Products with a Purpose

Charities have been around for ages, but there is a movement in the non-profit sector that is stepping away from the basic model of aid. Instead, these organizations are combining social justice with relevant products for the betterment of individuals in developing nations. Started largely by twenty-somethings who wanted to work for good beyond themselves, there are a handful of non-profits that are creating sustainable relationships abroad, teaching people trade skills that help them stand on their own two feet. Because of the long-term conflict in central Africa, many of these organizations have focused their work in that region, as well as emphasizing the training of women who would not otherwise have an opportunity for job training. By building long-term relationships with these women, these organizations are helping women break the cycle of poverty and support their families.

31Bits

31bits.com

31Bits is a jewelry company based in Costa Mesa, California and Gulu, Uganda. Launched in 2008, 31Bits “is a business using fashion and design to empower women to rise above poverty. We believe that business is one of the most powerful and sustainable approaches to turning scarcity into abundance, and eventually, alleviating poverty completely,” according to their website.

31Bits jewelry is completely handmade and uses 100 percent recycled paper, which is what the beads are made from, along with other local materials. Working with 108 different women in Gulu, 31Bits purchases jewelry from these women on a monthly basis and sells the jewelry on the 31Bits website to an international audience.

Not only does this organization provide immediate and consistent income for these women, but they have set up programs in Gulu for the women including English lessons, finance training, AIDS and health education, vocational training and the opportunity to meet in community groups to be ministered to on a mental and emotional level. Through job training and the other development programs, 31Bits “equip[s] them to develop a career and attain social equality on a local level. We are committed to working with each woman until she has graduated from our program and attained a sustainable means of income within her own community.” It is hoped that this independence will be achieved within three to five years of entering the program, either by a woman starting her own business or joining an existing venture.

Sseko Designs

Ssekodesigns.com

Similar in mission is Sseko Designs, another non-profit organization that helps women in East Africa to learn job skills, create products and fund university education. The women of Sseko (“say-ko”) make leather sandals with interchangeable straps which are sold on an international market.

Sseko provides employment for women in the nine-month gap between high school and when they would start college. In these nine months the women involved are taught how to make Sseko sandals and are able to make money. Of their income, 50 percent is put into a savings account to help them pay university tuition, something they would not otherwise be able to afford. According to their website, “At the end of each term, Sseko Designs grants university scholarships that match up to 100 percent of the savings each woman has made during her nine month session with Sseko.”

They also employ university graduates in upper-level management positions, as well as providing work opportunities for women who have “aged out of the education system” and do not have other income or employment opportunities.

Overall, though Seeko Designs aims to build “for the purpose of impacting a specific social sector, we have chosen very intentionally to use a sustainable, self-sufficient business model to do this,” as opposed to being a charity or aid organization that merely donates to those in need. “Our hope is to help create industry and fair trade with the belief that a large component of economic development lies in the business sector. We believe in the power of responsible consumerism.”

Mend

Mend.co

Mend is a product line of high-quality bags, originally conceptualized by Invisible Children. Mend, based in Gulu, Uganda, allows former abductees of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) an opportunity to re-integrate into society and support themselves and their families.

After escaping from the LRA, women were often sent to rehabilitation centers where they would spend three months in counseling and receive training in tailoring. However, upon re-entering society, many women had a difficult time putting their skills to use in a saturated market. Mend was born out of this need for jobs in the area of sewing.

Through Mend, the seamstresses are given an outlet for their skills, producing bags that are sold on the Mend website as well as being featured at different times on clothing sites such as ModCloth.

However, Mend does not merely provide job training. All of the women at Mend have access to a full-time professional social worker who is experienced in post-conflict trauma. This social worker provides “psychosocial support to the seamstresses and their families,” according to their website. She also works with partner organizations to teach the Mend seamstresses on safe health practices and family health and planning, as well as how to cope with psychosocial trauma. In addition, all of the women participate in Functional Adult Literacy training, which teaches them to read and write in their native language. Village Savings and Loan meetings also teach them how to budget, save and invest their money. All of these programs are to help the women “develop life-skills that will make them self-reliant in the future,” apart from the Mend program.

Krochet Kids International

KrochetKids.org

“Buy a hat, change a life” is the slogan of Krochet Kids International, a non-profit organization with on-the-ground programs in both Uganda and Peru. Participants in Krochet Kids programs are taught how to crochet and then produce products, largely knit hats, that are sold through their website.

Each hat is signed by the woman who made it, and they are all featured on the non-profit’s website, so those who buy the products can read a biography on who made their piece of clothing.

Krochet Kids’ business model is outlined on their website as well: “We provide a job so that women can meet the present needs of their families. We educate them so that they develop beyond the need for outside aid. We provide mentorship to help each lady plan a unique and sustainable career path for the future.”

This non-profit was launched in 2007, and started by training 10 women to crochet items that were sold by the founders in the United States Since then, the Krochet Kids Uganda team has expanded to over 150 women. A program was also launched in Peru in the last couple of years, with the same mission and vision as the Uganda branch.

Krochet Kids recently launched a partnership with Vans shoes. Together they came up with a shoe design that is now in production in Uganda. The same women who have been crocheting hats are now producing a limited edition women’s shoe line sponsored by Vans and being sold at Nordstrom, featuring a crocheted panel on the toes and heels of the shoes.

Ultimately, Krochet Kids exists “to empower people to rise above poverty” and to “create sustainable economic development programs that support holistic growth of individuals and communities within developing nations,” according to their mission vision.

All of these companies allow the impoverished to not only step out on their own economically, but also seek to provide holistic care and deeper restoration through education. Some of these organizations, including 31Bits and Krochet Kids, are also Christian-run organizations with the aim of spreading the love and hope of Christ. All of these organizations, however, aim to facilitate the production and sale of high-quality goods that will encourage people, especially young adults, to get involved in seeking change and helping to change the life of an individual across the globe. By featuring the seamstresses and designers on their respective websites and putting a name and face to each product, these non-profits are using the power of story-telling to create jobs and move products that are bringing hope and sustainability to those who need it most.

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