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Social Impact Fellow Reflection: Gehrig Harris (Beautiful Curly Me)

Summer Social Impact Fellow Gehrig Harris reflects on his experience interning at "Beautiful Curly Me," including what he learned about himself and the valuable work of increasing representation.
Gehrig and CEO Zoe Oli

By Gehrig Harris 

What is social impact? As a rising fourth-year Business student, I have had this question answered for me in a variety of ways. To some, social impact is when a big company gives money to a charity; to others, social impact is one person taking the time out of their busy week to volunteer at a local community garden. In the summer of 2022, I studied abroad in Hungary and learned that social impact can mean using your business skills to further a social goal, such as providing job opportunities to people with special needs or finding sustainable ways to produce common household products. In the summer of 2023, I was given the opportunity to find out for myself what it means to create, increase, and reimagine the social impact of a for-profit business based here in Atlanta. 

As part of the Social Impact Fellowships program, I worked as a “Social Impact Intern” for Beautiful Curly Me, a social impact-focused company that makes dolls, books, and puzzles for young black and brown girls. The driving force behind this company and its goals is Zoe Oli, a young girl who was just seven years old when she got the idea to start the company. Zoe wanted to give the gift of pride and self-esteem to young girls like her, who may not have felt represented by the mostly-white dolls around them. With the help of her very capable mother, Evana, Zoe started Beautiful Curly Me and became its CEO. To this day, she still writes all the brand’s books and attends multiple important meetings, even as she continues to attend school as a normal pre-teen. 

I was given the opportunity to work with Zoe and Evana to rethink Beautiful Curly Me’s social impact; Beautiful Curly Me’s impact model followed the one-for-one model – for each doll sold, the company set aside one doll to be donated to an underprivileged girl in need. This model was a great way to illustrate Beautiful Curly Me’s core mission of improving the self-image and self-esteem of young black girls, but it was also difficult to execute while preserving profit margins and keeping the logistics of donations in mind. Over the course of my internship, Zoe, Evana, and I worked to analyze the one-for-one model, socially conscious companies, black dolls, and the cultural context that surrounded the company. It was amazing getting to work alongside so many members of the Beautiful Curly Me team, such as Joy, the accountant, and Erika, one of the women who run the warehouse that fulfills the company’s orders. It showed me not just how many people have to work to make a product a success, it all showed me just how many aspects of a company must change to move the whole forward. After several weeks of working with Zoe and Evana to analyze their website, their dolls, their donation model, and the very purpose of the Beautiful Curly Me brand, I presented them with Strategy Deck PowerPoint that presented multiple options for directions in which to take the company. With these potential new directions in mind, Zoe and Evana have decided to organize a doll donation event during the holiday season and have invited me to be involved. I cannot wait to see how Beautiful Curly Me continues to grow and develop, and I will be the first in line to buy their new products, attend their new meetings, or hear about their new programs.

Being able to put last summer’s lessons into practice this summer was an experience I will never forget, and I hope to work with more socially conscious companies like Beautiful Curly Me in the future. And if you’re ever in the market for a gorgeous black doll with hair you can really wash and style, I might just know someone who can help you out.

The Institute for Leadership and Social Impact is an interdisciplinary institute that promotes servant leadership and social innovation that contribute to a more just, caring, and equitable world. Learn more about our Social Impact Fellows program.

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