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Letitia Wright on the Power of Good

PEOPLE

Letitia is wearing ORIGINAL Foundation in Neutral Deep 29

We’re big fans of Letitia Wright. There is, of course, her acting, but it’s Letitia’s playful energy and commitment to living a life of love and honesty that we find truly inspiring. So we were thrilled to learn that Letitia has long been a fan of bareMinerals — ever since she snuck some from her sister’s makeup stash. We recently sat down with Letitia to talk about what the Power of Good means to her — and why she’s such a fan of clean beauty.

“I start my day very early. I pray and stuff — just try to find a place of peace. Then when I get through my day I sit down and go through all the events of the day and I try to learn: What did I do right? What did I do wrong? Was I rude to someone? I kinda debrief with myself and analyze my character in certain situations so I can start the next day fresh and not make the same mistakes again.

The Power of Good represents, to me, positivity, love and honesty. I try to live my life in a way that’s honest and good for others, not just myself. The Power of Good is contributing your talents — the good side of yourself.

To me, clean beauty means confidence, because you’re confident in what’s in it. Clean beauty means having a product that’s good for your skin, preferably natural, that’s healthy for you — you don’t have to feel like you’re putting on a bunch of stuff that clogs up your pores.

My sister loves bareMinerals and she’s the one who first introduced me to it. I noticed that her face was just glowed up all the time, so when she left the house I’d sneak inside and take some bareMinerals powder foundation and I would put it on and literally leave the house feeling confident — not feeling like I had to sit down and do a tutorial of makeup with the concealers and the this and the that. It’s just a beautiful foundation: light, easy to use and you’re off. I put it on in the daytime and come back and night with a glow. My mom uses it — everybody uses it!”

Letitia’s pick? Our cult-favorite ORIGINAL Loose Powder Foundation. Shop the ORIGINAL or use our Foundation Finder to discover your perfect clean foundation.
Learn more about bareMinerals and the Power of Good.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Women We Love: Jenni Luke of Step Up

PEOPLE

step up ceo jenni luke with signs

In April 2019, we launched The Power of Good Fund by bareMinerals, which supports women’s empowerment in the areas of education, mentorship and entrepreneurialism. In this series, we’re putting the spotlight on one female leader from each organization. Today, we’re proud to share the story of Jenni Luke, the CEO of Step Up, a non-profit that uses a unique mentorship model to inspire teen girls in under-invested neighborhoods to achieve their full potential.

It’s 5 PM, a block from New York’s Penn Station, and there’s a constant, multilingual flow of conversation and stress overrunning the Gregorys Coffee where Jenni Luke is sitting easily on a window bench, having a tea before a college basketball game. It will be her first visit to Madison Square Garden, with a friend who works for Major League Baseball and secured such excellent March Madness tickets that Jenni will feel she can never go back. As people and luggage wedge around her, Jenni mentions another event — Barbie’s 60th birthday party, which she recently attended. It made her feel optimistic, seeing how the doll, once shorthand for body dysmorphia and objectification, has now had over 200 careers, from beekeeper to robotics engineer. Other things that make Jenni hopeful right now? Young people-led movements, like Everytown for Gun Safety, and the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, which connects victims of sexual misconduct with legal and PR assistance. Jenni’s sister, who has a young son, can’t find a single thing for him to watch on TV that isn’t fully gendered. So there’s a long way to go. But if Barbie can be president? Well, that’s something.

As CEO of Step Up, a non-profit mentoring organization, Jenni thinks a lot about how girls figure out what’s possible for them. Step Up’s work is driven by the belief that all girls should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential. They activate on that by running afterschool and weekend mentoring programs for high school girls who are living or going to school in under-resourced communities in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago, and supporting them as they graduate high school, ready to become the next generation of professional women. The organization was founded in 1998 by Kaye Kramer, then a well-connected young talent agent, when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She looked around and realized that she and her friends had access to a lot of money, reach and power. So she gathered a few in a living room to discuss how to use their massive social capital for good. “The theme that’s stayed consistent all the way through is: how do you leverage resources that you have on behalf of people who may not have them?” Jenni explains. “It’s like: if you’re a mentor and you’re part of a group who has access to something, you have a responsibility to open doors to people who may not have access — and they don’t have access for anything that they’ve done wrong. It’s just the structures that are in place to keep them from having access — how can we create a pathway through those structures?” Many of the girls they work with are the first in their family to graduate high school, and go on to become the first to attend college, too. When alumnae gathered last year for Step Up’s 20th anniversary celebrations, many were teaching and doing social work, giving back to the communities they’re from.

