HOPE, DREAMS AND ICE CREAM
Written by: Amy Iglow
Jun 27, 2016
Ice cream has a visceral affect on the human soul and I believe every person on the planet, be them young, old, male, female, uptight or loosey-goosey can acknowledge that moment of glory that ignites when a scoop of ice cream touches their lips. Ice cream has so many elements that satisfy the human condition it’s hard to pinpoint the pure joy that ice cream brings to all of us. It’s that doomful day when your boyfriend breaks up with you out of the blue where ice cream can become your best friend in the world. For that diet you’ve been on without success and that scoop of mint chip can scream “screw it,” for you with vigorous volition. For that scorching day in the sun where you feel like you’ll never have the peace of comfort again and an ice cold cone of Rocky Road makes you forget your discomfort and reminds you to focus on the little pleasures of life. For me, it’s the reminiscent nostalgia of feeling like a kid. When my mom would tell me if I stopped being a brat, or if I stopped pestering my sister, or I stopped failing math or talking out of turn that she would stop at Thrifty’s after school and get me a big ol’ scoop of Chocolate Malted Crunch in a sugar cone. And I became a better person for it (and my sister stopped tattling on me).
But what if ice cream was more than just a way to add ephemeral pleasure to our otherwise hectic and flurrying lives? What if it didn’t just make simple moments better but actually helped people’s lives and communities to thrive in the eyes of adversity? Friends Alexis and Jennie had the same question except they made the leap of turning the thought into a reality… and into a beautiful non-profit organization called “Blue Marble Dreams.”
Jennie met Alex when she answered her Craigslist ad for a room for rent in New York City. A budding friendship quickly evolved, as did the idea to organize a private sector to drive social impact. Their story and the work they do is as fascinating as it is beautiful, for they have found a compelling way to bring ice cream right from our mouths and straight to our hearts. So sit back, grab a scoop of Cookies N’ Cream, and read about Alexis and Jennie’s deliciously heartwarming and important journey through New York City, Rwanda and Haiti.
Alexis, tell us a little bit about how Blue Marble Dreams came about?
Before making the unexpected leap into ice cream, I worked in international development for nearly a decade. Over time, I became interested in the unique potential of the private sector to drive social impact. This led me to launch my own business, Blue Marble Ice Cream, NYC’s only certified organic ice cream business. My partner, Jennie, and I set out to build a sustainable enterprise that delivered solid financial, human and environmental returns. We started with one local scoop shop in 2007 and have grown into a thriving, multi-platform brand with international reach. In 2008, we were approached by a Rwandan woman, named Kiki, who asked if we would consider coming to her community and helping a group of women there open an ice cream shop of their own. She argued that, while certainly an unconventional approach, an ice cream shop could create jobs, revitalize the local economy and provide a safe and happy space that would nurture the reconciliation process that had been underway since the 1994 genocide. We said yes, and that prompted us to form Blue Marble Dreams, our non-profit initiative, with a mission to support the joy and prosperity of communities in need through the unlikely medium of ice cream. Two years later, we helped the Rwandan women open the doors to Inzozi Nziza (Sweet Dreams), their town’s first-ever ice cream shop. Today, the shop is fully self-sustaining and is owned in full by our partners.
Why Ice Cream?
On it’s surface, ice cream is a very simple, frivolous treat. But actually, it’s much, much more than that. For Blue Marble, ice cream has helped drive demand for organic farmers and producers and paved the way for other conscientious food companies looking to make a difference with their products. By building a successful business out of ice cream, we have also created jobs and enlivened local business communities.
Beyond that practical benefit, ice cream has a special way of making people really happy. We see it all the time in our shops in Brooklyn - customers come in after having a bad day to cheer themselves up with a sundae, or couples come in on a date to share a milkshake Lady & The Tramp-style. It could be the nostalgia of ice cream or the exciting experience of coming into a shop and choosing your flavors or any number of reasons, but the emotional effect of ice cream is undeniable. We thought this might be unique to American or “Western” culture when we went to Rwanda and were concerned that the magic of ice cream would get lost in translation. But it most definitely did not. Our customers there took to it immediately and adopted it into their family celebrations and social activities, just as we have.
Kiki, the woman who conceived the idea of Inzozi Nziza, wanted her community members to have this experience. She explained to us that for most Rwandans, life is very, very hard. Beyond the physical burdens of their poverty, they also bear the emotional and psychological weight of the genocide. As a result, she said, they don’t necessarily see happiness as something that’s within reach or even an option for them, however remote. In turn, this gets passed on to their children, who never get to enjoy those light, whimsical moments with their parents and grow up with a similar approach to life. Ultimately, this hinders people’s abilities to dream and create new opportunities for themselves, Kiki said. She wanted to intervene in this dangerous cycle by creating a space and experience that was exclusively dedicated to the sensation of joy. Ice cream was the perfect product, she reasoned, because while Rwandans were familiar with milk and sugar and fruit, most had never even seen - much less tasted - the result of mixing them together in a funny machine. What came out the other end was this wild, cold, sweet, creamy concoction that could transport them - even if just for a few minutes - from hardship and allow them to indulge in this entirely new feeling. Our hope was that this feeling might stay with them and, in some way, brighten their days, outlooks and dreams for the future.
