In October I attended the ONE Girls & Women AYA Summit at the Google Headquarters in DC. One of the many powerful panels we heard from was entitled Change Through Economic Opportunity, and both major fashion companies and small start-ups weighed in on how they are impacting the lives of women through economic empowerment. There are so many fantastic places to purchase gifts holiday season, but why not use the power of your wallet to also help to lift a woman out of poverty when you purchase them. I feel like this makes the giving even sweeter. Not only will the recipient love what they get, but you both will know it had a positive impact on someone else’s life somewhere in this world. To me it feels like giving twice. Here are my top picks this year to use my purchasing power for social good from the AYA Summit panelists and beyond.
Macy’s sells a line of goods called Heart of Haiti, designed to enrich and improve the lives of the artisans that create beautiful goods. Established after the massive earthquake in 2010, Heart of Haiti was created as a sustainable way to help repair Haiti’s fragile economy.
I’ve been a huge fan of Kate Spade since she began so I was thrilled when I met Sydney Price and heard her speak about the Kate Spade On Purpose line at the AYA Summit panel on Change Through Economic Opportunity. Each piece in this collection is handcrafted in Rwanda creating sustainable economic opportunities for women and reshaping their community.
I also met Jane Mosbacher Morris at the AYA Summit where she participated in the panel on Change Through Economic Opportunity. I love her story from policy to retail and was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview her a few days ago and get more insight into her path to founding To The Market. To The Market is a marketplace for survivor made goods, whether it is from war, disaster, or abuse, To The Market provides a market for the beautiful handcrafted goods that give women survivors a chance to support themselves and their families.
I had the pleasure of visiting the FashionABLE factory in Ethiopia this past summer and have been writing about and wearing the gorgeous scarves made in Ethiopia for years. That made it such a thrill to finally meet founder Barrett Ward at the AYA Summit this past fall where he participated on the Change Through Economic Opportunity panel as well. They are now expanding operations to include products made in Kenya and a beautiful line of leather products, all while providing social service programs of health care, education in a trade, and assistance with child care for their artisans to help them build better lives for themselves and their families.
For the person who has everything that you still want to let know you are thinking of them, there are many non profits where you can gift a gift in a loved ones name. Often the non-profit will send them a certificate or note saying that you did so. This year I am supporting the non-profit Edesia, based in Rhode Island, that provides nutritional supplements for prevention and treatment of malnutrition in children. Edesia products are specifically created to treat babies and children during the critical first five years of life. If they do not get proper nutrition within those first five years, and most critically the first thousand days of life, they may be stunted and never reach their full potential. If you make a donation on the Edesia website in the notes section and list name of the person in whose name the donation is being made and their address, Edesia will send them a post card letting them know.
Oh, and how can I forget wine!? One Hope Wine where 1/2 of the proceeds goes to educating girls, which we know is key to global development. When a girl is educated she will tend to get married later, have fewer children, and contribute economically to her family.
One of the amazing women that I met last month at the AYA Summit was Jane Mosbacher Morris. She had taken part in a panel on Change Through Economic Opportunity, and was impressive to me in her transition from working on human trafficking issues, and for the U.S. Department of State in counterterrorism, to founding a market place for survivor made goods. To The Market provides a path to economic empowerment for women survivors of abuse, conflict and disease. Fascinated with Jane’s path to founding To The Market I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview her about her inspirations, her journey and her goals.
Elizabeth Atalay: Personally on what level does this issue resonate with you?
Jane Mosbacher Morris: Economic independence deeply resonates with me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because I greatly value my own economic independence and the basic choices that it affords me over the direction of my life. When a person has some form of economic independence, it opens up a world of choice. Alternatively, when you are completely dependent on someone or something else, you have very little leverage or ability to influence pretty fundamental things about your life—do you want to marry? Do you want to get educated? Where do you want to live? What do you want to eat?
Working on the intersection of women and security for the first part of my career revealed how little control many of the most marginalized persons in our world have over their life. It’s very hard to grant a person control over her life, however—a person usually has to take control of her life.
The longer I worked on different women and security issues, the longer I believed that providing an opportunity for vulnerable populations to access economic independence is an extremely effective way for persons to claim (or in many cases, reclaim) control over their trajectory.
TO THE MARKET’s (TTM) model is to partner with existing organizations currently employing survivors of abuse, conflict, or disease. These partners believe that providing the dignity of work is the best way to empower the survivor populations that they are trying to uplift. TTM’s job is to help these partners succeed by creating additional distribution channels for their survivor-made products; amplifying the stories of survivors and their champions; and providing business services, like trend forecasting and basic mental health resources, to improve their production and management.
Elizabeth: How were you able to apply your experience from policy to a retail social enterprise?
