Change Makers – Kate Ryan

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A story of compassion and commerce

02 April 2024

This month, our Change Makers series features Kate Ryan, the visionary founder of Alepp, a social enterprise built around traditional Syrian soap. With a mission to merge compassion with commerce, Kate's journey shows how innovative ideas can generate change and hope. 

What inspired you to found Alepp, and how did the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre influence this direction? 
As a volunteer, I experienced firsthand the great work that the ASRC does, which inspired me to try to do more. I wanted to build a business that would provide organisations like the ASRC with a diversified income stream beyond donations. I had also used traditional Aleppo soap for years because I have sensitive skin, but it was hard to find in Australia, so, the two ideas converged in a small business called Alepp! 

With your background in senior management within the corporate sector, how have you applied your experience to Alepp? 
It was quite challenging because, suddenly, I found myself doing everything without any support functions. However, I believe this situation helped me focus on the commercial side of the business. Although Alepp is a registered charity, our goal is to generate enough revenue to cover our costs and distribute the remaining profits to the ASRC. For us, profit is king! Having a background in communications also helps me tell our story, which is crucial for building trust with customers. 

Could you share how your principle of "One idea. Two ingredients. Endless hope." has influenced Alepp's approach to creating a product with significant community impact? 
One of the key drivers of Alepp is simplicity. What we do is quite straightforward, and by keeping things simple, we reduce costs and waste, which in turn delivers the most positive impact. The phrase "endless hope" refers to the belief that our actions, no matter how small, can have a positive impact. And to be honest, you need to have bucketloads of hope to be in a small business at the moment! 

Alepp is dedicated to allocating 100% of its profits to programs that support asylum seekers and refugees. Could you explain how this decision embodies Alepp's mission and values? 
Supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Australia is the founding principle of Alepp and the reason we exist. Everything we do is focused on this goal, and having such a singular focus actually makes it easier to make decisions. 

 The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre plays a significant role in supporting people seeking asylum in Australia. How does Alepp align with the objectives of ASRC, and how do you see this partnership evolving? 
The ASRC is Australia’s largest human rights organisation providing support to people seeking asylum.  While we have no formal connection with ASRC, we share their objectives and support them however we can. Once the business is profitable, we will donate 100% of profits to their programs.  

Sourcing Aleppo soap from Syria supports traditional soap makers affected by war. Can you discuss the impact this has on these communities and the importance of preserving traditional craftsmanship? 
Sourcing the soap directly from Syria has been extremely difficult due to the dictatorship there. For 18 months, I worked with a Syrian refugee in Istanbul named Mohammad to source the soaps from the best factories in Aleppo, Syria. Then, we spent six months in 2022 without any soap to sell due to challenges in exporting the soap from Syria. We try our hardest to support those still operating in Syria, but this may change in the future as many factories are relocating to Northern Türkiye. 

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