Mentoring has been directly linked to success, especially for young women, yet only 54% of women have access to senior female leaders who can act as mentors, and less than 5% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women. And for teenage girls? It’s invaluable for them to see examples of the women they can grow up to be. But a key challenge that most mentoring programs face is ensuring that matches stick. “One-to-one long-term mentorship is really proven … but it’s also proven that if you get a mentor and the mentor relationship fails, it’s more damaging to the young person than if they had never gotten in it to begin with,” Jenni explains. Step Up’s model is different, in that every meeting a girl has is with someone new, introducing them to a large pool of “possibility models,” as the program calls the mentors. This is partly to protect against match failure, partly because of Step Up’s firm belief in the power of having a network. Also, they hear from the girls that, Interacting with one person? That’s so boring.

When Jenni Luke was about 7 years old, growing up in an upper middle class neighborhood outside Los Angeles, she started noticing that she had more opportunities than most people did. Going to the grocery store, she understood that the checker behind the counter had a very different experience than she was going to have. Some of it was language, some of it was watching how people interacted with them, but she became obsessed with equal opportunity. At around 14, she was sitting on the floor of her living room watching the Democratic National Convention when Jesse Jackson delivered his famous Rainbow Coalition speech. She felt like she was watching what needed to happen in the world, and started to cry. Determined to affect civil rights, Jenni’s law school dreams were cemented before she’d even finished high school.

Jenni attended law school at the University of Colorado, loved it, got the right internships, did the right clerkships during school — all the right things. Then she got a job and realized: in no way did she enjoy practicing law. The monotony made her understand why people felt driven to drink. She was devastated, and she was embarrassed.

At no point did Jenni have a mentor who could gently ask whether her childhood dream matched her maturing personality, or point out the difference in day-to-day experiences between learning and practice. “I was embarrassed because I really felt like I had failed in such a big way.” she recalls. “It was my dream, I paid for it. I really was only failing myself, but at the same time I was so thrown by it … that’s partly why I say to young women: it’s important to get that network of support early, because I think back and I wonder, would I have made a different choice to stick with it? Or just different areas of practice? Or done something differently?”

Deeply confused and unsure of a next step, having followed one path for so long, Jenni asked herself: What do lawyers do when they don’t want to practice law anymore, and want to do something more interesting, creative. She moved back to Los Angeles, to family — and the entertainment industry. “My career has been a nonlinear equation,” she says. “My mother would call it circuitous.”

Jenni worked her way up, becoming an agent representing writers and directors for film and television, until the 2004 presidential elections pushed her back towards civil rights — the reason she went to law school in the first place. She went to a talk by Lindsay Rachelefsy of the ACLU of Southern California. “I obviously knew the ACLU within a legal perspective. But she was the Director of Development, so she did fundraising and community engagement. I didn’t know that that job existed, because I had been so focused on law, so when I heard her speak, I was like, Oh my God — I want her job,” Jenni recalls. “She and I became friends. Eventually, I did get her job.”

After the talk, Jenni told the agency she wasn’t renewing her contract. Her boss asked about her plans, offered to make some calls on her behalf, and Jenni’s next role was Development Director for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a legal services non-profit. “We did really good services for kids in foster care in LA, and it was fundraising from within the entertainment community, so it was a really perfect marriage of backgrounds and interests and everything,” she explains. “And I really loved it. It was just such a good fit for me, because all you do, pretty much all day, is talk about what you care about with people that want to listen, and then you take what they’re excited about and say: Give me money for it and convert that into impact. Which is super cool.” After 3 happy years, Lindsay called, told her she’d be leaving the ACLU, and asked if Jenni be interested in the position. “So then I did work for the ACLU, just not as a lawyer. So it was poetic — and fantastic. Loved it.” It was her network again that led her to Step Up after that; when the CEO role opened, numerous people sent it her way, saying it had her name written all over it. “And you know, here we are.”

