Austin resident and UT grad Oliver Shuttlesworth had just returned home from a series of trips to Central America, but he couldn’t shake the stories he heard from people in the region.
“As I visited with the families I was working with, I heard a recurring theme: the desire for their children to receive an education and to create a better future than they enjoyed themselves,” Shuttlesworth says.
In many developing countries, access to education can cost as little as $15 dollars a year, roughly the same as two or three Starbucks lattes. Shuttlesworth says he wanted to start a company could help those children get one step closer to their parents’ dream.
That’s how ESPEROS was born.
The company sells tote bags and backpacks and donates 50 percent of its profits to fund a year of education for a child in a developing country. For every bag sold, that's about $14 to $25. The products are made of canvas and the company says it prides itself on ensuring the bags are produced ethically by people who are paid a living wage.
Right now, ESPEROS focuses on children in Haiti and Guatemala, but has plans to expand to Asia, Africa and South America.
ESPEROS doesn’t send the money directly to families, but partners with non-profits on the ground in those countries, including Fonkoze, Pencils of Promise and Happy Hearts Fund. Shuttlesworth says depending on the country the money can go toward tuition, uniforms, school supplies, books and transportation.
“When we offset the cost of education for children, we're taking that burden off of their parents and allowing them to pour the money they're saving into their own families, businesses, and communities,” Shuttlesworth says.
The company also works with artisans and manufacturers in those developing countries to make their products. According to the company’s website, most of the products are made in Mexico. Shuttlesworth says he also worked with a small tannery in Port Au Prince, Haiti for the first version of tote bags, "which created a ripple effect in the community by supplying income to cattle owners, tanners, technicians, and distributors,” he says.
In recent years, companies that sell products to raise money or donate items to people in developing countries have become increasingly popular. Many companies, like TOMS Shoes or Warby Parker, use the ‘Buy One, Give One' Model. For every item you purchase, the company donates that item to a child in need. Those models have come under criticism for impeding local economies and creating a dependence on aid, rather than developing local commerce in those regions.
Instead, ESPEROS donates the money so those partners and parents and families can choose what they want to use the money for.
"It would have been all too easy from a marketing standpoint to create a buy-one-give-one backpack company – but the simple fact of the matter is that it's not sustainable, it's not practical, and it's not useful,” he argues. “I, for one, know that I have not ever seen a child in the developing world walking to school with a backpack. Perhaps that's because they have enough difficulty finding books to carry at all.”