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Nicole Cardoza on the reclamation of wellness

Photo by Erica Elan

Nicole Cardoza is the founder and Executive Director of Yoga Foster, a national nonprofit that empowers educators with yoga and mindfulness resources for the classroom. She’s also the founder of Reclamation Ventures, a fund that invests in high-potential, underestimated entrepreneurs making wellness more accessible in their communities. Nicole’s work has been featured in Forbes, Yoga Journal, Wanderlust, Family Circle Magazine, SELF Magazine, Paper Magazine, Mind Body Green, and Girlboss, to name a few. She’s a seasoned speaker, consultant, teacher and coach.

Setu: What was the moment early on in your yoga practice, when you decided to embark on making yoga more equitable and accessible?

Nicole: My yoga practice grew because I was passionate about making it equitable. I practiced infrequently for my own sake a donation-based yoga studio, but wasn’t sparked to deepen my relationship until I started introducing yoga poses to a group of students in an afterschool program I volunteered for. Once I realized how interested the students were in learning more, I knew I had to find the resources to best equip them – putting me in direct tension between the needs of my community and the wellness industry that, despite being in close physical proximity, doesn’t support them.

Setu: Where do you continue to find the strength and energy to keep building wellness resources for people who have been distanced from them due to the structure and system of our culture and society? Even in the midst of the Yoga Journal cover scandal you were launching Reclamation Ventures and traveling around the US on a school bus to raise awareness for Yoga Foster. This seems to be your purpose in life and you are truly connected to it.

Nicole: I feel a deep sense of duty and responsibility to show up in this work, not just for myself and my peers who I greatly respect, but for the students we serve through Yoga Foster. One day, they will leave the classroom – where they’ve been practicing yoga and mindfulness for years – and enter the wellness industry which, as of now, isn’t equipped to serve their diverse needs. The work I’ve done over the past few months is work I’ve always hoped to do, but certainly wasn’t in the timeline I anticipated. Although I’m grateful for the opportunities that came out of the conflict, it’s been incredibly difficult financially and emotionally for me to organize as quickly as I have. My practice right now is to process the resentment I feel at times, and reclaim the joy and pleasure I once experienced in this work.

Photo by Mike Vosters

Setu: You run two companies and a non-profit. Can you share about the journey that took you from starting the first one, Yoga Foster, to the most recent one, Reclamation Ventures? How do they interconnect? Did one spark the idea for the other? Do you see them all coming together under one brand eventually?

Nicole: It’s absolutely been a natural progression, and one I’ve always intended. I’m surprised that so many people are surprised that I’ve started other companies since Yoga Foster, because I’ve always known I’ve wanted to explore multiple models of strategic change. Put simply, Yoga Foster re-allocates resources from where wellness is thriving to schools that aren’t. But certain spaces in wellness are thriving because wellness is unwell – the focus on exclusivity, of able-bodyism, of whiteness, of profits over access…all of this has helped to create the opportunity for Yoga Foster itself to even exist.

And that’s not distinctly a “wellness thing”; that’s capitalism. Philanthropy, the nonprofit business model is designed to help those with financial power re-allocate capital for the greater good and get a tax write off in the process. But as I continue to be harmed by the wellness industry, not just as a nonprofit founder, but a teacher and student, I have to question how we can not just leverage the resources in the industry, but change the industry altogether. And that calls for a different business with different objectives than Yoga Foster. So while Yoga Foster re-allocates the abundance that’s generated in wellness, Reclamation Ventures is redefining who creates that abundance. So ideally this And hopefully we’ll eventually have an entire new economic and political system that’s rooted in equity, so both of these ventures will be unnecessary. Maybe that’s my next project…

Setu: You have big goals for Yoga Foster in 2020, like increasing the classroom partnerships from 3,000 to 10,000. I imagine you have similarly significant goals for Reclamation Ventures. Can you share more about these and how we can support?

Nicole: Currently I’m raising a fund to make more strategic, early-stage investments into wellness companies that cater to an underrepresented audience. In addition, we will continue to offer $5,000 grants to entrepreneurs periodically throughout 2020, and host events to elevate the conversation that wellness is for all of us. I’d love to see more of our community investing in our Patreon (which goes directly to our grant fund) representing RV through our swag, and joining us at upcoming events.