On a recent Wednesday, Jenni woke up in her Brooklyn apartment, took her Cockapoo puppy, Cocoa, to daycare (he loves it there, and is hopelessly distracting), did follow-up on a Step Up Board of Directors meeting to work through some high-level strategy and governance decisions, then organized her notes for a keynote at the United Nations that she was delivering 2 days later, during the UN’s 63rd Commission on the Status of Women. She was in the midst of a travel lull; after 5 years based in LA with Step Up, Jenni and the organization’s headquarters moved to New York in 2014. Last fall, as they expanded to Dallas, she traveled there once a month. “I’ve basically lived off my laptop and wherever I can plug it in for the last 5 years,” she says. When in New York, she works out of the apartment, amidst work from creative friends, from large-scale paintings to a sequined notebook that, when brushed, shifts messages from “Get it done” to “Get shit done.”

Step Up’s budget has tripled under Jenni’s leadership. The numbers of teens enrolled, partner schools and mentors have all experienced double- and triple-digit percentage growth since she took over. Simultaneously, she has narrowed the organization’s focus, honing in on mentorship and social emotional learning. As they approach the end of their current strategic plan, the board is refocusing on how to go deeper in the communities they’re in, and how to expand their reach while staying focused. One consideration is a tiered approach. “If you use a retail model, it’s like the brick and mortar luxury version is what we’re doing. Is there an online delivery system where people might get the programming, the social emotional learning components? They don’t necessarily get the classroom environment, but they get access to the concepts. They may not get access to the network of mentors — and does that sell it short? I don’t know. How do we grow the reach, while not necessarily sacrificing what it is?” And, of course, there’s the question of new communities, and which cities are right for their model.

There’s also the question of succession planning. In May of 2019, Jenni announced her resignation from Step Up after 10 years of service. She calls it a graduation of sorts, which she’ll celebrate with vacations in Mexico and Central America. Her next chapter, still unannounced, will continue her focus on social justice and equal opportunity.

In the meantime, she is supporting the search for a new CEO and preparing the transition. It’s clear that Jenni’s legacy will shape the growth of the organization for years to come, and the girls she’s met will continue to shape her. She raves about their growth, their perspectives, and how much they teach their mentors. At an anniversary event Jenni overheard two alumnae of the program speaking to a younger girl, who was still in high school. One alum, who was fortunate enough to have attended a college-focused charter school, explained that yes, Step Up was valuable in high school — she’d even secured herself an internship after attending a prospective Step Up board member breakfast with Jenni. But the real value, the alum said, came later. Comparing herself to the girls she graduated high school with just a few years ago, she was already further, way faster than any of them. And she was further than she ever thought she’d be.

Learn more about Step Up and The Power of Good Fund by bareMinerals.

Letitia Wright on Her Real-Life Superhero & the Importance of Silence

PEOPLE

Letitia Wright Hair and Makeup

She’s best known for her role in the Marvel Universe — and for recently jetting off to Cuba for a secret film with Rihanna and Donald Glover (no big deal). But for us, it’s Letitia Wright’s radiant positivity that stands out most. We recently chatted with our Power of Good Ambassador about who has been a force of good in her life, and the spot she loved most for time off in Havana.

What’s one good way to start any day, no matter where you are in the world?

I’d definitely say by praying in the morning, [or] if you want to call it meditating — just being silent. Really gets your mind in the right place before you have to deal with like, the day.

What’s one good habit you’d love to have?

[Laughs] Getting up properly in the morning. Getting up when my alarm actually says — I just can’t seem to get up.

What’s one good song where you know all the lines?

Oh, man. Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright.’ I know all the words to that.

What’s one good thing you do when someone around you is having a bad day?

I tend to be silent and listen to them if they want to speak … just be sensitive to how they’re feeling and giving them the chance to speak about it.

What’s one good place you loved when you had time off in Cuba recently?

