This is a guest post from Tamra Ryan, the CEO of Women’s Bean Project and the author of The Third Law.
Women’s Bean Project is a place where chronically unemployed and impoverished women come for a second chance in life. Most of the women who arrive at the Bean Project have never held a job longer than a year. They are convicted felons, recovering addicts, victims of domestic violence. Many were teenage mothers and high school drop outs. They come to the Bean Project for a chance to create new lives out of the rubble theirs have become.
Founded in 1989, Women’s bean Project is an anomaly in the business world. It is a business, one that packages and sells bean soup mixes and other dry food products to stores across the US and online. But tucked inside this business is a human services organization designed to provide a safe and accepting work environment where impoverished women can learn the skills required for gainful employment. Over a period of six to nine months women work for the Bean Project and learn the basic life skills and job readiness skills needed to get and succeed in a career entry-level job.
That we train women to become great workers only so they can leave us and become great workers for other employers is remarkable and challenging. That the women transform their lives in just nine months is inspiring and incredible to witness.
Initially I was attracted to Women’s Bean Project because I thought the business was intriguing. The notion that the better the business performed, the more women could be helped enhanced my interest. I couldn’t have been more naïve. I didn’t realize the human challenges involved in running a business whose employees are the neediest among us. I hadn’t thought about why our employees might not have held a job longer than a year.
As someone who grew up with a lot of opportunity, I thought anything was possible in America. I believed that if we worked hard, society worked with us to help us succeed. It was easy for me to think this way because I had never met felons or addicts or welfare recipients. While I believed that life is the manifestation of our choices, conveniently all of my choices were condoned by my community.
Over time I have learned that the circumstance faced by our employees are not merely because they have chosen incorrectly, but because they had not role models for employment, no one pushing them to stay in school, no one discouraging them from getting pregnant as teens. They are disenfranchised from the community in every sense.
I have also learned about the resiliency of the human spirit. I have met countless women at the Bean Project who have faced seemingly insurmountable odds of fear and shame and lack of self-worth. And yet, they have come to Women’s Bean Project and reinvented themselves as great employees and mothers and community members. They’ve made me realize that with the right opportunity, any woman can learn the skills to earn her future.
About Tamra Ryan:
Tamra Ryan is the CEO of Women’s Bean Project and is the author of The Third Law, a book which highlights the societal obstacles and internal demons that must be overcome for these marginalized women to change their lives.