Making a difference: Entrepreneurs tell world-changing stories

The Hansow family, from left, Jadyn, Dave, Morgan and Asher, check out produce during filming for the second season of “The Find” in Nicaragua. The Grand Junction family produces and appears in the television series, which highlights the efforts of businesses, people and organizations changing the world. (Photo courtesy Robert Snow)
The Hansow family, from left, Jadyn, Dave, Morgan and Asher, check out produce during filming for the second season of “The Find” in Nicaragua. The Grand Junction family produces and appears in the television series, which highlights the efforts of businesses, people and organizations changing the world. (Photo courtesy Robert Snow)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Dave and Morgan Hansow launched an operation that sold products on an international scale and employed more than 100 people. But now that the Grand Junction couple oversees a far different venture in producing a television series, the Hansows face different challenges, among them finding ways to generate revenues to sustain their work.

“We’re a startup again,” Morgan says.

The self-described social entrepreneurs expect to succeed nonetheless with their willingness to continue saying yes to what others might consider risky endeavors as well as strive to make a difference in the world whether that’s on their own or in tapping the power of media to draw attention to the efforts of others to help people help themselves.

“We just want to continue to do this and make it better,” Dave says.

The Hansows founded Light Gives Heat in 2007, a nonprofit organization that initially sold paper bead necklaces and fabric bags as a way to create jobs and produce income for people in Uganda.

Light Gives Heat now produces a Web television series titled “The Find” in which the Hansows and their two children — 10-year-old Asher and 9-year-old Jadyn — travel to foreign countries to tell the stories of businesses, organizations and individuals that change the lives of others. The first season was set in India. The second season, which was set in Nicaragua, will kick off with a premiere screening set for Oct. 23 at the Avalon Theater in downtown Grand Junction.

Dave says the couple never planned to start such an organization. Rather, their efforts evolved out of a series of events that originated in the Grand Valley.

The Hansows attended Fruita Monument High School and later Colorado State University. The high school sweethearts were married and had a son. They wanted a second child, but decided to adopt and began the process of adopting one of what Dave says was 2 million children orphaned in Uganda in the aftermath of one of the longest wars in Africa. When that process drug out and the couple grew increasingly concerned they wouldn’t be able adopt a child, Morgan decided they should move to Uganda until the adoption was completed.

“At first, I thought she was insane,” Dave recalls.

Morgan’s insistence proved serendipitous, Dave says.
“It needed to happen for so many reasons.”

The couple moved to Uganda and decided to become involved in some sort of philanthropic project while they waited for the adoption of their daughter, Jadyn, to became official.

The Hansows became involved with a community of women making necklaces out of recycled paper and selling them to earn money. The Hansows expanded on their efforts by help the women access an international market for their jewelry.

As the operation grew, Light Gives Heat employed more than 120 people and was selling each week 1,000 necklaces branded as Suubi, a word that means hope. The operation grew more with the addition of fabric bags marketed under the Epoh brand.

Dave says the operation was successful for several reasons. In contrast with some humanitarian efforts that simply give away food or other resources, Life Gives Heat offered a more sustainable model that created jobs and income. Moreover, the approach took advantage of consumerism and the reality that most people would rather buy something than simply make a donation, he adds.

In addition to selling necklaces and bags, though, Dave says it was important to tell the stories of the people involved in making them and included that in packaging and marketing.

Those stories, including that of the Hansows, also was told in a feature-length documentary titled “Moving On.” The documentary was shown at film festivals and since has been distributed to television networks around the world.

Dave says the documentary demonstrated the power of the media in telling stories about helping others help themselves. And that led to another development.

The Hansows decided to transition out of their operation in Uganda and gave the interests to All Across Africa, a benefit corporation that connects thousands of artisans across the continent to international markets, creating jobs and income in the process. “It just seemed like a win-win for both us,” Morgan says.

The couple then decided to produce a television show in which their family would travel the world to tell stories about businesses, organizations and individuals that change the lives of others and, in doing so, change the world.

The Hansows put together a short presentation known  in the industry as a “sizzle reel” and pitched their idea to television producers at a gathering in Washington, D.C. The reaction was discouraging, the Hansows recall: While producers told them they loved the concept, it likely wouldn’t play well to an American audience.

Undeterred, the Hansows decided to produce the show themselves and take it to directly to audiences over the Internet.

The couple since has used the money they raised in a Kickstarter campaign to produce two seasons of “The Find,” each with six episodes.

The first season in India showcased the efforts of a family that operates businesses crafting handbags and guitars to offer jobs to people in poverty.

The second season features different organizations in Nicaragua involved in everything from operating a camp for children to teaching leadership through sports.

Along with compelling stories, the episodes also offer a component of entertainment, Morgan says, as the family experiences surfing, a zip line and local foods.

While a location hasn’t yet been selected for a third season, one possibility could be Papua New Guinea. There also are opportunities to film a season within the United States, the Hansows say.

While hundreds of thousands of people watched episodes from the first season, Dave says he hopes that number ultimately will grow to the millions for subsequent seasons.

Meanwhile, the Hansows received more accolades for their work in the selection of the second season of “The Find” for the Hollywood Film Festival. Moreover, Dave says they made connections at the festival that could lead to distribution and financing for the show. “There couldn’t have been a better place for us to be.”

After running an operation in which sales generated revenues, Morgan says it’s been challenging with their latest venture to develop a revenue model that sustains their work. One possibility could be corporate sponsorship.

Like other entrepreneurs, the Hansows have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to take risks because of their passion for what they’re doing. And that’s making a difference in the world.

The premiere screening of the second season of “The Find” followed by a party is scheduled for Oct. 23 at the Avalon Theater at 645 Main St. in downtown Grand Junction. The doors are set to open at 6 p.m., followed by the screening at 7 p.m. and party at 9 p.m. Admission is $10 for the screening or $35 for the screening and a party that will include live music, an open bar and an opportunity to meet the filmmakers. For tickets or additional information, visit the Web site at Tickets also are available through Monumental Events by calling (800) 626-9497.