Fair Trade Principle - Create Opportunities
March 8th is International Women’s Day. It is a focal point in the movement for women's rights. It wasn’t that long ago that woman in the US were not allowed to vote. Women in the military used to be forced out when they were pregnant or weren’t allowed into many jobs including combat simply because they were women. Women were passed over for supervisor or leadership roles for being a woman (this happened to me in the military). In some other parts of the world, women have even less rights and many are trafficked or forced into labor in the US and around the world.
Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics saw first hand a man that she had trained to be a manager, taking over a management position and making twice what she made in the same position. International Women’s Day is a time to highlight the progress that has been made to eradicate these and other limiting factors that have kept women down for generations.
FAIR TRADE PRINCIPLE - CREATE OPPORTUNITIES
Being able to be successful starts with opportunities. However, many do not have opportunities to succeed. One of the Fair Trade Principles is to create opportunities.
Creating opportunities in Fair Trade focuses on working with artisans to alleviate poverty and ensure sustainable development. Trading partnerships should create social and economic opportunities to help marginalized producers.
At Baskets and Beads Kenya we created opportunities without realizing that’s what we were doing. The strategy from the beginning was simply to buy some beads and sell them with my Think Like A Negotiator book when I was speaking on negotiation. I had no plan to become an enterprise of any kind and didn’t know much about Fair Trade.
I went on a mission trip to Kenya in Feb 2018 and met the ladies of the Kipsongo slum in Kitale, Kenya. They had started making beads from a micro loan provided by a person who came to Kenya on a trip prior to mine.
When I met the ladies, I thought I might be able to help these women earn some income by selling their products when I was speaking on negotiation. I called it “book and a bead” and would sell it as a package when I spoke.
The beads and the ladies story became popular with people in the audiences I was speaking to. I was starting to learn about Fair Trade and thought maybe a store like Ten Thousand Villages might purchase some of the beads.
During one of my presentations I was teaching about the importance of asking for exactly what you want. I gave an example by asking if anyone had a referral to someone at Ten Thousand Villages. Someone in the audience connected me with Teresa Baxter who had worked at Ten Thousand Villages in Pasadena and was very involved in Fair Trade.
She was starting a local collective in Long Beach, California of fair trade partners called Fair Trade Long Beach. I was one of the last partner’s to initially get in. I was actually in Kenya with the ladies when she was allocating spaces and texted and asked her to save me a spot. This is my space today at Fair Trade Long Beach:
As sales grew so did the amount of orders I was placing. We started to have weekly meetings with the ladies and creating opportunities for them to learn business and leadership skills. We began teaching table banking to enable them to learn about managing finances. Our group grew from 5 to over 30.
I had expanded to spaces in 2 other shops and online but COVID caused sales to stop the first few months when the shutdown occurred and the markets in Kenya completely shut down and have remained so for a year. We had made significant progress building towards sustainability with placing regular orders with our ladies. Since COVID we have not been able to place many orders and the ones we have placed have been small.
As a result of the shut down sales were drastically reduced. We had pull out of 2 of our shops due to expenses exceeding sales. As things are starting to open up, we are hoping sales will increase and we will get back to sustainability again. In the meantime we have been raising funds to provide food packs every month for our ladies to ensure they do not go hungry in this time of limited sales. We are still accepting donations to support this effort. Donate here.
We are also providing opportunities for a group in Kisii, Kenya where soapstone is made. We have placed a couple orders with them and continue to work to create opportunities for that group who employs men and women.
Creating opportunities enables marginalized artisans to have the ability to be successful. We are working to eradicate poverty through teaching entrepreneurial and leadership skills. Our ladies are known as “the businesswomen” in the slum and looked up to in their community. They have already made a positive impact on themselves, their children and others.
We celebrate our women and their achievements in the midst of a storm. On International Women’s day and every other day, our ladies of Baskets and Beads are determined to succeed against all odds.
If you’d like to support them, check out the beautiful products they make here.