Ooh I loved this place called [Fábrica de Arte Cubano]. I hope I’m getting it right. It was an art place mixed with food and music. It was a combination of so many things … it was brilliant. Everyone should check it out.

What’s one good read from your last holiday?

I’m really bad at finishing books … I’m reading a book called Translating Gods. And it’s kind of like, just hearing — when God speaks to you and how to know. ‘Cause sometimes you can get the two confused, meaning like, you can confuse your own thoughts and what God is telling you. So just being able to decipher what’s said. That’s a book that I’ve been reading since I’ve been on a holiday.

And where was your last holiday?

My last proper holiday — I think it was Cuba or New York. I’ve been in LA so much, I keep thinking it’s holiday because the weather’s hot.

What’s one good tip you use to get into character and how did you learn it?

Once I’ve done all the research and stuff like that, it’s to stay in the accent. I think that’s just by observing some of the greats that have done it … staying in the accent really, really helps so you don’t struggle to get back into character.

What’s one good makeup tip you’ve learned from being on set so much?

I don’t even know if it’s a good makeup tip. It’s just: when you’re eating with makeup or like falling asleep — just don’t mess it up. That’s such a bad tip! Just don’t mess the thing up because when you’re on set you have to wait around so much, I’ve learned how to sleep in certain positions so I don’t mess my makeup up. That’s a really bad tip, but put it down.

Well, how do you do it? Do you sleep sitting up?

By literally just sleeping straight on your back. Sleep on your back and make sure you’ve got a really good pillow under your head so that you’re sleeping in a position that like, you’re not moving to the left or right. You’re just really, really still so that when they come and call you, your makeup’s not messed up. That’s something I learned just by trial and error.

If you’re having a crazy week, what’s one thing you do for yourself to decompress?

Definitely finding ‘time out’ in the week that’s just for you … when you have so many meetings, and so many things, and everybody’s opinion on this and that, it’s very important to find a day so you can like, unwind.

Letitia Wright in a pink suit

Who has been a force of good in your life and why?

Family and friends, they’re all covered. Because, you know, they’ve just been really supportive. I pride myself on like, picking the right friends as well. And they’ve just been amazing, especially during this time of transition for me … So many people [tell] you things that can really make you feel very big headed. And then my friends are like, ‘You’re just the same, like, just be true to yourself.’ Or my family would be like, you know, ‘Make sure you’re resting and eating and not stressing out.’ So, just having that support has been amazing. My family and my friends have been such a huge force of good for me.

Name one woman from history whose good work inspires you.

Rosa Parks. I didn’t even know that question was going to come, but yeah … she’s been someone that I’ve looked up to since I was a child, you know. Just for her bravery for standing up for what she believed in, and equality — and she didn’t have to do that. She could have conformed but she didn’t and I love her for that.

If you weren’t an actress, could you imagine one good alternate career for yourself?

I guess a Psychiatrist … I’m interested in the brain and behavior … Yeah, I’d do that.

What’s one good story you think of when you need a laugh?

When I was first coming to the UK, when I was really young, we missed the plane and I was really upset … I was just like crying, temper tantrum, saying “I want to go to England” in like, a very strong Guyanese accent. And I really believed that my dreams were shattered. I was only like, seven, and everybody’s like, the way I acted was like I’d been to England before. And then when I got there it was so cold. That kind of reminds me of how far I’ve come, really.

Tell us a good story about makeup.

Okay. I’m not the expert, but I know when it’s done well. And one time I was in a particular place — I can’t say exactly where, but it was a funny location and someone did my makeup and bless her… and it wasn’t right.

And I was really sad about it and it just taught me the importance of knowledge — every makeup artist needs to know about different ethnicities, you know, just diversity in terms of doing makeup. So, even though it made me really sad, it really gave me an education about the fact that everybody who wants to be a makeup artist, especially in this industry, just has to be educated on the fact that there’s different people in the world, there’s different complexions, and we have to adapt to knowing how to do makeup for them.

Because it was difficult. It was a difficult day, but it taught me a big lesson. So, I’m excited that I got to work with you guys, and you guys got to champion me and the way I look. Do you know what I mean? I respect that. I hope that’s a great way of ending the blog interview.

