Saving a life could be as easy as changing the soap you wash with. Colorado State University alumnus Kenn Kelly founded Osana, a soap company working to prevent mosquito and other sanitation- related deaths.
“A friend’s dad had this formula for this natural, anti-mosquito like formula that we can make soap out of,” Kelly said. “None of us were really into just selling soap … It’s a necessity, but it’s not sexy. So we took this soap and came up with this idea.”
In the summer of 2012, Kelly and two partners from a separate technology-based company, Never Settle, decided to manufacture the soap and ship it out of their garages.
“We asked ourselves, what if we could leverage this and take wealthy Westerners and power them to support people in third world countries that are suffering from something that’s very preventable?” Kelly said.
For every four bars Osana sells, one bar is donated to a group of people at risk for malaria. Once a bar is donated, customers can track their bar as it is distributed around the world with pictures and video online.
So far, locations for Osana include Haiti and Tanzania. The continent of Africa has more malaria and sanitation-based deaths than any other continent in the world. ‘Osana’ directly means Hosanna or ‘save now’ or ‘save us’ in most African dialects.
Bill Shuster, clinical professor of management at CSU, was Kelly’s mentor while in college. “He was motivated by financial gain and prestige when he graduated,” Schuster said. “Now he’s motivated by innovation and giving back. Kenn really hasn’t changed what he likes, it’s just how he uses it.”
Schuster said that all businesses should be cause-based or purpose-based. Research shows that they tend to succeed much more.
“Cause-based companies, I think that it’s easier – this is a perspective not research, just my perspective,” Schuster said. “It’s much easier to get people on board because there’s a purposeful reason why you exist … it’s more difficult to get financing because every business … needs cash like oxygen to survive.”
Schuster also said that it is harder to grow a cause-based business because sometimes people’s passion gets in the way of a quality decision.
“I think I’ve always had a heart for others and I saw that … but it was never my focus,” Kelly said. “Something changed when I said, there are things that are much more important than my comfort and satisfaction. Ultimately it’s the idea that I think I’ll be held accountable for everything that I’ve been given … I’ve been given time and talent, and, as a company at Never Settle, we have a conviction that we need to be good stewards of our time, our talent and our money.”
Megan Kelly, Kenn’s wife and a CSU graduate, writes for Osana and other health websites.
“When they took over Osana … I started exploring malaria and seeing what it would take to really make a difference,” Megan Kelly said. “Seeing that a child dies every minute from malaria, I didn’t know that.”
Megan Kelly said that it’s more than soap – it’s about getting people involved in knowing the issue and the organizations that they work with.
“Megan does a really good job of bringing the health side to it – there’s a problem with toxic pesticides that we put on our body,” Kenn Kelly said. “A lot of the things Megan writes about are not the soap, they’re just natural home remedies that people can use. But, the soap is creative in that it’s a part of your daily habit. It’s a lot easier than getting out my tea tree oil. You don’t think about it.”
Shaul Hagen, co-founder of Osana, deals with the branding and design of the products. He thinks the design works for now, but plans to create an infographic, educational pamphlet in future soap boxes that educates communities on removing standing water and other ways to prevent malaria.
“A box of soap isn’t always of value in other countries – they’ll have a block or buy … a quarter pound of soap,” Shaul said. “We want to start delivering it in the way that makes sense for that country and community. The box does okay now, but we’d like it to be better and more educational.”
Collegian Editor in Chief Bailey Constas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.