What is the significance of your organizations name “Blue Marble Dreams?”
First, Jennie and I named our company Blue Marble Ice Cream because of the term’s use as a nickname for Planet Earth. We felt it was a fitting name because, as an organic product, we are truly serving a pure and honest taste of Mother Nature. Also, we knew we wanted to use our business as a means of doing some good in the world around us. The “Dreams” part came later. When we launched our nonprofit arm, we needed a name and found inspiration in some of the perspective that one of our Rwandan partners, Kiki, shared with us. She explained that of course no one needs ice cream to survive, but life wasn’t just about surviving. It was also about fully living. Dreams, she felt, were very integral to this process and very important for her country, because it was in the process of rebuilding itself after the horrific genocide that took place in 1994. If we can’t dream of a better, fuller life, she argued, how can we possibly achieve one? We were moved by the simple but powerful poetry of this sentiment, so decided to name our organization Blue Marble Dreams as a reminder to always dream - and to dream big.
Tell us a little bit about your work in Rwanda and Haiti.
In both Rwanda and Haiti, we’ve set four goals: First, to create safe, sustainable jobs that will allow Haitian women to achieve stability, self-reliant and happy lives. In turn, this translates to kids enrolled in school and families with proper housing, medical care and the necessities of life. Second, to invest in local agriculture by sourcing our ingredients locally, thereby increasing demand for area farmers and enabling the financial security they need to grow and prosper. In both countries, agriculture is a lead growth driver for the local economies, so we are working to help fuel that engine and the prosperity it enables. Third, to provide a wholesome, vibrant space for families and community members to connect and revive. The social cohesion of a community is vital to its long-term wellbeing and development. Fourth, to elevate the local business landscape and inspiring further positive development in our communities. In Rwanda, the town where Inzozi is located - Butare - has seen incredible development since we first opened our doors. I would not say that we are entirely to thank for that, but I’m certain that our success enabled other entrepreneurs to see the market potential of the town and encouraged them to invest in the area. With more business comes more commerce, more jobs, more opportunity, more goods and services, and more prosperity.
In Haiti, we are building the shop in a particularly blighted area of Port au Prince. Our hope is that we can infuse this neighborhood with some much deserved positive attention and activity and lure both customers and investors in our direction.
You must have dozens of inspiring stories with the work you do. Is there a few that resonate most with you?
There are numerous stories I could tell about the practical benefit our work has had on the lives of our partners. The employees in Rwanda open savings accounts and many devote a portion of each paycheck to these accounts to start dreaming about and preparing for their future goals. One woman was able to save her money and build a home on the land where she grew up. Others left the shop to study business at a local university, wishing to further their expertise and skills. One left to open a small restaurant of her own. These were very proud moments for us.
While less tangible, I also have stories about witnessing elderly women eat ice cream for the first time. The best way to describe their reaction was a mix of shock and ecstasy. At first, they were jolted by the temperature (most people in our community had never consumed something cold before, let alone ice cream), but as the ice cream melted in their mouths and the creamy sweetness settled in, their eyes widened and the smiles lit up. This was an awesome sight to behold, and this was what Kiki was trying to achieve. In the few minutes that it took for those women to finish their small swirls of ice cream, they were transported, they were giddy, they were unburdened. We all need and deserve those moments.
At Eat Feed Love a portion of the profits from our Taste Club subscribers have gone to your organization. How can our readers further participate in helping to support Blue Marble Dreams?
While the shop in Rwanda is self-sustaining, there are always capital improvements we could make to help the business grow - improvements that exceed the shop’s cash flow capabilities, like new equipment, new patio tables/chairs, new uniforms, etc. In Haiti, we are still fundraising to cover the start-up expenses of the shop. If anyone wishes to support the joy and prosperity of our friends in Rwanda and/or Haiti, we would welcome and deeply appreciate a contribution of any size. Each penny is put to meticulous use. We are also a 501c3 organization, meaning all donations are tax deductible. Donations can be made quickly and securely on our website
Alexis and Jennie continue pushing forward with full hearts, and we are honored to have partnered up with them in the month of June, with the help of our subscribers, to show our support for this loving philanthropic venture. I urge everyone to check out “Sweet Dreams,” which is a beautiful and critically acclaimed documentary that chronicles Blue Marble’s Dreams work in Rwanda. You can see the trailer here and can purchase the movie on Itunes, Hulu and Amazon.
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Sep 05, 2016
Where in California can I find it?? For them to put this much passion & world wide participation into this ice cream, makes me think that the taste would be ridiculously good! ?
Jul 20, 2016
Love this so much! <3
Jul 20, 2016
Love this so much! <3