There are 250 million grade-school students in China—the vast majority living in rural mainland. Their schools are often poorly equipped. Some do not even have desks and other classroom staples universally found in first-world countries, such as the US and the UK. Unfortunately, these countries are many and lack basic operating infrastructure—like desks. Two young men from Kansas City, Missouri seek to remedy this problem one desk at a time. Ian Kuklenski and Doug VanderValk, over operations and product design respectively, have founded Unlocked, a non-profit furniture company that designs, manufactures, and sales desks and chairs. For every desk purchased in the US, one is donated overseas. The business model is lean when it comes to overhead and product design. The profits made on domestic sales fund the organization’s furniture donations to those in need at a desk-for-desk ratio.
Unlocked has a current crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise $15,000 designated for a large purchase order. This will prove out the concept to domestic retailers and manufacturers and produce profits enough to furnish the entire Yashui School in rural China. Unlocked has designed its school furniture to be easily assembled. There are no nails, screws, bolts or glue required. Rather, it is assembled like a 3D jigsaw puzzle; each piece tightly fitting into the others. Its unique design allows for two desk-and-chair sets to be cut from a single 4’x8’ sheet of birch plywood. Another design benefit is that the products can be flat packed and transported in much larger quantities. For buildings doubling as schools and community centers, the Unlocked furniture can be disassembled and easily stores during specific events. The product line includes several chairs and tables to choose from as well as finishes and veneers.
There are many organizations asking for your time and money that do not have a distinct return on investment. In fact, the last few organizations that I have donated to keep asking for more money and I am yet to see the impact of my previous donations. Unlocked is different. You can have complete satisfaction in knowing that the desk that you enjoy in your study or nursery is duplicated in some destitute village for schoolchildren to utilize. The Unlocked business model is one that should inspire other non-profits hopefuls—a solid domestic business at the core that funds the philanthropic efforts to fulfill the organization’s mission. This is important, as the recent global recession has proven to reduce consumer confidence and spending especially toward entities that primarily rely on donations rather than the sale of goods or services. Unlocked has a solid product and business plan to affect the world in an impactful way—one desk at a time. Now that is a powerful POP.