She Left Her Career In Finance To Make Candles That Literally Help Light Up The World

"We can give back in little yet impactful ways each and every day."

Sterling McDavid used to work at Goldman Sachs, a career most would be envious of. But after an eye-opening trip to Southeast Asia, she found her passions lie elsewhere. In Vietnam, she saw how under-resourced the communities were, and started to think of ways she could help. 

For her, providing solar energy was the answer. 

To do this, she quit her job in finance and started The Starling Project in 2015. The Brooklyn company produces soy-based, hand-poured candles that do so much more than light up your home and make it smell nice.  By selling candles to raise money for humanitarian organization such as UNICEF, The Starling Project helps provide solar energy to communities, such as Chad and Rwanda. So far, they have raised over $150,000 for their cause.  



To learn more about The Starling Project, and how it started, we caught up with McDavid.

Courtesy of The Starling Project
Courtesy of The Starling Project

"I left my career in finance to focus on creating a social good company that could help people like those who I encountered on that powerful field visit to Vietnam," McDavid explained to A Plus via email, adding that she's always had a passion for philanthropy, and has been volunteering since she was 8 years old. " I felt strongly that I needed to switch careers to focus on my passion to help others."

After leaving the finance world, McDavid ended up studying interior architecture and design at Parsons School of Design in New York City. From there, she got involved in Projectiles, an architecture firm in Paris, France. It was when she was helping design a spa resort with the firm that she had the idea to launch a candle line in support of helping communities access solar energy. 

"Candles give off light, which goes hand-in-hand with solar energy, so it was perfect!" The Starling Project founder stated.

"Solar energy provides so much more than light."

"It can provide clean running water by powering pipes, or provide much-needed electricity to replace the dangerous sources for electricity that rural communities rely on," she explained. "Solar panels can last 30 plus years with little maintenance, so it really is a long-term solution to a variety of issues that arise in communities in need around the world, which is such a beautiful thing." 

And so many communities are in need. According to the World Energy Outlook, there were approximately 1.3 billion people without access to electricity in 2014. In sub-Saharan Africa, there were more than 620 million people without electricity.

McDavid told A Plus that a single large solar panel can enhance the lives of 5,000 people or more, and can make their lives, especially those of children, safer.  "In many communities, children are assigned to walk miles to collect water or other resources for their household, often putting them in great danger. Rapes and crimes can diminish when there is sustainable energy, as children no longer need to execute this task." 

Courtesy of The Starling Project
Courtesy of The Starling Project

After McDavid shared her idea with UNICEF, she received positive feedback, and The Starling Project was born.

McDavid said she chose to partner with UNICEF because it has saved more lives than any humanitarian organization in the world.  UNICEF was also the organization that initially inspired The Starling Project, so she knew she wanted to give back to it. 

"The solar energy projects that we have funded, or are funding, with UNICEF help power pipes to provide clean water and light in Chad and help provide electricity to hospitals in Rwanda."

She adds, "As a Chair of the UNICEF Next Generation Steering Committee and a member of UNICEF's New York Board of Directors, I have had the chance to travel extensively with UNICEF, which has opened my eyes to the harsh problems that those in underdeveloped communities face. This helps me discover the best projects for The Starling Project to fund. My goal is to continue to provide resources through the benefits of solar power to underdeveloped communities around the world."

In terms of future plans for The Starling Project, McDavid reveals they are focusing on creating candles and working with UNICEF to fund solar energy for hospitals in Rwanda. They are also planning more Starling Suppers, which are informative dinner parties that bring awareness to solar energy and what it can do for those in need.

Courtesy of The Starling Project
Courtesy of The Starling Project

"Every person has the right to a safe and healthy life. Some people are fortunate to be born in a place where they have access to water, food, healthcare, education, etc. but others unfortunately do not have the same opportunities. We are much more impactful when we come together to take action for the greater good."

Courtesy of The Starling Project
Courtesy of The Starling Project

"If you have a passion, stick with it! Stay focused, listen to your calling, and work hard to achieve your goals. I believe we all have a purpose and the more we work together, the more we can accomplish!"



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