Being a Peace Corps volunteer isn’t just a two-year experience. It’s the beginning of a new life journey. That’s what I discovered after returning to the US after my service. My experiences led me to launch my own entrepreneurial initiative, Peaceful Fruits, a social good fruit snack company on a mission to protect the Amazon rainforest.
I graduated from Cornell University in 2007 and after four years working in operations management in the private sector, I volunteered in the Peace Corps in Suriname in 2011 as a Community Economic Development Specialist. Among other projects, I empowered local men and women to take charge of their economic future through entrepreneurship.
My Peace Corps service ended in June of 2013, but I knew that my work to create empowerment through respectful, eco-friendly economic opportunity in the Amazon was far from done. In May of 2014, I launched Peaceful Fruits, sourcing the primary ingredient for our products – fruit from the region -- in partnership with local communities.
We use acai, a berry I first experienced during my time in the Peace Corps. Not only is it delicious and packed with both antioxidants and healthy fats, it is possible to harvest in a way that is fully sustainable -- good for the local people and the local environment of the Amazon Rainforest. The sustainability aspect of the venture was critical for me.
Unlike some organizations with a social mission, Peaceful Fruits is for-profit. I fully believe what I learned during my experience in the Peace Corps: “the future of business is to take care of both people and the environment, while still allowing all the stakeholders to make a fair living.” Local communities can generate income without compromising their way of life and Peaceful Fruits can make enough profit to grow and expand. Properly harnessed, I believe there is nothing wrong with the profit motive -- it keeps people engaged at all levels, which all Peace Corps Volunteers know is a tremendous challenge when creating grant-based projects.
Although still a startup, Peaceful Fruits was recently recognized as one of the top social enterprises in Ohio by SEAChange - a mission-oriented business accelerator and pitch competition - and BuzzFeed called us one of the most exciting businesses launched by Peace Corps Volunteers. With products currently available online and in 50+ stores (mostly in Ohio), our business is growing quickly—and its mission with it.
Sargent Shriver founded the Peace Corps with the dream of helping others change the way they looked at the world and make good things that benefit all of us happen. With his call to “Break Your Mirrors”, to have people look less at themselves and more at the faces of their neighbors, he was asking people to use their own unique skills to connect with and empower others. Through my service in the Peace Corps and now with Peaceful Fruits, I am proud to be one of the many diverse examples of how each one of us can answer Sargent Shriver’s call.