Enactus Ryerson values making a difference in people’s lives and aims to help others through entrepreneurship. We discovered Kind Karma through Ryerson’s Social Ventures Zone and saw how their values aligned with ours, so we decided to learn more about what they do.
We reached out to Laurinda Lee, the founder of Kind Karma to find out more about her, and her company that she established only one year ago to “counter negativity with hope and kindness.”
What is Kind Karma?
“Kind Karma is a social enterprise and we employ Toronto at-risk and transitioning homeless youth to handmake quality jewellery. We provide all of the tools [and] all of the training. In addition to getting paid an hourly wage, all of our youth get proceeds to support their goals, so all of our employees identify a goal; whether it’s to continue education – some courses for personal development or housing, and then we support [them] that way by giving them proceeds from [our] sales.”
How did the name Kind Karma come about?
“It’s always hard when you name your business. I feel like that’s something that has to identify you, and you always second guess yourself. I really like the idea of ‘what goes around comes around,’ so that whole karma cycle that if you exude positivity, kindness is going to come back to you. I think that’s the same thing in terms of society, if we help the people – the next generation, then they can continue to make society a better place. I mean, if we let them be, and follow a negative path, then that’s not going to do anybody any good; then you just continue a cycle of poverty and negativity. That’s where karma comes in, I think it’s that whole cycle of action. When it came to one thing that society needed more of, it was just kindness. I think kindness cures so many things. We don’t necessarily have to understand everybody’s differences or their opinions, and of course we want to educate ourselves, but even if we don’t understand, if we just be kind to what people are going through or what they believe in, and not judge them and not be rude or disrespectful. I think that in itself, goes a long way. That’s kind of where I came up with the name.”
How did this start-up first come together/what inspired you?
“I was always inspired to be an entrepreneur. I remember when I was working full time, I’d go in and tell a coworker every week a different business idea. But, when it actually came down to it, I had to think about what was most important to me. Everybody has different things that drive them – some people are money driven, some people want to create a huge global enterprise, and for me, it was most important that I did something that gave back and had a positive impact. That’s where Kind Karma was born; when I originally had an idea about giving back. I combined my passion for jewellery making, [something] I had always done as a hobby. At first, I wanted to help minors in Peru or something, maybe it was because it was where I wanted to go and visit, but that was not logistically easy, so it made me rethink what I was doing. When I looked outside, I just saw all these people that needed help, and I felt like I could help them in a different way than what was already out there – by offering more of an art therapy-based employment model. That’s how Kind Karma was born.”
What has been or is your biggest challenge?
“I think my biggest challenge, on a personal level, was to balance all aspects of the business and manage it properly because when you start your own business, you drive every single aspect of it: the marketing, sales distribution, [and] customers; all of [those elements]. I think for me, it’s trying to put everything into a priority list and not feel like everything has to get done today or yesterday because that can create a lot of pressure. For me, that’s one of my biggest challenges – is to just take it one step at a time, and not feel like I have to get everything done at once.”
What are some goals you are trying to achieve with this start-up?
“I would love to see it grow. In terms of our long-term vision, I would love to have a Kind Karma office in every major city in Canada because I think youth tend to fall more into the cracks in big cities because there’s such a large population, and you’re just one of millions; I’d love to see Kind Karma grow that way. I would also love to see our youth progress in different departments. Whenever we bring on a youth, they might be a jewellery artisan, but they might have a passion for marketing or sales. We want to develop those skills, and I hope eventually as our company grows, we can have a completely vertically integrated company that’s run by street youth, and your VP of Marketing could have been somebody who started out making jewellery; I think that’s so cool. Another goal is that I would love to see [us] partner with different artisans, so it’s not just jewellery. [Perhaps] we can create clothing or different accessories and things like that, so youths have more of a variety in terms of the skills they learn, and if they are more fashion-focused or they like sewing instead of jewellery making – we have those options as well. Hopefully that can be something we can do!”
What are some opportunities the youth have been able to pursue/achieve from this project?
“We’re only a year old, so we haven’t seen a youth going to college [with us] completely paying for that, but that is definitely what we are working towards. One of our youth actually recently identified that she wanted to go back to school to be an art therapist. We hope we will be able to give her a significant scholarship to go when she starts; hopefully next year. The youth that we work with have expressed that [we are] totally different in that we’re flexible enough to give them an opportunity that takes into consideration what’s going on in their lives, and the challenges they are facing. One of our youths recently lost housing, so he had to move to Bowmanville, and he was really upset that he couldn’t continue working here and he wanted to reapply when he came back. But he’d already been with us and learned all the skills that he’s needed, so I suggested that I could just mail him supplies and he could mail me back finished pieces. In that sense, we could still continue to help him with financial independence, and he still has a connection with us, and hopefully he can continue when he finally gets housing again in Toronto. Another one of our youths was recently admitted to CAMH unfortunately, but she actually reached out and asked if she could have materials to make jewellery while she was there because she found it therapeutic. So, we dropped off materials and said, ‘no pressure if you can’t complete, this is just to help you with your well-being if you wanted to do it.’ She said it actually relaxes her, so she still can make jewellery while she’s recovering. I think it’s great in that sense, and that’s kind of what our youth has taken out of it – is it’s not just employment for them, it’s actually something that boosts their self-confidence and their self-esteem, and it gives them something to look forward to.”
What is some advice you would give to others hoping to pursue a start-up?
“The number one thing is to figure out what’s most important to you because there’s going to be times where it’s very hard and you might want to give up, and if you’re not completely dedicated to what you’re doing or what you’ve started, then it’s easy to just call quits; and that was me with my five million business ideas before this one. By identifying what’s most important to you, it doesn’t matter what it is, just commit to it and then go for it. The biggest and hardest part is to take that first step. Even with anything in life, you’re always [going to be] like ‘oh I’ll start next week,’ or ‘I’ll figure it out later.’ But once you take that first step, it’s easy to keep going. Just go for it, take that first step and don’t push it off; even if you fail at something, just find a different way around it. Always keep going and persist. Every huge business that we see today has been through periods where they’re going to close doors or go bankrupt, but if you push through, who knows what’s on the other side.
Want to find out more about Enactus Ryerson and Kind Karma?
Check out Kind Karma’s handcrafted jewellery and support their youth on their website. All proceeds are returned to their employed youth to support their individual goals.