A Joyful Social Enterprise: A Q&A With Sarah Adeel of LettuceBee Kids

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LettuceBee Kids

LettuceBee Kids logoWith a focus on helping street children in Pakistan, the cheerful yellow-and-black busy bees at LettuceBee Kids aim to enable kids on and off the street to reach their full potential by providing psychological, emotional, material and social support. The goal is to be a self-sustaining, self-sufficient place of safety and comfort, one that supports growth, sociability, self-actualization and life-long skills to ensure a better future.

The Islamabad-based “joyful social enterprise” was founded by Sarah Adeel, a Fulbright scholar and architect who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Born in Murree in the Punjab province, she has returned to her home country to dedicate her career to exploring family and community structures, understanding how a prosperous social structure takes physical form through design, and to using that knowledge to help integrate street children into society.

LettuceBee Kids design stationery Beatles

LBK operates on principles that not only provide social inclusion and self-actualization for underprivileged kids, but also generate revenue to help LBK be self-sufficient through programs such as:

LettuceBee KidsLettuceBee Musicians: Local musicians and a radio channel help teach LBK’s kids how to play different musical instruments, stressing the importance of music because “The more you play, the more you play.”

LettuceBee Farmers: LBK’s garden serves as a farmer’s market for kids to harvest and sell produce, connecting with nature because “The more you grow the more you grow.”

LettuceBee Literate: LettuceBee reintegrates street children into society through education, preparing them to take and excel in exams so they can be placed in local schools and assisted with their educational needs.

LettuceBee Artists: The kids’ arts and crafts (such as stationery with illustrations inspired by Beatles songs) are presented in art exhibitions and sold in the LettuceBee store, based on the philosophy that “The more you draw, the more you draw.”

LettuceBee Yours: The kids can “adopt a grandparent” (senior citizen volunteer) in order to foster ties with the community and social inclusion. Old and young are brought together to play games, share a meal, tell stories or other activities, helping seniors feel relevant and kids feel a greater sense of belonging.

Sarah Adeel - LettuceBee Kidsbrandchannel spoke to Adeel (at right) as part of our series of Q&As with featured speakers at the upcoming IIR Foresights & Trends 2015 conference on Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Los Angeles. More than art therapy, the LettuceBee Kids founder is bringing her RISD-honed design thinking to the challenge of helping Pakistan’s street kids create a sustainable, enriching life off the street.

As she explains, LBK’s goal for the kids (she also cofounded a “design lab” and co-op, Sammaan, to give opportunities to their mothers and other women) is to foster mutually beneficial and long-lasting collaborations through design thinking between the social and corporate sector to create a community-centric, sustainable and scalable system for the education, betterment and wellbeing of Pakistan’s street kids.

LettuceBee Kids

brandchannel: Sarah, the genesis of LettuceBee Kids was your Masters thesis project at Rhode Island School of Design. Can you tell us a little more about how you arrived at the idea and how you got started?

Sarah Adeel: It’s goes back to the idea of “Building Ties, Buildings Tie” and the concept of a physical home, the unit of family, interconnectedness and interdependence. It compelled me to investigate how architecture is necessarily involved in influencing human behavior. I was specifically interested in studying the perception of home, and whether buildings can help us build ties.

It led me to explore the impact of built environment on children raised without a home. The reality was worse than I imagined, and it steered me to find a solution for one of the most neglected problems—children raised on the streets.

LettuceBee Kids

brandchannel: What is the extent of the street kids crisis worldwide and what was your proposed solution in the country you chose to focus your work—Pakistan?

Sarah Adeel: According to UN, there are up to 150 million street children in the world today. Although there have been many attempts to come up with solutions, most of them fall short on two very important fronts:

1. Complete reliance on donors, funding and philanthropy.
2. Lack of social inclusion. There is no long-term plan to integrate them into society and to cater to the psychological, emotional and intellectual growth. It is of little wonder, why most children from orphanages and foster-care, end up in prisons or are usually on the fringes of society.

Hence, sustainability and inclusion became the cornerstones of the LettuceBee Kids philosophy. It led me to explore family and community structures, examining how a prosperous social structure takes physical form through design. Two years later, LettuceBee Kids was born.

LettuceBee Kids farm garden deli

brandchannel: Many philanthropic organizations work to help underprivileged children through donations of money, time and resources. How is your model, and the impact it generates, different?

Sarah Adeel: Our mantra is “Dignity not Charity.” The research on underprivileged children presented two basic pain points prevalent in most philanthropic organizations: lack of sustainability and lack of social inclusion. LettuceBee Kids was created to initiate a viable and self-sustainable business solution. We wanted to create a system that not only offers a better self-image to children but also generates a self-sufficient eco-system.

LettuceBee Kids literacy

LBK’s model takes the children through a five-pronged program; digital literacy [including a recent literacy project], arts, music, farming and social inclusion. It not only provides acceptance and self-actualization to the children but also generates internal revenues for the LBK ecosystem to be sustainable. With the help of our in-house designers, the artwork of the children is incorporated into a brand of stationery products and textiles or a line of children’s bedroom furnishings.

Typically, adult designers or illustrators create children’s products, and “children drawing for children” is a completely new and untapped phenomenon. Reversing the roles, with street children being the artists and the beneficiaries, adds value on the marketing and empathy front.

Most children raised in the developed world are not aware of the perils of developing countries and basic human problems. Raising awareness and establishing ties through heartfelt products can be a great way to instill thoughtfulness in them.

LettuceBee Kids - street kids - Pakistan

brandchannel: The idea of “establishing ties” is at the heart of LettuceBeeKids. Can you tell us what that means to you and why you think it’s important?

Sarah Adeel: When I was a little girl, my father used to read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to me. Though it took me many years to really understand the book, it has impacted my life and became a part of the foundation of LettuceBee Kids. The author talks about the importance of attachments to others and how being human entails ties or connection with other human beings. Through connection, emerges trust. Our life revolves around these two words, ties and trust!

Human beings have an innate longing for belonging, as that makes us feel that we matter. We were created for significance. One of the most dangerous things that can happen to us as an individual, as an organization or as a society is the feeling that we don’t matter. That is when we experience social pain and the feeling that “I don’t matter.” I work closely with many little people who feel that everyday, and this needs to change.

The products we create will become those connections between privileged and underprivileged children. They will act as instruments to promote awareness, empathy and gratefulness and will help us raise a more connected generation.
LettuceBee Kids farmer's market

brandchannel: How do you think the social and corporate sectors can best work together to drive social innovation and create positive impact?

Sarah Adeel: There is no single accepted definition of corporate social responsibility, which leads to ample confusion about what constitutes CSR activity. The big challenge is how to develop a new approach that can truly deliver a win-win situation for both corporate donors and the social sector, instead of one-time fixes/donations.

LettuceBee Kids is building long-term business partnerships and alliances with children furnishing companies good quality, finished/themed LBK stationery and textiles solutions. It will create a new line of business, augment companies’ CSR efforts in a new light and inspire people to buy the product so that it ensures sustainable social impact as well as evoking empathy for children in their own lives.

LettuceBee Kids - IKEA USA

Market research indicates that our products have an edge over their competition because they are unique handcrafted designs with artistic appeal and resonating themes of life, which is what garnered an 87 percent positive response from IKEA (USA) customers we surveyed. They will be retailed at the lowest market price and with social/corporate partnerships with the existing children outlets. This So[c]orp or corporate social partnership has the potential to change the landscape of CSR and introduce a new realm of long-term mutually beneficial collaborations.

Below, more on the inspiration for LettuceBee Kids:


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