Meet Kate Marie Grinold Sigfusson (Buenos Aires, Fall 2007), founder and CEO of Babies4Babies, a social impact business on a mission to save one million newborn lives. Based in Chicago, Babies4Babies provides four lifesaving treatments for newborns in the developing world for each swaddle purchased. As a new mother, with a passion for empowering women and a background in international development, the mission is close to her heart.
Read on to learn how study abroad played a role in Kate Marie’s career trajectory to social entrepreneurship.
IES Abroad: Why did you choose to study abroad in Buenos Aires?
Kate Marie Grinold Sigfusson: The year before I studied abroad with IES Abroad, I did a Spanish language immersion in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I fell in love with the city and knew I had to go back. IES Abroad Buenos Aires was the perfect fit for me.
IES Abroad: How did studying abroad influence you personally and professionally?
KMGS: Although I felt independent before I left for my semester abroad, while living in South America, I matured as a young adult, and in many ways, I grew up. It wasn’t only the traveling or the distance from home, but rather the everyday things like taking public transportation, grocery shopping, and establishing a routine and community for myself while immersed in a new culture and language. At the time, I felt the experience impacted me much more personally than professionally, but looking back, I can see clearly how studying abroad affected my entire adult life and career trajectory.
IES Abroad: What were some of your most memorable study abroad experiences?
KMGS: I had a professor, Patricio Rice, an Irishman turned Argentine who had been detained and tortured by the military junta in the late 1970s for doing social work among the poor. Patricio had an incredible story of survival and is one of the most inspiring individuals I have met. I took his human rights course in which we not only discussed but also experienced the universal idea of human rights. Patricio invited his class to attend the weekly marches with the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, a movement of mothers who have spent the better parts of their lives calling for justice for their disappeared sons and daughters. Every Thursday at 3:30 p.m., the Madres would walk in very slow circles around the Plaza, linked arm-in-arm, wearing white handkerchiefs embroidered with the names of their disappeared sons and daughters around their heads. I walked many times with Las Madres during my semester abroad and have never before or since met a group of women of such emotional strength and faith. And now that I am a mother, I can begin to understand their mission for justice for their children.
IES Abroad: What inspired you to start your own business, Babies4Babies?
KMGS: My background in international development was incredibly influential. I’ve always wanted to raise the human development index, and I believe this starts by making an investment in a child’s first year of life. Babies4Babies empowers customers to give four lifesaving treatments to babies in the developing world through the purchase of a swaddle blanket for the baby they love. We are a for-profit business with a social impact model. Our goal is to fund very simple but high-impact initiatives to keep newborns alive and to raise the human development index. It ties directly to what I was studying in school and the incredible poverty I witnessed while studying and living in Argentina.
IES Abroad: Tell us about your mission and what makes Babies4babies unique.
KMGS: Our mission is to save one million newborn lives. Every year, about three million deaths occur in the first year of a child’s life, but most of these deaths are easily prevented with low-cost, high-impact health initiatives. Babies4Babies established a partnership with Saving Mothers—a globally-recognized maternal and newborn health-focused, non-profit organization—to provide Chlorhexidine, a topical antiseptic solution that is rubbed on a newborn’s umbilical cord and has been shown to dramatically reduce infection and death by sepsis. Through the use of Chlorhexidine, there is an opportunity to save about half a million babies each year, and every Babies4Babies swaddle helps reach that goal.
IES Abroad: What do you love most about your job? What’s a typical day like?
KMGS: What I love most about being an entrepreneur is that there is no typical day. Running a growing company, things change fast and I am constantly learning, innovating, and taking leaps of faith. The hardest part for me was, after an entire year of building the company and crafting the product, I finally said out loud to all of my family and friends that I was launching Babies4Babies. Being an entrepreneur is admitting to the world that you are ready to fail. There is no guarantee. There is no safety net. Our whole lives we are taught that failure is bad, but I actually think that failure is our greatest opportunity to learn.
IES Abroad: How do you juggle being a new mom and running your own business?
KMGS: I am fortunate to have a strong community of mentors, “friendtors”, and family. Above all, I have a very supportive partner in my husband, Steve, who, then my boyfriend, traveled all the way to Buenos Aires for a visit. A photo we took of El Perito Moreno, the Argentine glacier we trekked together, is hanging in our living room. After having my son, I decided that instead of seeking balance between work and family, I would try to find harmony between the two. That is, I’m always working and mothering, but when I’m doing one I try to be intentional and focused on the task before me, whether that’s fulfilling orders or feeding my son. Of course, this is much easier said than done, especially working from a home office, but I do think the key is finding and fostering supportive communities.
IES Abroad: What’s next for Babies4Babies? Are there any new products in development?
KMGS: Yes! I am so excited. Our first year in business was about proving our concept and our product. Since launching, the response to our social impact model and the product itself has been tremendous. In year two, we are expanding our product line with fashion-forward prints on swaddles, debuting a new product this spring, and doubling our impact. In 2014, we gave two Chlorhexidine treatments for each swaddle sold, and in 2015, we are giving four.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give students who are thinking of studying or interning abroad?
KMGS: Go! Do it! Studying abroad is unique from traveling, and to take a semester to immerse yourself in another culture is an investment in your life. If you have the option, go abroad somewhere different from everything you know and let the experiences you have teach you, let the people you meet impact you, and let the world change you.