Jane Mosbacher Morris: My time at the U.S. State Department focusing on policy influenced my perspective on how to best approach some of the social issues TO THE MARKET aims to address. When you are working in a policy role, you’re often forced to examine a challenge on a regional or even global scale, allowing for patterns to emerge that are hard to identify when you are working on the ground. Policies, whether created in a government, NGO, or private sector organization, are supposed to be a reflection of best practices and lessons learned. Cutting my teeth in DC provided me access to information from colleagues from around the world, presenting feedback on what was and was not working well from a policy and programmatic standpoint. One major takeaway from my time at the Department was that for a variety of reasons, governments tend to be pretty hamstrung when it comes to creating jobs, which is unfortunate, because an access to an earned income is probably one of the top things that people want. Accordingly, I believed that I could support and cultivate economic independence for survivor populations more efficiently outside of the government and non-profit world.
Elizabeth: Where do you find the groups that you work with?
Jane Mosbacher Morris: When I founded TO THE MARKET, I was only aware of a handful of organizations employing survivors (two of which I had visited in Kolkata, India, sparking my idea! Thank you Sari Bari and Freeset!). That handful quickly grew to our current list of over 150 organizations employing survivors. One aspect that is very encouraging about working in the social enterprise space is that people are exceptionally collaborative. When I would speak to someone working in Mumbai, for example, they would say, “you must meet my friend who is working with XYZ survivor population.” These organizations are staffed by people that tend to follow the mantra that “a rising tide raises all ships.”
Elizabeth: Is there an area of the world that you are more focused on than another?
Jane Mosbacher Morris: TO THE MARKET doesn’t focus on a specific part of the world, but instead uses the criteria of whether an organization is employing survivors of abuse, conflict, or disease. We have partners all over the globe, including the U.S., but the specific model of employing survivors to produce a product tends to be more common in East Africa and South/Southeast Asia. The development of these “nodes” can probably be attributed to a few things. For one, organizations tend to build off of existing handicraft capacities, like beading, sewing, or weaving. Another likely reason that this model works well in these parts of the world is that the economics tend to work—you can pay a living wage and still price the products competitively in a U.S. market. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the impact that the faith-based community has had on the development of these social enterprises. A notable number of these organizations have been started after a particularly impactful mission or volunteer trip.
Elizabeth: How closely will you be able to follow the progress of the artisans and their journeys toward financial sustainability?
Jane Mosbacher Morris: We are extremely fortunate in that we have a wonderful working relationship with our partners. I tend to have a good idea of what is going on within these organizations, including whether their sales are healthy enough to continue to employ their survivor artisans. One of our partners is currently only employing one woman, while another is able to provide steady work to hundreds of women. Expansion is not always the best decision for these organizations if it means that they are putting the business at risk or they aren’t able to monitor the survivors’ mental, physical, spiritual, and financial health as closely. It’s a tricky balance!
You can do your part by shopping at To The Market this holiday season and beyond for beautiful gifts that give back.
Kind of like what us parents face in the digital age our children are growing up in! I am loath to admit how much time my kids spend playing on their electronic devices. We truly try to limit their screen time, but it has become increasingly difficult as their games travel everywhere they go with their mobile devices. With four kids it’s like whac-a-mole redirecting them away from their screens. In the time it takes me to get one reading on the couch, one of the others has gone down the rabbit hole into cyberspace somewhere else. We understand that this is the culture our kids are growing up in so we use their screen time to our advantage as much as we can. On the weekends for example, while our rules drastically limit video games during the week, the kids can play all they want on weekend mornings if they let us sleep in! I am also always on the lookout for games that are educational or enriching as alternatives to the many mind numbing ones out there. Research shows that well-designed digital games can be effective learning tools, and that they can be especially effective in the development of social and ethical skills. Read the rest of this entry
When I met the publisher of ORIGIN Magazine, Maranda Pleasant, at the Social Good Conference in New york City last October I never imagine that seven months later I’d be IN one of the issues of ORIGIN! OK, so this is my Mike Wizowski moment, and I’m merely a thumbnail on page 74, but I’m just so excited to be in the same magazine as Giselle (and not as a fashion don’t)!!
Yoga. Art. Music. Conscious Lifestyle. Humanitarianism. Sustainability. One Platform.
The new issue just hit newsstands nationwide , and highlights the SOULSHINE Tour with Michael Franti launching in June. The tour will be coming to a city near you, and it is going to be incredible. SOULSHINE brings music and yoga together like never before, and I’m thrilled to be the Rhode Island Ambassador for it! When I found out I needed to submit a photo I immediately asked my talented friend Rebecca Stearns of Rebecca Stearns Photography to take it for me. Maranda asked each ambassador to answer the question;
If you have ever experienced ORIGIN Magazine then you already know what a pleasure this high quality publication full of amazing content for mind, soul, and body is to dive into. Maranda Pleasant, pours her seemingly boundless passion and energy into every issue with features on all of the things I love to read about. Topics such as social good, the environment, yoga, music, global issues, mind/body health, and art, are explored through interviews and stories with celebrities, and leading experts in their field. To me ORIGIN magazine is the evolution of what magazines should be, a vehicle for inspiration and positive impact in our lives and our world.
*All photos courtesy of ORIGIN Magazine