After questioning why she felt comfortable spending $5 on a cup of coffee but not donating money to charity 2020 College graduate Wenhan Zhang, who studied philosophy and computer science, wondered if there was a way she could address the perceived problem through her background in coding.
In January 2020, she compiled a team of Penn students and alumni to create a web browser extension and web app that allows users to donate money to charity while they shop at certain online retailers. Soulsmile Club is a tech nonprofit that donates up to 20% of online purchases to charity at no additional cost to the user. The team launched the browser extension in June 2020, which will be followed by the addition of a web app. The app will allow users to specify which causes they would like their donations to support, access their own donation history, and see the donation activities of other Soulsmile Club users through a global feed.
Users can download the browser extension or shop with retailers through the Soulsmile Club website to earn "soulsmiles," which are given to Soulsmile Club as a commission from the retailer for directing users to its site. Soulsmile Club then donates 100% of the commission to organizations working on humanitarian issues. With the launch of the app, users will be able to choose specific causes to donate money to, including food and water insecurity, global health, racial justice, and women's empowerment.
Soulsmile Club’s vision is to make the world happier by making donating easier, team member and 2020 Engineering graduate Sneha Rampalli said.
“With Soulsmile Club, it spreads the message that it's actually not that hard to be able to give back to your community,” Rampalli said. “If you can have a platform that enables you to give back to your community, it makes everything a lot easier for people.”
Soulsmile Club partners with retailers such as the clothing brand Hanes and electronics company Logitech. It has donated money to organizations including Doctors Without Borders USA, the NAACP, Campaign Zero, No Kid Hungry, and the Malala Fund.
The Soulsmile Club team includes Zhang, Rampalli, Wharton and College senior Shuke Zeng, Engineering sophomore Hannah Gonzalez, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences first year Brittany Cho, 2020 College and Engineering graduate Sneha Advani, and Temple University sophomore Regina Oda. The team is entirely composed of women, which group members said has been an empowering experience.
“In the tech world there’s not that many women, especially women of color, so I feel really safe in this group," Oda said. "I know I can talk to anybody about anything and I’m not scared to ask any questions.”
Advani, the technical lead director, said Soulsmile Club is a great avenue to facilitate social change. As an undergraduate, she served as the director of FemmeHacks, an annual hackathon focused on empowering women and non-binary people, which furthered her interest in the intersection of technology and social impact.
“One of the biggest ways that we can have an impact on society is through our purchasing power and through the dollars that we spend, so with Soulsmile Club, we can encourage people to use those dollars for good,” Advani said.
Soulsmile Club also promotes socially conscious consumerism by partnering with retailers that have sustainable and ethical practices. Users of Soulsmile Club are able to make double the impact by not only donating, but also supporting retailers that share the same ethical values, Advani said.
With the addition of the global feed of donation activities in the web app, Zhang hopes that Soulsmile Club will become more of a community, which will encourage more users to donate.
“We just hope to create this environment where people can just log in and see that there are other people trying to make a difference and to make people feel like they are part of the effort to make a change, instead of just defaulting to being a bystander.”