Actress, producer, director, activist: Eva Longoria has a lot of strings to her bow. But the 41-year-old Latino-American is first and foremost a businesswoman.
Whether it’s running her eponymous foundation, which hopes to give Latino women a brighter future, or sitting as a judge on Chivas Regal’s The Venture competition – think Dragons’ Den but with social entrepreneurs – Longoria has had her fair share of business experience, and is insistent the future of business is inseparable from social responsibility.
“There’s been such a change in the tide of how businesses do business,” she tells The Huffington Post UK. “I think if there’s two of the same product and one business has a social impact aspect people will pay more for that product because of the social impact it has.
“People have become so much more aware of changes that need to be made in the world,” she continues, “and there have been so many successful examples of companies that have done that. Toms for example; people will buy that shoe instead of others because it gives away a free shoe [to someone in need]. We live in a global community where everyone wants to help each other. It’s not only a new trend, it’s probably the only way your business can be sustainable.”
These days, a job is more than just a job, Longoria argues.
“People want to know: ‘What am I doing? What impact am I going to have on the world? What am doing with my life? I want my life’s work to matter.’ And so I think that that has definitely changed. Especially with Generation X. They all want a job that has some sort of social impact and I think that it’s probably more prevalent in younger generations wanting to do that.”
Longoria established her foundation in 2012 in the face of disparaging statistics; 27% of Latinas live below the poverty line, one in three drop out of high school and a mere 15% of adult Latino women hold college degrees.
She admits setting up the charitable organisation wasn’t without its challenges – namely what cause she should dedicate her time to.
“Narrowing the idea down on what the foundation was going to be focused on was one of the biggest challenge.
“Daily I would get a request to help dolphins in Japan, AIDS in Africa, sex trafficking in Thailand,” Longoria recalls. “Even though those are all very important causes I knew I couldn’t do them all and make an impact. So I said to myself: who do I want to help, who is the community I want to help, and what is the change I want to make. What is the best change I can make?
“And so I knew I wanted to help the Latino community because that is the community which I am from. And I knew I wanted to help women because I think women are multiplying factors. If you help a woman she helps her family. If she helps her family it will help her community. You knows it’s a domino effect leading to this great change. And so that’s why I created the Eva Longoria Foundation to focus on Latinas and helping them through educational programs and entrepreneurial programs.”
Despite the hurdles, Longoria has reaped the rewards, meeting those she’s given a helping hand to “all the time”.
“It’s amazing,” she gushes. “One of the programs we have is a parental engagement program where parents take a six week course to know how to navigate the journey of their child’s education. And when a parent takes this course their child has a 90% chance of graduating high school. If they don’t, their child has a 50% chance. And so we saw tremendous results with this program.
“When these people get out and we give them a certificate of completion, I’ve had parents crying saying ‘it’s the only certificate I’ve ever got in my life, the first time I’ve accomplished something’, and you go ‘wow, I just can’t…’.
“It’s heartbreaking but at the same time so inspiring because they did it for their child and they’re going to make an impact on their child’s life. So I meet those parents all the time. ‘If it wasn’t for the foundation my child would not be in college today’, they tell me. And that’s a really great feeling.”
Longoria has worked with some of the biggest names in philanthropy, including Howard Buffet, who she takes great inspiration from.
“He said to me: ‘I want my foundation to be obsolete in 40 years’. And that’s important because you do need to teach a man to fish, not give him the fish. And what I do in my foundation is I tell the women ‘I want you to own the pond in which you fish’. So I want to go a step beyond that. It is important to create these sustainable businesses that will be successful on their own.”
Longoria is adamant businesses have a duty to be socially responsible, saying they can have the greatest impact when it comes to solve some of the world’s major problems.
“Whether it’s food security, environment or health, they can have a huge impact. whether it is providing jobs or sourcing materials for an underserved community, providing a product or service that is not in that community. The effect is exponential.
“So I really love this sector. Probably the most. I think private foundations and charities, like my foundation, are there to help people who fall through the cracks of what government policies don’t really take care of. So ‘that system and institution doesn’t work for a person like me’. Ok, then I’m going to help you. But the corporate responsibility sector is really important in an overall approach and strategy to solving the world’s problems.
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As part of her role as a judge on Chivas’ panel – the group has the power to dole out up to $750,000 funding to entrepreneurs – she is more than happy to part with some advice for budding innovators.
“Most innovation comes from experience,” she says. “So somebody who was touched by cancer, or who had a family member who was touched by cancer.
“Or somebody who lived in poverty growing up and knows those hardships. Somebody who lived in poverty and knows the feeling of hunger. Normally that’s a huge source of inspiration for a lot of these innovative ideas. But at the same time you don’t have to have survived cancer to provide a solution to it.”
“What I look for is how well do they know their market?
“I think what they have most in common is they all have obstacles in their countries or commutes and they’ve chosen to see those obstacles as opportunities.”
“Another thing we’re looking for is the social impact aspect. How many people are you going to affect with this product or service? Will you make this a long lasting sustainable change, and is this change scaleable? Can you make it grow? Those are the things I would want in my own business plan.”
Not only is Longoria passionate about providing deliverance to those in need, she’s driven to help people help others.
“It’s important for business leaders to mentor,” she explains. “When budding entrepreneurs hear your story and hen they hear you did that and how you did that they’re inspired to want to do it well and do it differently.
“And I think mentorship is one of the best things we can do for younger generations.
“People can’t be what they can’t see.”
To apply for the third year of The Venture competition for the chance to win a share of the $1 million fund visit chivas.com