Mom Was Right! Advice From Women We Love

NEWS PEOPLE

At one point or another, we all receive a piece of unforgettable advice from one of the amazing women in our lives. It’s the kind of life-altering guidance, big or small, that allows us to grow and better ourselves: from the one thing we should always do before leaving the house to the secret way to save our hearts from being broken. So, in celebration of Mother’s Day, our team shared the memorable lessons they still live by, today and every day.

Alessio Rossi, General Manager, US

“Her best advice has been to keep going, stay positive and if you can’t get it right now, it will get better next time!”

Amanda Coombs, Associate Project Manager, International, Creative Services

“My mom taught me not to overlook the grocery store when searching for beauty and wellness products. She buys Vitamin C powder to lighten dark spots, adds Jell-O powder to face masks for an extra boost of collagen, and eats ginger to reduce inflammation and promote joint health. It’s a great way to save money and avoid the added chemicals in some beauty products.”

Angela Reasoner, Executive Sales and Education Manager

“Handing a $5 bill to a homeless man in St. Paul, MN my mother told me, ‘You never know where people are. My job is to give, not to judge.’”

Angelica DelPriore, Senior Vice President, Global Creative

“Throughout my life and always when I am extra busy (which is always — my nickname from my childhood friends is ADP, Always Doing Projects) or starting something new, my mother would always say to me, ‘Fa cose buone.’ Translation: do good things.”

Carly Giglio, Global Artist & Learning Design Manager, Color & Artistry

“My mom always told me… ‘Never be afraid to look them in the eye and give a firm handshake.’”

Cathi Castillo, Spa Director East

“My mother would constantly say, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ It’s something I think about every day.”

Chanel Holcombe, Executive Assistant

“My grandmother Lillian’s advice to me from the very beginning was to travel before I settled down as a wife or mother. She always said it’s important to find what makes YOU happy, with or without the contributions of others. This way your experience can only be strengthened in numbers.”

Chhaya Govind, Executive Sales & Education Manager

“My mother Savita taught me to always know the difference between beauty and character. Beauty will catch your attention but character will catch your heart.”

Dawn Hobbs, Regional Sales and Education Executive, Southern CA

“My mom Linda taught me to try clothes on, even if they looked bad on the hanger. This is so true because it might look good on you.”

Diana Paccione, Vice President, Spa and Independent Accounts

“My mother Margaret taught me to look good, but to be an even better person.”

Elsa Cho, Key Account Manager, Sephora & SiJCP

“My mom Laura would say, ‘Go read a book.’”

Emmie Salaj, Senior Vice President, International Business Development & Global Education

“My mother Fatima taught me that a woman should never financially rely on a man. Instead work hard and always be in a position to choose one.”

Stephanie Huszar, Copy Director

“I’ve been lucky to have some great mentors during my career in the magazine and beauty industries. One of my first bosses — an iconic beauty editor — told me, “If you wouldn’t say it to your smartest friend, don’t write it down.” The other thing she taught me? Never underestimate the confidence-boosting power of a good red lipstick!”

Gina Mohanty, Manager, bare+BEAUTY Outlets

“My mother Sashi has always taught me to be a kind and loving person. Back in 2007, my mother generously, without any hesitation, donated her kidney to my Dad. The fact that a married couple was a match was a miracle in itself. Because of my mom, I was able to have 7 years of time and memories with my dad, until his passing in 2014. Since then, I have become an organ donor, in hopes of being half the person my mother is, and to save a life.”

Jen Anderson, Copywriter, Digital & Social

“When I first started wearing makeup, my mom advised me: ‘Don’t cover up your freckles, because they make you who you are.’ I’ve always taken that to heart, and I love flaunting the freckles my mom passed on to me. She was right. They make me who I am, and I wouldn’t want to ever change that.”

Jilian Firestone, Senior Manager, US Retail Merchandising

“My mom taught me to never leave the house without putting on lipstick. It always pops your look. And that you can do anything as long as you believe in yourself and work for it.”

Jill Scalamandre, President

“My daughter Allegra has taught me so much it’s hard to choose. She has taught me how to be more tolerant and understanding of others, to always put yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand where they are coming from. It is a lesson I have applied to many areas of my life.”

