GCSEN SPOTLIGHT ON SOCIAL VENTURE RESEARCH INSTITUTE 2020 FELLOW: flourFLOWER’S CAROLINA FERNANDEZ

 

flourFLOWER Owner, GCSEN SVRI 2020 Fellow Carolina Fernandez

Carolina Fernandez (pron. Caroleena) has led a busy, productive life. Successful in a variety of business sectors and in many socially oriented projects, her driving force is to enthusiastically help others, bringing joy and prosperity into the world. A true social entrepreneur!

Ms. Fernandez (call me Carolina, please!) started out with a career in pre-med, completed her Bachelor’s degree in religion at Wake Forest University, and then moved into the business world with an MBA from the University of Kentucky. Between then and now, she has earned success as a financial consultant and investment portfolio manager; she is the best-selling author of the parenting book Rocket Mom! 7 Strategies to Blast You into Brilliance, and bestseller Country French Kitchens; and is the entrepreneur-founder of Carolina Fernandez Creative, her own company reflecting her commercial pursuits in painting, collage, handmade soaps, candles and more. She’s also founded a boutique publishing company, Decorativa Press, and has created lines of stylish women’s clothing for sale via e-commerce. Carolina’s voluminous resume states that she is a “Mission-driven author, visual artist, financial and art advocate, building platforms for financial and art literacy, as well as advocacy for disenfranchised women.” That’s not even the half of it. Have we mentioned Rwanda yet?

In January 2020, Carolina was invited to be a Fellow at GCSEN’s Social Venture Research Institute’s (SVRI) Bootcamp at Wheaton College, Norton MA. Wheaton’s Social Entrepreneurship program is funded by the visionary Diana Davis Spencer Foundation of Bethesda MD. SVRI is an innovative GCSEN program for faculty, administrators, non-profit and business leaders dedicated to Social Entrepreneurship education and empowerment. An intensive “prac-acdemic” three-day Fellowship experience, SVRI brings together practitioners seeking to create prosperity while mitigating entrenched social problems, fostering “4P” Social Entrepreneurship for People, Profit, Planet and Place.  GCSEN, through its SVRI, works closely with college campus partners Wheaton College MA, SUNY New Paltz, Saint Peters University NJ, Vassar College, Rutgers University and the IgnitED system of Jesuit Business Schools on co-curriculum development, research projects, the publication of white papers, and thought leadership conferences. SVRI’s goal is to enable fellows and enrollees to be prepared and inspired to train the next generation of Social Entrepreneurs across the globe. Participants have access to GCSEN’s Business Formulation Toolkit and on-line courses, earning an SVRI Certification upon Bootcamp completion, and gaining access to GCSEN’s life-long online support community.

Anticipating a lecturing opportunity in higher education this coming Fall semester, Carolina jumped at the chance of attending the SVRI Bootcamp, to gain insights into the mindset of the budding social entrepreneurs she’d meet in her college classes. She said, “SVRI gave me context as to what the expectations of college students taking a social entrepreneurship class might be. It made me acutely aware of how that generation perceives social media and how that might translate into social consciousness and activism. SVRI worked really well for me, reviewing entrepreneurship best-practices, introducing me to a wider network of thought leaders and especially introducing me to GCSEN’s Mike Caslin, who is a great teacher and academician, and now a friend.”

Carolina’s journey to SVRI, and to Rwanda, began in 2012 when she met Dennis Hanno, then Dean of Students at Babson College, Wellesley MA., and now President of Wheaton College. Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship was planning a trip to Rwanda, which Carolina fully funded for twelve students. She then decided to visit Rwanda herself. Having never travelled to Africa, Carolina had no idea what to expect but was delighted by the people of Rwanda. She admits to being astonished at the level of poverty, noting that the country has overcome many of the miseries of the genocide there (1994-1995), but compared to many places in the developing world, it has a fairly well functioning government, and agricultural and business sectors.

 flourFLOWER’s Hand Made, Recycled Soft Canvas Tote Bags

Three hours’ drive outside of Kigali, the capital, Carolina encountered a compound run by the Benebikira Sisters of Rwanda, a Roman Catholic Jesuit religious order of women founded in Rwanda in the early 1900s. According to their website, “Our charisma is to evangelize by example. We do this by our diverse works of service, carried out with joy and love. Our mission is education, and care of the sick and the poor, especially women and children.”  There, Carolina learned of the joblessness and hunger of the many men, women and children that years before had crowded the gates of the Sisters’ compound, looking for food.


  RWANDA, POPULATION 12,700,000

One of the grad students on the trip put together a draft business plan, with the vision to create a bakery with the Sisters to feed the hungry families living near the compound. Carolina, a person of faith who tithes her income toward religious work, made a generous contribution to the Benebikira Sisters to initiate the bakery project. Since that time, overcoming many obstacles, Carolina and her husband have contributed to the building of two mass-production bakeries that have modern baking equipment and kitchens, two rural outpost retail bakery shops, and food distribution vehicles for use in and near Kigali. The entire operation is run by the Benebikira Sisters, who employ dozens of previously unemployed women in good working conditions. Incredibly, the bakeries feed 39,000 people, including 5000 children, every week with fresh, locally produced bread. That’s two million servings of bread annually!

Realizing that the bakery project is a large and distant undertaking that must become economically self-sustainable, Carolina has now created a Social Venture in Rwanda called flourFLOWER. During a visit to Rwanda in 2018, Carolina had an epiphany. “I saw that the flour sacks used in the bakery were being tossed out. Being a textile artist, I recognized that the quality of the canvas sacks was quite high. I thought: what if we recycled the discarded flour sacks and retrofit them into something beautiful that we could sell. Then we could buy more flour, feed more people and ultimately build more bakeries, feeding and employing more people! I then met with some Rwandan friends and asked them to start making re-fabricated bags out of the canvas sacks. Over time, I started-up flourFLOWER, producing a variety of lines of soft canvas tote, cosmetic and carry bags made of African fabric. The recycled flour sacks are all stitched by Rwandan women, lined in African fabric and fitted with leather handles. The money made from their sale over the internet goes directly back into the bakery project.”

flourFLOWER’s Handcrafted African Beadwork Jewelry

On April 1, 2020, Carolina formally launched www.shopflourflower.com, the virtual sales arm of her Social Enterprise. The site now includes a unique line of handmade artisanal jewelry made of African beads, seeds, and glass, as well as selected recycled materials. The women she’s hired are natural craftswomen, just needing work. Carolina says, “flourFLOWER exists to build bakeries in Rwanda, to feed and give work to those facing fragile food supply and economic instability. We believe that creating things of beauty produces joy for both maker and receiver and elevates the human experience. Our line of artisanal products has been designed for that end.” With that end in mind, Carolina continues to look for opportunities to educate, employ, and feed the vibrant and industrious women of Rwanda, while ensuring the sustainability of the bakeries, feeding millions.

To further assist the Benebikira Sisters of Rwanda see: http://benebikira.net/
Tax-deductible donations may be sent to Benebikira Fund, Paraclete, 207 E Street. South Boston, MA 02127, Email: paraclete@paraclete.org.

To contact Carolina Fernandez, email: carolina@shopflourFLOWER.com