Category Archives: Objects of Desire/Fashion

Rwandan Women Weaving Their Own #Path2Peace

Rwandan Women Weaving Their Own #Path2Peace

Willa Shalit, co-founder of Rwanda Path to Peace, Janet Nkubana, co-founder of Gahaya Links, and Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s chairman and CEO at the celebration

Each year as the holiday/gift giving season approaches I start to think about how I will be using my purchasing power. As consumers we drive the economy, we choose where our money goes, and according to an article in Forbes “Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence.”

Imagine if women used that economic power to help lift other women up?

Through my travels and writing on social good topics I’ve gained a heightened awareness of how my money is spent, and what it goes to support. Visits to the factories or studios where beautiful hand crafted goods are made has given a face to the artisans behind my purchases and insight into where some of the products that I buy come from. Having observed women using their talents and working hard to give themselves and their children a brighter future I know first hand that choosing one of their items really can make a positive impact in the lives of others.  I admire companies that set out with the mission of benefitting the communities from which they source their goods, companies that choose to train and support craftspeople, so that they in turn can support their families in a dignified way.  Each year as I put together my “gifts that give back” lists for the holidays I think of the women I watched at work in Ethiopia, Indonesia or South Africa, making their beautiful hand-crafted goods as a means of survival. I love to share their stories, along with their crafts, with friends and family.


The Macy’s Rwanda Path To Peace program is the longest running “trade-not-aid’ partnership of this type, and I was thrilled to be there for the 10 year celebration. It was exciting to hear Willa Shalit tell the story of the origins of the program, and have Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s chairman and CEO, tell the audience how impactful his visits to Rwanda have been to him.  But it was Janet Nkubana’s statement that

“Husbands don’t beat their wives anymore”

once they are supporting the family with the income from the baskets that really brought home the impact of what economic empowerment means for these women.

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The event, held at the Macy’s Herald Square location in New York City, was a fun celebration filled with food, wine, music and colorful, beautiful hand-woven Rwanda baskets. The speeches reminded us all why we were really there.

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My emotional connection to the celebration was twofold as it combined a place in the world that I love with a mission that I love, stretching back to my visit to central Africa in 1991, just a couple of years before the civil war broke out.  The country had subsequently suffered one of the worst genocides in recent history, leaving the country in despair. The success of the Macy’s Path to Peace program can be measured in the transformation and rehabilitation of the communities in which the weavers live, and it is inspiring to see that determination towards strength and rebuilding.


Keep an eye out for my upcoming Gifts That Give Back list, and know that the Rwanda baskets that you see on it hold a special place in my heart. If all the women who have buying power used that influence to help economically empower other women around the world, and lift each other up, what beautiful thing that would be.


I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation of beautiful Rwanda baskets as gifts for this post. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.



Celebrating 10 Years of the Rwanda Path to Peace Program

Celebrating 10 Years of the Rwanda Path to Peace Program

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 4.20.53 PMThe style of our home décor leans toward Nomadic with pieces we have collected  from around the world on our travels that represent a meaningful trip or story. The beautiful hand-woven Rwandan baskets are no different, in them I see the history of an area of the world that I’ve been to and loved, woven with the hope and Path to Peace that each basket represents for the women of Rwanda.

In 1991 I spent six months living out of a backpack as I traveled overland through 16 African countries from Morocco down to Botswana. We camped in tents along the way, shopped for our food at village markets, and made our fire to cook over each night. As you can imagine it was a transformative experience. When people find out that my travels have taken me to over 60 countries around the globe they often ask which one was my favorite. An impossible question in this diverse and magnificent world of ours, rich with its variety of cultures and topography. When I am pressed to choose just one area, Central Africa is the region that pops into my mind each time. We went Gorilla Trekking on the border of Uganda and Rwanda, a phenomenal experience in itself, and it was just one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen. It was not just the picturesque stepped farms carved into verdant mountains, and the surrounding lush landscape. It was the people, the villages, their arts, and culture that captured some part of me.

I was heart-broken and horrified just a few years later when I heard about the tribal massacres that swept Rwanda in a brutal killing spree that took the lives of almost a million people over the course of just three months. It seemed impossible that an area that had been so warm and inviting, had felt so safe, could erupt in such a violent way. I mourned for Rwanda and volunteered to go back to help, but they really only needed medical volunteers.  This left me feeling useless and frustrated at my lack of valuable skills that could help in any recovery.  The tribal hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis had turned into an ethnic slaughter where neighbor killed neighbor in one of the worst genocides in human history.

The violence left many Rwandan women as the sole providers for their families. Husbands, fathers and sons had been killed or jailed for committing unspeakable atrocities. In the aftermath of such horror I am always amazed by the resilience of the human spirit, that of women in particular. Despite fresh wounds, both mental and physical, the women of Rwanda began to come together through the tradition of weaving as a way to rebuild and reconcile.

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“After the genocide, which tore the ethnic communities of Rwanda apart, the country was looking for a positive symbol that all sides could endorse. Beautiful baskets had been part of Rwanda’s culture for centuries. Their craft and artistry were celebrated by all sides and across the ethnic divide. When the Rwanda Path to Peace program began, the basket became the symbol that all Rwandans could embrace. And as women from formerly warring tribes came together to weave, the Path to Peace program became a vital tool to foster reconciliation.”

In 2005 Macy’s launched the Path to Peace Program. Willa Shalit, an American Artist, Activist and Social Entrepreneur, had introduced Macy’s executives to the beautiful hand-woven Rwandan baskets. Macy’s Partnered with the women of Rwanda in one of the very first “trade not aid” programs where all parties in the business model would benefit from its success.

This week Macy’s will celebrate 10 years of the Rwanda Path to Peace program. It is the longest running program of this kind, and over the years has transformed thousands of women’s lives, and in turn, those of their families and communities. I have come to realize that there are ways to help despite my lack of medical knowledge, and one of those is through my purchasing power. By choosing to spend my consumer dollars on products that I know come from socially responsible sources and are beneficial to others and our world. The hand-woven Rwandan baskets from the Macy’s Path to Peace program represent that idea that sometimes simple actions can collectively make a big impact in the lives of others.

Join me at the 10 year celebration tomorrow in New York!

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 11.04.42 AMI am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Gifts That Give Back Guide 2014, Creating Change Through Economic Opportunity

Gifts That Give Back Guide 2014, Creating Change Through Economic Opportunity

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.

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Vase from the Heart of Haiti line


Gorgeous clutch from the Kate Spade On Purpose line

Gorgeous clutch from the Kate Spade On Purpose line








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.









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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.


Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 9.54.08 AMScreen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.00.42 AMI 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.

fashionable copyScreen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.03.40 AMI 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.

Photo by Heidi Reed

Photo by Heidi Reed

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.05.10 AMFor 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.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.38.48 AMScreen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.27.50 AMOh, 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.

 For more ideas on gifts that give back check out my past gift guides from 2012 (That includes Heifer International), 2013 and for foodies

Inspiring Women: Bringing Survivor Made Goods To The Market

Inspiring Women: Bringing Survivor Made Goods To The Market

Manna Prayer House-1One 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.

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#QuandaryGame Teaches Ethical Thinking Skills

#QuandaryGame Teaches Ethical Thinking Skills
Sponsored Postquandary-captain-choice copy


a state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.

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