Jill Steinheider, District Manager, Upper Midwest

“Best advice? ‘Own it. You did it … own it. Don’t apologize.’”

Julie Shulman, Packaging Design Director

“With four daughters, my mom’s advice was always, ‘Embrace all your perfect imperfections as the beauty of you.’”

Karen Schneider, Project Manager

“My mom Eleanore always said to treat others as you would like to be treated; that life isn’t always fair, but it’s still pretty amazing; and family comes before everything else.”

Kayla Moffatt, International Visual Merchandising Designer

“My mom Peggy would say, ‘Always be honest and just be yourself.’”

Laura Garratt, Vice President, Global Product Development

“My mom Angela is my hero. She moved to the United States from Italy when she was only 10 years old. She learned English, became an honor student and received a scholarship to college, despite her parents’ preference that she work rather than continue school. She vowed that when she had kids, she would support them through education. She has lived up to her word — always letting my two sisters and I (and now my kids) know that, ‘Sky’s the limit.’”

Letitia Wright, Power of Good Ambassador

“Something my mom has always told me is, ‘Never chase after someone that’s not looking for you,’ if that makes any sense. Don’t get your heart broken chasing after people, things — it doesn’t even have to be a guy. It could be anything … and that really helped me along the way.”

Lina Velasquez, Visual Merchandising Designer

“My mother Mercedes has always been an inspiration in my life, not only for her advice but seeing how strong, hardworking and dedicated she has been, especially as a single mother. Every morning as she dressed me for school back in Colombia she would always tell me, “Estudie, preparese, para que nunca tenga que depender de nadie en la vida y pueda ser independiente.” Translation: Study, educate yourself so you never have to depend on anyone and can be independent in life. She still, until this day, always tells me, ‘Siempre sea noble en la vida’ (always be noble/humble in life and ‘Luche siempre por sus ideales’ (always work for my dreams, and never give up). I never had a father, but my mom for sure made up for it! Cheers to all the super moms in the world!”

Belisa Silva, Executive Director, Global Editor-in-Chief

“I am blessed to have an amazing mother, Rosa, and godmother, Carol, who have both guided me throughout my life. My favorite mom advice is, ‘Never leave the house with wet hair or when there are dirty dishes in your sink.’ Carol’s advice? ‘Don’t be burdened with imaginary timelines. Things happen when they are supposed to.’”

Lisa Sinisgalli, Global Home Shopping Broadcast Director

“My mother Vicki taught me to find something that you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Noel Pan, Quality Specialist

“The best advice my mom Xueping gave me is, ‘A man should be clean, not only on appearance, but also in the mind.’”

Rachelle Hood, Regional Director, East Region/Retail

“My mother Sue taught me what her mother Rose taught her: ‘You feel as good as you look and you perform as good as you feel. It doesn’t take a lot of money to look your best every day.’ I now pass that along to my two daughters!”

Ryan Stephens, Regional Director

“My mother Denise taught me: surround yourself with good people, because you will always become a product of your environment.”

Sarah Walter, Junior Copywriter

“It was never spoken as advice, but my mom never wore makeup (and still doesn’t). Although I now wear and love makeup myself, having grown up not really giving it a thought (and learning by example that it wasn’t a necessity) helped me feel comfortable in my own skin in those trying teenage years.”

Shauna Harwood, Manager, Complexion, Global Brand Marketing

“My mom always told me for softer, shinier, smoother hair apply a cup of mayonnaise to hair and cover with tin foil. Leave on for 20 minutes for amazing results!”

Trish Maher, Executive Sales & Education Manager

“My mother Carmen always said, ‘Make sure you give more than you take, and always be grateful.’”

Victoria DeCicco, Associate Account Manager

“One unique piece of advice my mom always gives me is, ‘Don’t set limits for yourself. Break down barriers.’ She always encourages me to do what makes me happy in life no matter what anyone else will say because there will always be critics. Always strive for greatness.’”

Zoé Belden, Associate Manager, Global Business Intelligence and Analytics.

