Devin: Melissa, what is your superpower?
Melissa: I think it might just be that stick-to-itiveness. In the early days, we were a nonprofit and I was doing that full time. I had a master's degree. I was in my late 20s and was doing plasma to pay for groceries. I'd go at 6:00 a.m. because it was really embarrassing to run into people when I was at that level and those were the options I had. I was doing that. I was running dogs for money. I was teaching dance classes in my roommate's basement—and so many other things to try to make this work. I knew that at any moment I could go out and seek a more mainstream job. For whatever reason, I kept pushing through and luckily it has led to a place where we've looked at our mistakes and really dug into why are people not buying our products? Oh, well, maybe we need to work on the design or iterating, from selling to individual customers to just specializing in what companies need. And so, yeah, I guess that would be stick-to-itiveness.
A decade ago, Eve was washing clothes for American students visiting her country, Uganda. Speaking no English, she was quiet and almost unknown to the women for whom she washed. Today, Eve manages a group of 50 artisans, has learned English and is a high-energy leader in her community.
Melissa Sevy helped that transition. While participating as a student in a program that taught Ugandans to wash with soap, she realized they couldn’t afford to buy soap. She decided they needed jobs.
Producing artisanal goods is the second largest industry in the developing world, following only agriculture. It is big business, infinitely fragmented. For a decade, Melissa has been working to import such goods to the United States from a growing list of 20 countries.
Eve was among the first seven women to produce goods for Melissa’s Ethik Collective. This quiet, unassuming woman now has the nickname “the crazy one.” Melissa says, “she is a force to be reckoned with.”
“It’s not that she changed; it’s that her true self was uncovered,” Melissa adds, noting that removing the lid of poverty enabled her authentic self to flourish.
Melissa’s interest in social entrepreneurship was sparked by a course she took at Brigham Young University from Warner Woodworth. He joined me as a guest on the show and is profiled in my book, Superpowers for Good.
In a way, Melissa is a ripple from a stone tossed by Warner. One of many. The remarkable thing is how impactful this ripple is. With almost $2 million in revenue this year, Ethik Collective is gaining scale and traction, helping women, their families and their communities around the world. This ripple is becoming a wave.
Melissa says her superpower is stick-to-it-iveness. Her success, as is so often the case, grew out of struggle and even some failures. She recalls selling plasma to buy groceries. Today, her business is growing, thriving and impacting people just as she’d hoped.
How to Develop Stick-to-Itiveness As a Superpower
Melissa remembers having persistence as a teenager. “I remember that in high school, I was part of a dance team that was a type of dance I'd never done before. At the end of the year, I got the most improved award. It's the biggest trophy I've ever gotten. And it's a double-edged trophy. You know, it's a funny award to get when you're like, you weren't that good, but you got better.”
Her parents helped her develop her strength from an early age. “I grew up with really supportive parents that I think allowed me the opportunity to fail and try again.” As a result, she’s comfortable with failure as a milestone for success, helping her to stick to it through the tough spots.
She has helpful advice for others hoping to develop their own resilience. She says you have to find what you love, your unique ability to contribute to the world. Once you know how you can bring your own gifts, strengths and superpowers to the effort, “barriers stop looking so formidable.”
You can make stick-to-itiveness a superpower. Imagine the impact you can have in the world if the barriers you face are all surmountable.