Entrepreneurs Do Well By Doing GoodRieva Lesonsky
Tracy Foster, Project Being There
A charitable organization working to improve the lives of children living in orphanages in Vietnam
From 2002 to 2007, Tracy Foster and her husband, Steve, traveled back and forth from Vietnam to adopt their three children. No matter what village the children were from, the orphanages all shared similar facilities—old buildings with no heat or air conditioning and limited resources. The hardest part of the adoption process was seeing the many children who were left behind in institutional care. Determined to change conditions in the orphanages, Tracy made connections in Vietnam and formed the nonprofit Project Being There in 2009. But it wasn’t an easy road.
Smart Hustle: What kinds of challenges did you face when starting Project Being There?
Tracy Foster: Our motivation for creating Project Being There was our children. Leaving the orphanage with [them] while looking at the faces of the children who remained are memories we never forget. We knew who we wanted to help, but [faced several] challenges. We were living in the U.S., but wanted to work directly with children living in Vietnam. We didn’t speak or write Vietnamese. We had no funding. We wanted to work with an orphanage, but we had to find one willing to allow us access to their operations and to be directly involved with projects we funded. Finally, we were a loosely formed adoption group. In order to legally raise funds for charitable work, we needed to become a licensed nonprofit.
Smart Hustle: Sounds like it took a lot of patience and perseverance.
Foster: It took us several years and many failed attempts of making contact with groups working in Vietnam to find someone willing to be our advocate in Vietnam. Eventually, we were connected to an orphanage in a rural northern province that needed assistance and was willing to allow us to become personally involved with operations and the children living there.
We needed to establish what we could do to help the children. We decided the best method to determine how to help was to visit the orphanage. We made our first trip to St. An’s Orphanage in May 2009. We met the staff and children and considered the areas of need we felt we could financially address. We were still in the process of becoming a licensed nonprofit. We didn’t have funds to hire an attorney, so we researched and found a wonderful group called SCORE that assigned us a counselor who educated and shared his expertise on the process of creating a nonprofit organization. Through his counsel and assistance, we worked through the process and became an official licensed 501c3 nonprofit in September 2009. We paid all startup expenses out of our personal accounts.
Smart Hustle: What advice do you have for a startup nonprofit?
Foster: What people find most amazing about Project Being There is that we were able to become a 501c3 without hiring an attorney. Starting a new organization and becoming a licensed agency isn’t an easy process. However, it can be accomplished by doing your research, creating a business plan, and finding resources in your area that can assist you in accomplishing your goals.
Flexibility is also a great tool to use when starting a new business. We originally thought we would find other orphanages to work with in Vietnam. Once we actually began our work there, we found in order to truly make a difference and become a change agent for the children, we first had to establish credibility and trust with the staff and the children. This would require a long-term commitment and approach to our work in Vietnam. We committed to visiting the orphanage annually to stay, work and play with the children. We usually make two visits a year. The children and staff know who we are, that we care, and that we are not going to leave them. It took a few years to establish these relationships. I would advise new startups to be persistent and committed in establishing your organization. We knew what we wanted and worked for years to put all the pieces in place.