!”
How B Corps are changing the globe: “There is no better time to be a B Corp than right now. From about a 1,000 B Corps in 2014 when NEEV certified, the movement has grown to 2,500+ to date and expanding globally. More and more individuals are choosing mindfully what and how they consume, and businesses and governments are taking note. This makes for a better world and B Corps are leading the way. B Corps are not only ethical and transparent, Being the Change is also proving to be better for business. From where I stand, this movement is continuing to grow and is at this point here to stay.”
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About Dr. Ruksana Azhu Valappil, PhD, Founder, NEEV
Ruksana is a social entrepreneur and a former clinical research neuroscientist. A strong proponent of equal opportunities for all and a passionate advocate for empowering women, she exited her 12-year career as a Parkinson’s disease researcher and founded NEEV, a social enterprise bringing economic opportunities to underserved communities of women and girls. A firm believer in integrating business with social responsibility, she runs NEEV, a B Corp, as a sustainable, eco-friendly and ethical entity that provides steady jobs and benefits to women-owned artisan cooperatives while supporting smaller non-profits aligned with their mission with 50% of its profits. Ruksana is the Membership Chair of the Board of Thursday Morning Dialogue and has taken the Founders Pledge. She is a mom, cook and gardener who enjoys spending time with books and walking with her dog. Dr. Azhu Valappil earned her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers University and holds a B.Tech in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Calicut University, India.