Souljourn Yoga is working to educate and empower women across the world by creating a global sisterhood of support. Founder Jordan Ashley tells BQ more about her Social Enterprise.
What does your social enterprise do?
Souljourn Yoga is a nonprofit inspired by seva, the Sanskrit word and yogic principle of selfless service.
Our aim is to raise awareness and funds for girls education in developing countries by teaming up with both local and international non-profits. We create opportunities to explore, practice, and educate through yoga both on and off of the mat by offering a spectrum of workshops and global retreats to continue to promote female empowerment and education to communities where equal opportunities aren’t always readily available.
Currently, over 130 million girls around the world are denied an education, which also means they’re denied the chance to improve their overall health, income, quality of life, and the ability to empower themselves with endless opportunities.
A girl with an education is also less likely to become a victim of violence and child marriage, which are two predominant issues that women face across the globe.
What made you start your business up?
I returned to New York after living abroad and went to a yoga class where I had an a-ha moment when I realized how everyone was completely isolated by the perimeter of their mats. These women would show up week after week to the same class at the same time and go through an experience of breath, movement, and in many ways, healing together. Why couldn’t we leave our mats and go to places where the luxury of yoga doesn’t exist?
Education is the gateway for equalising the playing field so why can’t this same tribe of women travel, connect, and support girls’ education initiatives on the ground whom I had worked with firsthand to create a global sisterhood?
How do you measure your impact?
We have so far raised over $33,000 for girls’ education/sister organizations ($300-500 per person per retreat) in just 2.5 short years to our sister organizations in Nicaragua, Morocco, Cambodia, China, Peru, and Rwanda. An example that highlights how far each retreat goes to making an impact is:
From Nicaragua Retreat 2018 (UP Nicaragua)the donations cover 6 months of scholarships for 8 girls, including fees for:
As you can see, a little goes a long way in the amount of resources and access to education just by someone joining us on one of the retreats. There is also the impact of having the experience of taking the yoga practice out of the studio and into the world and how absolutely life changing it is to create connection through shared experiences. This is why we have had people return 2-3 times on our retreats (and counting) as they see how incredible it is to channel their wanderlust while also supporting girls' education. It's a win/win.
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
I'm extremely grateful and humbled by the teachers who volunteer their time and energy with us to lead these retreats. Having a strong support system and team has been integral to our success and growth as it's so important to have a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. I consider the Souljourn retreat leaders to be family in that there is transparency on ways we can improve which has kept not only myself but Souljourn Yoga an ever-evolving life's work.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
As opposed to for-profit ventures, founding and operating a non-profit enables one to focus on service-based work that empowers those on the fringes of society. Instead of being a slave to shareholders, our organization partners with like-minded foundations, corporations and individuals who have come together over a shared belief, and privately invest money to accomplish it.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
In such a big world with so many issues, I never felt like I was doing enough to help evoke change. With so many girls and women in need of support and education, it seemed like the value of education was being taken for granted. The best thing about being a social entrepreneur is knowing that this work is never complete, and that keeps me motivated. It comes from knowing that inequality and injustice are still rampant both locally and abroad and the only way to begin to equalize the playing field is through making education essential.
What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?
I think there is a large amount of fear that plays into the idea of a woman traveling alone/fear of the unknown, as we are hosting yoga adventures in destinations that aren’t traditional yoga retreat places.
A man would never be questioned of his safety going to an LEDC (lesser economically developed country), so in that of itself has been challenging. Of course, be safe and smart, but at the same time, I truly believe that the best education comes from travel, from having experiences that are challenging both internally and externally as it’s what creates more empathy and compassion.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Whatever journey you chose to embark on, it has to be something you love… so even on days when it feels like it’s you against the world, you can remember that your heart is truly in it and your passion is what keeps you going. Don’t be intimidated by other individuals or businesses that are similar to your idea, what makes your business unique is YOU so highlight your individual take or personality to make it your new venture authentic and real.
Work your network! Those already in your contact list are your first and most ardent supporters. Good work begets good work. Honest heartfelt effort is un-ignorable. Ask for help. Vet advice - move forward. When you stumble remember there is a lot to learn from the ground that carries you as you shall again rise.
What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
Honestly, for those wanting to engage in social enterprise, I think the best way is through experience and the best way to gain that in my humble opinion is through volunteering. It could be local or abroad to get inspired on where and how you think you could contribute. If you are wanting to volunteer, be sure to do as much research on the non-profit you would be working with to make sure that they are above board and honest in their mission and ethical in their execution as unfortunately there can be corruption even in charities and NGO's.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
To continue to grow and expand the countries in which we lead retreats, to broaden our reach and impact. We are also developing on-the-ground programming to create yoga immersions/teacher training so that the girls and women in the communities we support have the tools and skill set to lead their own yoga sessions without having to wait on someone else to take the role as "leader."
I also see us having satellite Souljourn Yoga studios (in the countries that we work within) where western women could complete teacher training/retreats and by doing so, fund a local woman to join alongside her to use yoga education/training as another medium for education, empowerment, and sustainability. Ultimately I would like to see the women who live in these destinations and speak the language, operate the satellite studios and give them careers and income that benefit themselves and the community at large.
The UK Social Entrepreneur Index, sponsored by UBS, is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK.
Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.
For more info visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk.
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