Erin O’Malley

Co-Founder and Marketing Director at Njabini, Inc.Written by Faith Bischoff



Erin O’Malley is the Co-founder and Marketing Director of Njabini, Inc., a nonprofit organization that aims to socially and economically empower women in rural Kenya by engaging them in self-sustaining, community owned businesses. Erin was born in Boston, Massachusetts on September 14, 1990 to Dan and Ginger O’Malley. She was the fifth of six children, with three older sisters, one older brother, and one younger sister.
Erin grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, attending the town public schools until the seventh grade when she enrolled at Ursuline Academy in Dedham, Massachusetts. Erin’s parents worked professionally providing services to the members of their communities. Her mom, the school nurse and a biology teacher at Ursuline Academy lauded the school’s motto, “Serviam”, meaning, “I will serve”. Her dad, a lawyer in Erin’s youth, later became a judge. He held the values of integrity and equity in high esteem, and from Erin’s childhood, instilled within her these values, greatly shaping her view of the world.
After six years at Ursuline and innumerable hours of community service, Erin graduated from high school and looked ahead to the next chapter of her life. She enrolled at Providence College in the fall of 2008 and spent the next two years assimilating into the practices and lifestyles of higher education. After two years at Providence College, Erin chose to take a leave of absence for one year to pursue community service. She spent the fall of 2010 volunteering as a furniture mover and community liaison for My Brother’s Keeper, a non-profit organization that aims to bring the “light and love of Christ” to those they serve. My Brother’s Keeper accomplishes this by delivering donated furniture to families in need throughout Southeastern Massachusetts.
In January of 2010, Erin moved to a small village in rural Kenya to volunteer as an education ambassador for Flying Kites Global, a non-profit organization that seeks to provide exemplary childcare to some of the world’s most vulnerable children. Flying Kites operates a children’s home and primary school for twenty-seven of the village’s orphaned children.
While living in Kenya, Erin and another Flying Kites volunteer, Mike Behan, started Njabini Apparel, a social business that employs Kenyan mothers who hand-make scarves, hats, jewelry, yoga mat bags, and wristlets. Njabini Apparel pays 50 percent of its sales proceeds to the Kenyan women as salary and 20 percent to Flying Kites. The remaining 30 percent is used for financial and skills training programs for the women and workshop overhead.
Njabini Apparel’s mission is to help poor families living in rural Kenya increase their income and achieve their dreams. The company works within local communities to develop, scale, and replicate income-generating opportunities by identifying commercial opportunities and developing pro-poor business models within the agricultural sector.
Erin returned to Providence College in the fall of 2011, and has spent the past two and a half years growing the organization from a small grassroots employment program to a self-sustaining, community-owned, vehicle for economic and social empowerment. She will graduate from Providence College in May 2013, at which time she is participating in a trek to Mount Everest, as a fundraising and awareness initiative for Flying Kites Global.
Erin chose to take an untraditional path from that of most college sophomores. In making her decision to take a year off from school, Erin was faced with varying reactions from people both close to her and those more distant. She felt the reverberating pressure from her peers, advisors, parents, and friends, to stay in school and follow the traditional path. In speaking with Erin of her decision, she says,
“I understood that their comments and challenges came from a place of concern for my future and well being. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am for their concern. The fact of the matter was that I was deeply unhappy with who I was ‘being’ while away at school. I was a person that became involved on a very surface level with community programs. For the first time in my life, I cared more about going out and hanging out with friends than living deliberately in doing something that I love. And during that time-before I choose to really listen to what my heart was telling me- I wasn’t fulfilled. I knew the longer that I stayed at PC, the more I would be delaying the realization of who I actually am, and who I choose to be. Taking the year off allowed me to re-create a space for that person.”
With this mindset, Erin chose to take action in pursuit of more authentic fulfillment, and took a year off from school. This decision, as she has come to realize, was both the greatest risk she has ever taken as well as the greatest reward she has ever received. The personal growth that Erin experienced through her challenge to find authentic fulfillment has motivated her to facilitate others realization of his or her own potential. This motivation has translated to her going on two trips to Kenya, to volunteer for Flying Kites as well as to start Njabini Apparel, to empower the women in the community, who had been previously marginalized and excluded from the economic and social sector.
The cultural Ill that Erin works so hard to combat is poverty. Poverty is an issue worldwide and for most, an issue that seems impossible to alleviate. Erin, however took a proactive approach in order to provide security and sustainability for the people that she had the opportunity to live in community with. Through her life’s practice and through Njabini Apparel, Erin acknowledges that it is through communal efforts and collaboration that change is made. Because of Njabini Apparel, 10 women are employed and can now put food on their tables and pay for their children to receive an education, and that is what is going to break the cycle of poverty for those families. “We’ve grown from one woman knitting hats and scarves to eight women employed every day,” Erin said. “The children are enrolled full time in school, their path to financial literacy has begun, and their businesses are in incubation. There’s a long road ahead, and I’m thrilled to see where it will lead us.” It has definitely not been an easy road for Erin, as she chose the unbeaten path when she decided to take a year off from college to dedicate herself to service. She then returned to Providence College as a full time student for her remaining two years while running and building up Njabini Apparel. Erin's work is proof that there is another side to the way we treat and have come to accept poverty.
The backbone of Erin’s vision in Njabini Apparel was to create a program that is sustainable and would eventually be fully run by the people that it was created for. Having been a volunteer at different capacities her whole life, whether it be in schools and orphanages with children to working with Habitat for Humanity or My Brother’s Keeper, Erin could not help but wonder what her efforts were doing to get to the core of the issues and problems that organizations set out to address. Were these organizations sustainable? Sustainability is an institutional challenge that every organization has to address, but Erin was convinced that there was a way to make true sustainability come to fruition. During her first visit to Njabini, Erin saw the opportunity to create what she had been trying to achieve through her volunteer work: a sustainable social entrepreneurship.
In her pursuit to create opportunities for women in the village of Njabini as well as create future opportunities for the children at Flying Kites in Kenya, Erin upholds the virtues of loving kindness and justice. These virtues have been instilled in Erin throughout her life and have led her to her most recent endeavors. Loving Kindness, known most universally as the “Golden Rule” or as “Agape, an ancient Greek word for love of neighbor” is at the core of Erin’s belief system and is relevant in her everyday life in the way she treats others and the ideology that has led her to dedicate herself to better the lives of those around her locally as well as internationally. Justice is “the evaluation of situations according to their merits, fairly and without prejudice, as well as giving each person his or her due”. Erin foundationally believes in creating a just society for people across economic classes and societies. In working to create opportunities for women to sustain themselves, Erin’s actions contribute to creating a more just community in Kenya and in turn a more equitable foundation for aid in the developing world.
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