“My mother Elionne taught me, ‘Keep love in your heart, and always leave the house ready to have your picture taken.’”

Women We Love: Mindee Barham of Grameen America

PEOPLE

In April 2019, we launched The Power of Good Fund by bareMinerals, which supports women’s empowerment in the areas of education, mentorship and entrepreneurialism. In this series, we’re putting the spotlight on one female leader from each organization. Today, we’re proud to share the story of Mindee Barham, Vice President of Development for Grameen America, a non-profit financial institution that’s addressing the fact that 1 in 8 women in the United States are living in poverty.

Imagine you own a business. It’s not large — you sell ice cream out of your home — but into it you pour your talents, skills and creativity of all kinds. In return, you have the flexibility to care for your children, pay your bills and forget the thankless minimum wage jobs that didn’t even make ends meet. Any profits you can spare go back in — little upgrades when you can swing them. Then, one day, a friend visits you from the salon down the block. She’s applying for a loan for her shop, and suspects you might be interested in one, too. She’s been turned down by bank after bank, and has finally found an organization, called Grameen America, that will loan her the money to get a credit card machine so she can stop missing out on sales. She just needs to find four other women to form a group, apply and grow their businesses together.

Fast forward five months. The storefront you rented is paying for itself, and you’ve got your eyes set on a second freezer. You’ve talked to your group and you’re all feeling a little more secure — even putting a few dollars in savings each month — and planning to apply again. A woman from Grameen America named Mindee Barham comes to visit your businesses. She’s petite and warm, with an even voice and deep curly hair shot through with silver. With her are donors to your non-profit bank, and she points out changes you’ve made with your loans.

Mindee brings the donors so they can see: yes, a $2,000 loan can transform a business, and transform a life. In their day-to-day lives at the top of large corporations, it doesn’t feel like 16 million women in America are living in poverty, earning less than $12,490 year. Not the Americas, but the United States of America. “It’s easy to live in a particular neighborhood or to work in a particular sector where you don’t come into contact with that level of poverty,” Mindee explains. So, as Vice President of Development for Grameen America, she brings donors to the South Bronx, to the center of Indianapolis, to South LA, to feel what their support can do. “You really see, when women are able to join this program, that they were working a minimum wage job, or maybe they were working off the books, and now they’re able to build something of their own and have some control over their livelihood that they weren’t before.”

Grameen America is headquartered in a non-descript building on a narrow, grey block of midtown Manhattan. The elevator opens to a bright teal hallway with colorful images of women, captioned with phrases and quotes like, “Small loans. Big impact.” And “‘I never expected this much of myself. It has given me so much strength.’” There’s also a photo of Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the original Grameen Bank. His caption: “This is not charity. This is business. Business with a social objective, which is to help people get out of poverty.” Yunus, an economist, founded Grameen Bank in 1983 in Bangladesh, motivated by his belief that economic rights are human rights. The basic premise was that even the poorest people, without credit scores or assets to wager, could be trusted to manage and repay small short-term loans. His model won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Yunus saw his poverty-fighting solution worked in the developing world, and knew it could be effective in developed countries, too. So he brought the concept to the United States in 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis. “People thought, ‘Well, that’s a crazy idea, a crazy time to open a loan program … nonrecourse loans in the midst of a debt crisis.’ But he felt that’s exactly when it was most needed,” Mindee explains. The pilot was conducted in Jackson Heights, Queens, loaning only to women, who receive just 4% of small business loans from mainstream financial institutions. Ten years on, Grameen America has dispersed over a billion dollars in loan capital, in tiny increments, to over a hundred thousand women. Today, the average loan is $3,300 and Grameen America is paid back at 99%, with the non-profit bank operating in 14 cities and 21 locations across the United States.

Two things differentiate Grameen from other microfinance institutions. The first is immediately evident to every applicant: she cannot apply alone. She must find four other women and form a group before applying. “We don’t form their groups because they have to trust each other,” Mindee explains. “So if I bring you into my group of five, I need to know you’re serious about your business and you’re going to repay your loan. Our destinies are now tied to each other and we support each other because our success depends on each other.” If one loan is not repaid, the group can’t apply for another round. This social contract encourages each woman to persist in spite of the challenges every entrepreneur faces — and gives her four people to turn to with questions, frustrations and good news.

