At just 24, WashU grad Rebecca van Bergen launched Nest, which now helps nearly 170,000 artisans globally.

Photo portrait of Nest founder and WashU alum Rebecca van Bergen
van Bergen

As Rebecca van Bergen was finishing up her master’s of social work degree at WashU’s Brown School, she didn’t quite know what she wanted to do. Interested in international social work with a focus on women and children, inspiration struck in the form of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’s idea of microfinance. Though intrigued by microfinance, van Bergen noted, “it didn’t seem like there were many approaches that were more holistic and invested in training and infrastructure and market development.”

With this approach in mind, van Bergen developed Nest and entered her business plan in the Skandalaris Center’s Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competition. After winning $24,000 in seed capital, Nest became a reality.

Nest is a nonprofit that connects artisans, mostly women, to the commercial marketplace. Specifically, it works to connect these artisans to reputable retailers that provide well-paying work. The process is simple: artisans fill out a survey about their business practices then Nest sees what the artisan needs and connects them with mentors.

A partnership with FEED Projects would grant the nonprofit its big break. “Once we had a successful partnership, it became easier to get others,” van Bergen noted. Nest makes money through both donations and working with various fashion brands.

“In so many ways, Nest really was born through WashU,” van Bergen says. “The university feels close to my heart.”

The best part for van Bergen is the impact Nest has on women’s lives. “At its root, all our work is about creating that ripple effect by empowering women to be able to work for ­themselves.”

Read more about Nest at the Source.