“Everytime that you buy a basket, know that there are about 10 people attached to your purchase.” – Janet Nkubana
My belief that we can create positive change through our purchase choices was further reinforced recently when I saw first hand the impact that “Trade not Aid” programs have on the communities in which they operate. Many of the gifts that I am giving this holiday season are things that I brought home from my recent trip to Haiti where I could see how much our purchases meant to the artisans supporting their families through their craft. In interviews with several of the artisans who create pieces for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti program each mentioned the pride in their work, and in being able to provide a sustainable income to support their families. They made it clear that even in tough times, they did not want charity, what they wanted was to continue to earn an income through their art. Giving gifts that help generate economic empowerment in communities where the need is great is really like giving twice, it becomes a gift that gives back. A gift that gives hope. In a way my trip to Haiti actually began in Rwanda with Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace program.Read the rest of this entry →
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
“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!
I 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.