Executive finds that service is her calling (Full story)

The Charlotte Observer

July 29, 2014
  • DeAnne Bennett started the Blessed Lotus clothing line to fund her humanitarian work.

DeAnne Bennett lives with purpose.

On April Fools’ Day 2010, Bennett quit her job as vice president of Sales at Univision, an American Spanish-language broadcast television network.

At the time, she had no idea what she wanted to do.

“I didn’t feel fulfilled,” said Bennett, who now lives in Charlotte’s Foxcroft neighborhood. “I was financially successful, one of few female executives and the youngest person in the boardroom, but I was emotionally bankrupt.”

Two years later, after taking some time off living and surfing in Mexico, Bennett decided to volunteer with a ministry that helped girls who had been forced into the sex-slave trade and children living in slums in Bangalore, India.

“I was playing with and holding a 6-year-old little girl at one brothel’s day care, and the male owner matter-of-factly stated that she would be in the streets with her mom in a few years,” Bennett said. “I felt immense sadness for this little girl’s future and knew that I had to do something more.”

One month later, Bennett met with Helena Coelho and Blessy Joseph.

Coelho had moved from Brazil to Goa, India, 20 years ago and founded Bright Lights School, a preschool program that prepares homeless and impoverished Indian children for primary school.

“Not only was Coelho giving these kids the skills essential for learning in the classroom, she was teaching them with love, a simple notion to us but a kindness rarely received by this devastatingly poor, distraught and violent caste,” Bennett said.

Joseph, an India native with a master’s degree in social work, introduced Bennett to the tent-dwelling communities in Bangalore.

“The parents and older children go to work six days a week, leaving behind young children who are vulnerable to abuse, abduction, human trafficking and sex trade,” Bennett said. “It was unbelievable that these young children were being left alone, and Blessy and I started brainstorming ways to provide a safe and educational environment.”

Bennett moved back to Charlotte and opened her own nonprofit, Rippled Purpose, to fund change-makers in India and around the world.

Bennett said education is the best way to combat poverty and end human trafficking. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s 2012 Global Educational Digest, 61 million primary school-age children are not attending school; some 13 million of those live in India.

Rippled Purpose, founded in May 2013, works with Joseph and Coelho to provide funding for educational programs in Goa and Bangalore.

Rippled Purpose also funds a program called Women Empowerment and Viable Economic Sustainability. The WEAVES program provides life-skills training, safe-sex education and women’s health classes to women and girls in Bangalore.

Bennett also is working with producer and cinematographer Joe Dickie on a documentary filmed in February 2010 that she said focuses on human trafficking and the risks for women and children in Bangalore.

With a total budget of more than $68,000 for these projects in 2014, Bennett said, she knew she had to find a better way to fund these programs. She decided that reinventing her principal fundraising tool was the best approach.

Bennett built a retail clothing business called Blessed Lotus, which sells ethnic-inspired clothing and donates at least 10 percent of sales to Rippled Purpose. The business, which started as private fashion trunk shows selling imported Indian tunics and pashminas, has become a line of resort and casual wear designed by Bennett.

“I didn’t know anything about design when I got started,” she said.

Bennett said her resort-wear line consists of ponchos, tunics and sleeveless dresses, but she won’t make them readily available to the public; she plans to present her designs to companies including Belk, Neiman Marcus and Saks.

Bennett, who has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rollins College, where she studied political science, economics and Spanish, says her life has changed drastically but that her faith has guided her to a life of service.

“My faith is everything to me. … I know I am exactly where I am meant to be,” she said. “My life is of service.”

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