Oliver Shuttlesworth’s simple ESPEROS t-shirt is the only indication that the unassuming Texan is the fledgling company’s founder and CEO. When asked about ESPEROS, he relates his favorite quote, from 19th-century American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme form of excellence is simplicity.”
It’s Oliver’s self-professed approach to life, and it is conveyed by his clean backpack design and elegantly understated ESPEROS logo. This Spartan aesthetic contrasts with Oliver’s grand vision for his company’s social footprint.
“What separates ESPEROS from other organizations it that I really want to help build up communities,” he says. This commitment is clear in his pledge to donate 50% of ESPEROS profits to help cover education costs for the children of Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) members. Oliver says while he hopes to expand his give-back program to other countries in the future, his current priority is his partnership with Fonkoze. “We want to give that sense of empowerment to the children, to the families, to the communities. I think education is key to this sort of personal empowerment.”
For Oliver, ESPEROS was the culmination of several experiences, including multiple trips to poor regions in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, where his parents run a dental clinic. In each of these places, he heard a recurring theme: the demand for education. The best way to involve others in funding education for those without access, he felt, was to tie it to a marketable product. What better than product than backpacks? Simple.
Next, Oliver needed a partner organization. That process, like much of his company’s progression, seems to have been “guided by a greater hand.” Reading the New York Times in December 2010, he came across a Nicholas Kristof article that said a $20 gift to Fonkoze could send a Haitian child to school for a year. “I thought, ‘This is it. This is what we’re doing,’ ” he says.
Researching Fonkoze further, he was even more impressed, particularly by our 97% payback rate on loans. He reached out to Fonkoze Foundation director Carine Roenen, who suggested partnering with CLM, which targets ultra-poor mothers who are not ready Fonkoze’s loan programs. From there, he says, “A lot of things just fell into place.”
Of course, it hasn’t all been that simple. Oliver’s latest setback, damaged merchandise, has delayed the release of his product. Thankfully, Oliver’s diligence in protecting himself financially paid off, allowing him to re-coup his losses. He also plans to start a Kickstarter campaign as soon as he gets back from Haiti, where he has spent the past week learning about Fonkoze and meeting CLM members and their families. “It reinvigorates you,” he says of the experience—not that Oliver seems to need much more motivation.
He talks about future expansion, new product ideas, and possible partnerships with Haitian artisans to reinvest in the community. Above all, his focus remains on the CLM communities. “I feel like a lot of companies have addressed the side effects of poverty rather than the root causes,” Oliver explains. With education, he believes ESPEROS can work to directly root out poverty.
We at Fonkoze are honored to have the opportunity to work with Oliver in our mission to help Haitian women and their families make the climb out of poverty. While there are no simple solutions, we believe that our CLM members are living testimony to the fact that a simple vision can provide the starting point for great progress.