Micro-Business Seeks Macro Impact

Comments (9) Posted By Joe on January 24, 2013 in Entrepreneur Directory

Most small-business owners start their firms in hopes of earning some extra money and — if they’re lucky — making a living for themselves and their families.

Noelani Musciaro’s goal is somewhat more ambitious: she hopes to earn enough revenue to donate $1 million per year to charities that feed the hungry in America.

Musicaro’s business — an online store called Figlie di Fortuna — sells fair trade foods and crafts, organic clothing, and crystal jewelry the Hillsborough resident makes by hand. When the business gets underway, she will donate a set portion of each sale to Feeding America and Blessings in a Backpack, both nonprofits that aim to alleviate hunger in the United States.

Calling it America’s “dirty little secret,” Musicaro said hunger receives too little attention in given how pervasive it is. Indeed, the National Poverty Center reports that in 2010, more than one in five American children were poor. “You heard nothing about it in the last Presidential election,” Musicaro said, adding, “They talk about economic recovery, but if you’re not eating, what does that mean for you?”

Musicaro sought to bring poverty to the fore when she ran for Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey in 2009 on the “Middle Class Empowerment” ticket, only to find her campaign — operating as it did from the margins of Garden State politics — was “pretty much ignored.” Winning only 2,538 votes, Musicaro doubted whether electoral politics was best vehicle through which to tackle poverty.

So she continued going to work, selling jewelry on the side, and volunteering when she could. Then, when she lost her job in December of 2011, she joined the ranks of those she had long sought to help.

“I see how easily I could end up on the street and hungry. What’s the difference between me and anyone else?”

If you knew nothing about Musicaro except that she’s started a social business and made a principled run for public office, you might assume she’s a well-heeled denizen of the charity circuit.

In-fact, Musicaro’s family tread a financially precarious path when she was growing up, and her recent job loss drove the issue of poverty home. She said her living expenses — though low — devour her unemployment benefits. “I see how easily I could end up on the street and hungry,” Musicaro said, asking, “What’s the difference between me and anyone else?”

Musicaro said her experience ought to debunk the notion that those living below the poverty line are necessarily grappling with some mental or emotional flaw. “I’m just a person, just like they are people, and circumstances happen,” Musicaro said, adding that for many, the difference between living under a roof and in the street is having family with whom to stay.

Although Musicaro can rattle off statistics about poverty and evaluate efforts to assuage it, one gets the sense the issue’s softer side — stories of warmth in an economy that can seem sterile — is what motivates her. In addition to merchandise and facts about hunger, visitors to Musicaro’s website find a page labeled, “The Kindness Conversations;” it features video interviews with a variety of people — including me — about acts of kindness they have witnessed or received.

Online, Musicaro writes that her company seeks to effect “an awakening in humanity through kindness, selflessness, trust, generosity, compassion and goodwill.” Such an intention seems ambitious even compared to her seven-figure donation goal. Nothing about Musicaro suggests that will stop her from pursuing it.

Photos courtesy of Figlie Di Fortuna.

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