At the age of 13, Jennifer Sault was inspired by her step aunt’s fundraising efforts to set up a student group at her high school in Canada, aimed at helping her friends’ underprivileged family members in the Philippines receive an education.
The Overseas Educational Fund, which she founded, is still operational today.
Having found her calling at a very early age, the 33-year-old Dubai resident took some time off right after high school to volunteer in Nepal and Tanzania, after which she went on to complete her degrees in international development studies, and philanthropy and non-profit leadership.
She continued to volunteer and work in charities for a “just enough for living” salary in Canada and the UAE.
In 2020, Ms Sault put her education and experience with non-profits to good use by founding her own initiative Thrift for Good, a store that sells pre-loved items to reduce waste and raise money for children’s projects around the world.
As a sister social enterprise of Gulf for Good (G4G), a UAE-based non-profit that raises funds for children’s charity projects globally through adventure challenges, 100 per cent of the profits from the store go to supporting their causes.
“In Canada, you’ll find a thrift store on every second street corner, so I grew up thrifting and love second-hand items,” says Ms Sault.
“When I came to Dubai in 2013, I found this to be a much more commercial city and back then thrifting was unheard of. There remains a stigma around second-hand, but it is encouraging to see the reception towards our initiative and the urgent push and awareness around environmental conservation and sustainability in the country now.”
Ms Sault lives in Dubai Sports City with her fiancé, Fadi, and foster kittens.
How did money feature in your childhood?
My grandparents were all farmers in Canada and knew how to live very conservatively. That was passed on to my parents as well.
My father was an engineer and went into real estate, so he became financially successful. But my parents divorced when I was very young and while I was very lucky that I never wanted for anything, my mother had to work two jobs to make sure that was the case.
We lived like money was very limited.
Did you learn frugal skills as a child?
Yes, my parents loved a good coupon book. I was taught the value of saving at a very young age. All my allowance and the minimum wage of Dh18 ($4.90) when working at McDonald’s as a teenager would go straight into a bank account.
By the time I graduated, I had saved enough to travel for a year, which was exciting as I volunteered overseas.
Do you remember your first experience working for a charity?
Even before I landed my first paid job with a charity, I had already gained extensive experience as a volunteer, from my high school initiative to volunteering as a full-time operations manager for a charity called endPoverty.
Then I started my paid job with the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation, which is involved in international community development projects.
My first actual job after university was in 2013 with 21st Century Leaders in Abu Dhabi, a charitable foundation that raises funds to support humanitarian and environmental causes around the world.
All these experiences reinforced my love for fundraising and to continue playing a small part in making a difference.
Why did you decide to open Thrift for Good?
The seed for Thrift for Good was planted when I began working as the operations manager for G4G in 2017.
We were always receiving calls from people who wanted to contribute with items or volunteer their time. So, we started selling the items at flea markets in Dubai and the money raised would go towards supporting G4G’s fundraising efforts.
It kept growing to the point that we needed a storage locker and started doing these markets every weekend.
I left G4G and went back to Canada for six months in 2019 due to personal reasons but kept thinking about all these clothes that could get a second home, while also providing a lifeline to impoverished communities.
I returned to Dubai in early 2020 to start Thrift for Good. We wanted to sell bulk clothing but, because of the pandemic, we had to push the entire model online for the customer.
It snowballed and we had so many volunteers and people contribute that before we knew it, we were opening our first store in the Golden Mile Galleria in Palm Jumeirah in 2021. We then went on to open our second store in Times Square Centre.
What difference is Thrift for Good making in the community?
We are currently donating Dh50,000 to Dh60,000 every month from online sales and in our stores. It takes about Dh18,000 to build a one-room school in Nepal, so we are able to make some pretty awesome impact already.
From an environmental perspective, we are a completely zero-waste solution and save about 2,500 pieces every week from going into landfills.
We sell quality wear, donate locally and recycle with our partners as well. My vision for Thrift for Good is to have a store in every community, so that thrifting becomes more convenient and second nature for people here.
Is it easy for you to thrift for other items in the UAE?
Now that we are here with Thrift for Good, I can say that it is getting easier. My entire closet is thrifted.
It takes time and patience to find what you are looking for but when you do, it is always less expensive, good for the environment and with Thrift for Good, goes towards a good cause as well.
You can also get good deals on gently used furniture if you spend an extra hour and make the effort to pick it up. There are some gaps, like I still need to buy new kitchenware, which I am hoping that we can expand into offering in the future.
Is it difficult to manage a household on a non-profit salary?
I’m very lucky that I wake up every morning with a sense of purpose and acknowledge that there is a big cost to that.
Most of my work experience has been volunteer-based and with charities, it is the very minimum that you receive to survive.
My salary for about 10 years has been about Dh10,000 a month and because of my frugal lifestyle, this has been enough to live here.
As a founder of a non-profit, are you still able to save?
Unfortunately, I have been struggling to save. I incurred a lot of credit card debt during my first marriage and only got out of it last year.
Then I had to take a very heavy debt to start Thrift for Good and have only just finished paying that off.
I feel like I’m restarting my life at 33 in terms of savings. Having said that, I wouldn’t change a thing because being able to raise money for children’s charities is much more important for me.
What financial lessons have you learnt along the way?
Save first. As soon as I receive my pay now, I put a portion of it into savings and don’t touch it.
I don’t want to be in debt again because the interest sets you back quite a bit. So, I won’t be taking any debt unless I have a safety net.
What are your future financial goals?
I do want to invest in property once I have enough saved for a down payment.
My personal goals are tied to what I want to do with Thrift for Good, so I want us to grow to Dh200,000 revenue per month in the next six months so that we can donate Dh100,000 each month from this year.
What investments have you made in yourself lately?
I love travelling and the experiences I gather on them are the most valuable things I have.
My most recent travel was a volunteering trip to Malawi with G4G.
I recently learnt how to ride a motorcycle and hope to take a biking trip in the Himalayas with my fiancé. I will also be going to Machu Picchu with some friends in August.
If you had a windfall, what would you splurge on?
First, I’d put some aside for real estate and expanding the store. I’d definitely travel with the rest.