Women-Owned Business Series: Ruth Jean-Marie of The August Project

We had the pleasure of hearing from our next Woman-Owned Business feature, Ruth Jean-Marie, who founded and operates The August Project. Her philanthropic organization works with local communities, government agencies, and other programs to aid in the alleviation of poverty by leveraging social, monetary, and intellectual capital.. With programs such as Innovation Workshops, the Haitian Narrative Project, and the Haitian Literacy Project, Ruth works to tangibly heal her community. Read about her story – and her organization – below!

First tell us about your business and anything special we should know about it or you.

The August Project was born out of the desire to correct common philanthropic mistakes especially in relation to Black and Brown countries, even more specifically in relationship to Haiti. Our goal is to create interdependent relationships in order to undermine poverty.

Tell us a little about your background and why you feel a connection to your work.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY to Haitian immigrant parents. The connection to my work comes from being able to visit the Caribbean country as a child and realizing the discrepancy between my experience and what was being portrayed on television. Helping others is definitely my purpose (I was that retail associate that actually enjoyed getting you something from the stockroom). That, paired with the desire to assert the dignity of those who look like me (and think like me and speak like me) birthed TAP. Plus I couldn’t find a job after grad school, so I had to create my own opportunities.

We’d like to know about your experience within your community. What community do you identify as being part of ? Why did you choose the neighborhood your business is located in, if you have a physical location? How have you become involved within your community?

I identify as part of the Crown Heights, Brooklyn community. In terms of identity, I’m a Black millennial woman child of Haitian immigrants. My business is not a brick and mortar.

What advice would you give to young women who want to start a small business?

Just start. Your idea is good enough, you have enough information, you’re the right person for the job, just do it. There’s never going to be a point where you know everything and the building process is also a learning process. Dive in head first but make sure that you are constantly revisiting processes and being intentional.

What woman inspires you and why?

Beyonce. Her work ethic is unparalleled and she’s a great example of what’s possible in one lifetime.

What do you think are the most significant challenges for women business owners or women in leadership positions?

The challenges are innumerable from being taught that we can’t do it (in a number of ways including media, literature, etc.) and becoming a challenge to ourselves to having the best ideas and still not being able to secure funding due to bias–both subconscious and conscious. However, the most significant challenges I think there are include having the leading narrative. We haven’t always been able to inform the dominant societal tales, so when we come up with a solution for X or propose a problem that needs solving from a specific lens it’s seen as “less than.”

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

I motivate myself by planning. Writing things down helps me to remember that I’ve committed to something. Oftentimes, you can lose sight of the goal you want to accomplish especially when it’s something as grand and unlikely as alleviating poverty on a large scale.  Talking to family and friends as well and remembering the impact of my work. If I am successful, what does that mean for the world. And that moves me more than anything else.

Being a small business owner means relying on your community to support you and getting involved within your community as well. In what ways do you feel supported and actively engage with your neighborhood of residents and other business owners?

I feel completely and totally supported by my community. Two years ago I co-created a sneaker with Nike that sold out in four days. They rallied around a product, the mission and ensured that we were successful. In terms of engagement with my community, I currently volunteer up to 20 hours a week to a welcome center for Haitian asylum seekers in New York City.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about The August Project, to donate, or to volunteer.

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