For 6 months, the group will meet weekly with other groups and loan officers to make repayments, learn about topics like credit scores, and continue to build peer networks. It’s at this point that a lendee begins to feel the second difference: “We have a training institute here for our staff, focusing on not just giving out more loans and bringing in more women, but the quality of the service that we’re providing and the quality of those loans,” Mindee says. It’s not enough to give — it’s giving with respect, sharing tools for success, and trusting the women. “It’s not a handout — it’s a hand up” is part of her elevator pitch.

Mindee Barham grew up in New Jersey before attending Northwestern University, where she double majored in Spanish and Political Science. She enjoyed the experience and the education, but it wasn’t until her study abroad, in Seville, Spain, that it felt life-changing. “I came back home with a sort of confidence, and a vision for what I wanted to do next.”

Next was moving to New York and working at a non-profit with an international focus, but she was eager to do work in her own backyard where she could visit clients and have a more intimate connection with the issues at hand. She went back to school for a graduate degree in Nonprofit Management from the New School, and it was there that she met Paula Gavin, a professor and the President/CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York, who went on to become a mentor. She told Mindee that fundraising was an essential skill to rise in a non-profit and get involved in a more senior way — and offered Mindee an internship. “People thought I was crazy because I just quit my job and took her up on it. She offered me to come in as an intern originally and I was like, 8 years into working and in school, but I took this leap of faith because I really believed that that was a good next path for me,” Mindee recalls. Within a month, she had a permanent position. To this day, Mindee reaches out to Paula at turning points in her career.

Mindee’s days are filled with managing a team of 7 people who handle fundraising and marketing communications. She works closely with the organization’s board, and has donor relationships that she manages personally, sharing progress in the community via statistics and site visits. On a macro level, she promotes women’s entrepreneurialism, though she’d never want to be an entrepreneur herself. For the women Grameen serves, she sees flexibility, creativity and independence as important rewards for their commitment. Personally, she loves the structure of being part of an organization.

On a recent Monday afternoon, walking through the halls of Grameen America’s Manhattan headquarters, Mindee paused — Andrea Jung, the President and CEO was standing in the doorway of a colleague’s office. The news: a $2 million donation had just come through. The source was expected; the amount was not. As Grameen America looks to their next decade, with the goal of doubling in size, they’ve launched a campaign to raise $300 million to run operations, implement new programs and services for the women they serve, and raise the loan capital needed to support their growth. Along the way, there will be new learnings; as banks go digital, Grameen is discovering that many women they work with don’t have email addresses. You can use the weekly meetings to set those up; it’s training a busy entrepreneur to check email that takes time. There will be new communities, too. “In this country there are 16 million women who live in poverty, and we’ve served 100,000 women. So we know there’s a need,” Mindee says. To determine new locations (post-Hurricane Harvey Houston was the most recent addition), the organization looks at communities with “an eye to rates of poverty, unemployment, underemployment and underbanked. When we make these decisions of where to go next, we think: Where can we continue to serve this mission and meet this unmet need?”

The goal, in time, is to achieve critical mass in the neighborhoods where Grameen operates, and begin to change the landscape. Enabling one female entrepreneur by giving her a loan, and reporting her payments to build her credit score, changes her own path and is a valuable example to her daughters. But it’s more: “The whole family ends up getting involved with the businesses,” Mindee explains. “In those communities, we’re creating jobs — they get a loan, but if they hire two people, then they’re creating more jobs, so it’s going to have an economic impact on their whole community. If you go to Jackson Heights where the first branch was … every other storefront is going to be a Grameen America business.” Within those storefronts are women who have become entrepreneurs out of passion, and out of necessity. Women who were forced to start over as a single mother or in a new country. Many speak to the frustrations of being turned away by conventional banks. Now, they have credit scores and could move into the mainstream financial system, but they want to stay with the bank that trusted them, respected them, taught them, and made them part of a community of hardworking entrepreneurial women, just like them.

Learn more about Grameen America and The Power of Good Fund by bareMinerals.