While attempting to subsist on West African cuisine, Peace Corps volunteer and vegetarian Lisa Curtis found herself malnourished and weak. Then she discovered an incredibly nutrient-rich yet underutilized plant called moringa. After personally experiencing the benefits of the regional plant, Curtis had a dream to use the nutritious leaves of the moringa tree to improve the lives of women in West Africa.
The moringa plant has a multitude of benefits Curtis explained in a recent New Hope Network webinar for entrepreneurs. "It grows in hot dry places where a lot of crops don't grow well. With climate change, it's a climate-smart crop. It also has more protein, calcium, iron, fiber and B vitamins than kale."
Despite its nutrient-rich properties, moringa grows in countries with high rates of malnutrition. "No one in the village was eating it except for me," she said.
Curtis came back to her San Francisco home and set out to get the word out about the miracle plant. She started selling handmade bars at farmers markets and talking to people about the nutritional benefits of moringa.
Through launching her brand, Kuli Kuli, Curtis learned a valuable lesson. She and her business partner spent all their time making their bars themselves. "That was not a sustainable way to grow a business," Curtis said.
To raise capital for manufacturing, Curtis turned to a crowdfunding website called Indiegogo. To date, the Kuli Kuli campaign is the most successful food campaign Indigogo has ever had. "It came down to telling a really authentic story ... why we wanted to bring the products to the U.S. and support women farmers in West Africa," Curtis said. "It's a story we've continued to tell."
Creating winning partnerships
A successful crowd-funding campaign along with strategic media coverage led to a financial partnership with the Clinton Foundation. A partnership with Whole Foods Market came soon after -- with the goal of helping to reforest Haiti by growing the key ingredient there. Curtis attributes the help of this coalition to the development of a new product: the Moringa Green Energy Shots, which launched nationwide in 2016.
Evangelizing the brand
Telling the story of Kuli Kuli has helped cultivate an incredible network of brand ambassadors, Curtis explained. "Through media presence and partnerships we've gotten a lot of attention and found people who want to volunteer and work with us," Curtis said. She emphasizes the importance of creating easy ways to help people who are excited about your product and mission.
To hear more about how to use a social mission to grow your brand, watch the replay.