Kuli Kuli: Using Moringa To Empower Women And Feed The World
Today I want to introduce you to Lisa Curtis, founder of Kuli Kuli, a company that is improving nutrition in some of the world’s poorest areas through cultivation of a plant-based protein derived from the leaves of the Moringa tree. Rarely do you find a company with the societal (and social) impact of this company, especially with it being the vision of someone so young. Lisa is helping to empower the women growers of this amazing nutritional source all over the planet. She defines what it is to be a Doer.
I finally got the chance to meet Lisa for the first time a few weeks ago in Anaheim at the Expo West show, but she has been on my radar for a while. A couple of years ago, I was at the United Nations opening session and met an individual who had a packet in his hand about moringa, the plant-based protein that is at the center of Kuli Kuli. I told him I was a moringa advocate and he immediately said that I needed to meet Lisa Curtis, founder of Kuli Kuli.
That was it, he was gone in an instant. I did email with Lisa, but I never had the chance to meet her until a few weeks ago. It was worth the wait! She is an incredible and extraordinary individual who inspired me by undertaking to launch this moringa-driven company that is making such an impact.
It’s a fabulous story and I hope it inspires you to build a company that makes a difference around the world. So enjoy a snippet of her story and start creating your own! YEAH!
An Interview with Lisa Curtis of Kuli Kuli
Anthony: Hi Lisa and thanks for taking that time to speak with me about Kuli Kuli.
Lisa: Thanks for helping to tell Kuli Kuli’s story! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, especially the Doer Creativity piece.
Anthony: Lisa you are building a business with a product few people have ever heard about but that has a huge and important social mission behind it. What in your upbringing, family and friends has helped you or empowered you to take such a major and important undertaking on? Or in other words, what inspired you? Why did you think you could accomplish this?
Lisa: I grew up in a family where my parents constantly emphasized how fortunate we were to be living a comfortable middle-class lifestyle and how we had a responsibility to use our resources to help those around us. This wasn’t just something they told us; my parents both worked two jobs but they were constantly volunteering. I spent a lot of my childhood helping to prepare meals for the homeless shelter and delivering Christmas presents to children whose parents were incarcerated.
I have a distinct memory of the moment when I went from being the helper to being a changemaker myself. I was a freshman at a newly opened high school and the school didn’t yet have a recycling program. I complained to my mom and she responded with something along the lines of “if you don’t like it, change it.” Wide-eyed at my newfound agency, I decided to take her advice by starting a recycling program at my school that also helped build houses through bottle deposits. It was an extremely successful program and eventually the school took over running it.
That mantra of ‘if you don’t like it, change it’ still guides me. Whenever I see something that I believe is unfair, I take an action, no matter how small, to solve it. Kuli Kuli is the latest and the largest in my series of entrepreneurial adventures. It is the thing that I am most proud of. Though running a startup can be extremely challenging, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to wake up and work on something I love everyday.
Anthony: Why is your product so important to the world from a health benefit? Also, what is the incredibly important social benefit?
Lisa: Inspired by my Peace Corps experience, Kuli Kuli is on a mission to use nutrient-rich plants like moringa to improve nutrition and livelihoods worldwide. Moringa’s high levels of protein, calcium, iron, vitamin C and vitamin A have led many international development organizations to advocate the plant as a “natural nutrition for the tropics.” Kuli Kuli is a mission-driven business that utilizes moringa as a tool for nutritional security. By importing a portion of the moringa to the US for our products, we’ve created an international market for moringa and a sustainable livelihood for farming communities around the world. With a rise in demand for moringa, an increase in production and consequential consumption is occurring in the villages where moringa is grown. Kuli Kuli is incentivizing communities that struggle with malnutrition to invest in a nutrient-dense plant that will nourish their community, both nutritionally and economically.
Kuli Kuli has three overarching impact objectives for the communities where we work: to end malnutrition, empower women to achieve gender equality and plant a tree for every household. We produce an annual impact report tracking our progress towards these goals and also undergo a third party impact audit through B Lab. Kuli Kuli is a full-fledged Benefit Corporation, meaning that our social purpose is embedded into our legal DNA. In 2017, Kuli Kuli was selected as a B Corp Best for the World Honoree, chosen out of more than 2,000 companies.
To date, Kuli Kuli has planted over 1 million moringa trees and partnered with over 1,000 farmers, providing more $1.5M in income to women-led farming cooperatives and family farms. Additionally, Kuli Kuli has invested over $20,000 in supporting nonprofits in the communities where we work.
Kuli Kuli also partners with female moringa farmers whose moringa may not yet be up to exporting standards to get their farms on the fast track to meeting the requirements. Farmers like Pierrette, an incredible woman running a moringa farm in Benin, have inspired Kuli Kuli with their stories, and affirm the impact moringa can have on the lives of women worldwide.
Anthony: What advice would you like to share with entrepreneurs or the crazy people that read this blog?
Lisa: Ask for advice, but don’t always follow it.
When I first said that I was going to create a market for an unknown superfood and build a supply chain of small farmers from the poorest places on the planet, people literally laughed in my face. I was 22, had no food industry experience and was living in my childhood bedroom since I’d just gotten out of Peace Corps and didn’t have any money.
I pitched Kuli Kuli to everyone I could possibly think of. I was constantly attending events, speaking and networking. Most of the investors in those early days told me “that’s a nice project” or a “cute lifestyle business.” It was frustrating and belittling. Four years and $4.5M later my “project” has taken off.
Believe in yourself and your idea. While aspects of your idea are likely to change, if you have a true passion and the grit to see it through you will be successful, no matter what the world says.
Anthony: What else do we need to know about Lisa Curtis? Do you feed your creative side daily? If so, how?
Lisa: I find creativity in being outdoors. My general morning routine is to run for 45 minutes, meditate for 10, get ready, and then bike 18 minutes to Kuli Kuli’s office. I try to reserve time on Sunday for a long hike and a trip to the farmers market to celebrate all of the amazing California produce.
I also love to write. I write down the best part of my day every night before I go to sleep. This is a practice I’ve explained in a TEDx talk, that helps me stay optimistic and bounce back when life throws lemons.
Anthony: How has building a company with such a strong health and social mission impacted you personally? What insights would you like to share?
Lisa: Building Kuli Kuli has given me the opportunity to meet so many incredible entrepreneurs across the natural food and social enterprise worlds. I’m constantly awed and inspired by the people I meet who are working around the clock to make our world a better place. Business can be such a powerful force for change and, particularly at a time when our geopolitical system seems to spew hate and isolationism, it brings me hope to see what mission-driven businesses are accomplishing.
Anthony: What take away can the folks that read this do? How can they help you if they love your mission, and can you suggest any actions they can take today to support your social and health efforts?
Lisa: We would love for you to try our products! If you order them on Amazon and enjoy them, please leave us a review as it helps us a ton. And we’d love to hear from you, be that via email or Instagram. And if you’re a student or recent graduate looking to get into the natural food and/or social enterprise space, check out our paid internships.
Anthony: Any other insights or closing thoughts that you would like to share?
Lisa: Thanks for having me!
Anthony: Lisa, thanks for all you do and kudos on what you have accomplished. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me and share your story with my readers. YEAH! I can’t wait to see what happens in the future of Kuli Kuli.
Find out how Kuli Kuli is helping to empower women in the video below.