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My guest this week is Sasibai Kimis, the founder and director of Earth Heir. Sasi founded Earth Heir in 2013 as a social business focusing on luxury craftsmanship and showcasing the skills and traditions of craftspeople. She has a background in investment banking, private equity, nonprofit development agencies, mining, finance, sustainable development, corporate responsibility and microfinance. She’s also lived in eight countries and four continents. She is so passionate about environmental sustainability, eco-tech, and traveling. It was so cool using technology to speak with Sasi across the world where she lives in Malaysia. Join me to hear more about how Sasi is using her faith and knowledge to run a business with purpose.
Sasi was born in Malaysia, but her grandfather came to Malaysia from India. Sasi spent time in the US, UK, West Africa, and Europe when studying abroad. When she was almost 30-years-old, Sasi decided to return home to Malaysia.
In the summers, Sasi would return to India. It was so different from what she was accustomed to, and she was struck by how much poverty she saw there. In Malaysia, most basic needs were met, unlike what she saw in India. From a young age, she gained an understanding that there are many worlds out there that she had no idea about.
The idea grew for Sasi that people who are poor need money, and she should work to earn a lot of money to donate to people in need. She worked at a bank and made great money, but quickly became disillusioned when the people around her didn’t care about what was happening in the world. Most of them were only focused on making more and more money for themselves.
Sasi quit her job when she realized that while money is a means to an end, its focus should be supporting people who are going to go out and make a difference. Sasi wanted to better understand why poverty exists, so she studied environment and development, gender, microfinance, and more in graduate school.
Sasi also worked in Ghana for two years with the UN and an NGO. She saw the NGO doing a lot of good work, but funding started to be cut as the country became more developed. She and her colleagues questioned how their work supporting orphans of the HIV/AIDs crisis would be able to continue without proper funding.
Sasi thought of a way to both make money and continue to do good, so that they didn’t have to rely on the donations or grants that had started to wane. It was the seed of social entrepreneurship in her life.
When she returned to Malaysia, Sasi started working in finance again. One night on her way home, she fell asleep at the wheel. Luckily, she didn’t crash, but it was a wake-up call for her. She told God that she didn’t want to die for a job. If she died tomorrow, she wanted to know that her life meant something and that she could leave a legacy that she was proud of.
Sasi’s focus until that point had been about building up a shiny CV. She decided to take some time off so that she could figure out how to give God the best of herself; as much as she had given to her career and education. She quit her job and joined Youth with a Mission in Hawaii, learning about the bible and building her relationship with God.
When her teamed moved from Hawaii to Cambodia, they started work teaching English and building houses. Sasi met many families who were struggling; mothers who’d lost children to traffickers and children who’d been rescued from trafficking.
Sasi decided to support those families by purchasing from weavers and selling their products to her family. She also met with an impact investor, Dr. Kim Tan, a few months later. Dr. Tan told Sasi that if she really wanted to help the women, it couldn’t just be her side gig. It had to be her full-time business.
She was nowhere near ready to start her own business but asked God to help her use her skills and passions in a business capacity to help the local women. Soon after, she started Earth Heir. The name comes from Genesis 2:15, when God tells Adam to be a good steward of what God has given him.
As Christians, we are called to be good stewards of the environment, animals, people. Sasi believes that Christians should be at the forefront of ecological conservation. The Earth Heir logo includes a fern from Ghana. The fern’s name translates to “God with us.”
Sasi’s dad was both her biggest supporter and biggest critic. At first, he was disappointed that she’d quit her job with all of her education and skills. In the beginning, she was selling scarves, and he felt like she might be wasting her talent. After six or seven years of running Earth Heir, the company is successful at standing up for conscious consumption, safe factory conditions, and how to do good through business.
Earth Heir (20:03) is an artisan-focused social enterprise that works with refugees and indigenous tribes and rural women to make ethical fashion.
Some people and businesses are beginning to realize that “business as usual” should be business as a force for good. We still have a long way to go, but there’s also been so much progress made toward this change. (You can hear more about this on Episode 170 where Molly shares how her belief in God fuels her passion for how Christians can be at the forefront of the ethical fashion).
Sasi’s mom was raised in a Christian family in India, and her dad was raised in a Hindu family. When her parents got married, her dad professed his faith in Christ. Sasi grew up in a traditional Christian home but admits her motivation for church attendance was meeting cute boys.
When Sasi was 17, she was born again and felt the Holy Spirit in her life. She was going through a difficult time after living an independent life away at school, and then coming home to live with her parents. She was even suicidal at one point. She prayed that God would take her. It was during this time that she felt God’s presence in an unexplainable, very tangible way, and everything changed.
She realized God is more real than anything she knew. When she felt that for herself and started her new journey as a Christian, her decisions became led by God, not just her own idea of what she thought she wanted and needed in life.
Find out what food Sasi would eat if she could only eat one thing for the rest of her life, something you’d never guess about her, and something that’s important to her but she rarely gets to talk about. Sasi’s answer to what it means to her to run a business with purpose will inspire you no matter what season of life you’re in.
8:30 – “I think early on I became introduced to this idea hat the world is not what I see and what I know, and that there’s another world, and many different worlds out there that I have no idea about.”
9:20 – “The little that I thought that I have is a luxury to so many people.”
13:17 – “As much as I grew up as a Christian, I accepted Christ as my Savior, I was really living my life to build a great CV.”
13:42 – “For the first time in my life I actually thought, ‘Why is it that I don’t give to God the best of myself the way that I do to my career and education?’ “
19:44 ‘It shouldn’t be that we do business as usual, make a lot of money and just donate that money, we should seek to change how we do business itself.”
25:03 “It’s something that we can’t pretend to do, but not be applying those things in everyday decisions that we make, in our beliefs and how we vote.”