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Meet Zara September 17 2014
Meet Zara… radiant, humble, gracious. Her sparkling eyes help tell the story of how the training and employment she and her husband received from Village Artisan in India have enriched their lives. Her thankful spirit shows no sign of the bitterness that you might expect from someone with such heartache. Zara was married at 16, and would say that she began to view her husband as a companion only through hardship. After the death of her in-laws, they sold the little they had and struggled to find dignified work for many years. Their lives were forever changed when she and her husband were employed by Village Artisan. Now their three children can go to school, there is enough food to go around and the quarreling with her extended family has ceased now that they can pay their share of the bills. As a result of the training and employment in producing handicrafts they have received from Village Exports, Zara and her family have a bright future.
She wears a smile because someone fought for her. Fight for someone today by joining us in the movement of opportunity.
Rethread May 10 2014
Harrison is a socially-conscious and justice-driven entrepreneur, who has lived and worked in India for a number of years and is dedicated to building a business that can really make a transformative impact on impoverished communities. For this, Harrison has been developing a plan to manufacture and export sari yarn through Work of Worth to markets in the U.S.
“For years my wife and I have been taking steps toward starting a business, living, and working in one of the most populated and poor states of North India,” says Harrison.
“One of the steps in this process was spending two years in Bangalore, working with a children's home and being part of a community of people who were doing business in India also. During our time in Bangalore I took part in a cohort at the BDC (Business Development Center), and began [brainstorming] and vision casting about various business possibilities. I decided to settle on the idea of sari yarn and take that project through the course.
“Over the course of the next several months, things kept falling into place, and I had several encounters with people about my project that opened doors and eventually showed that this was business was definitely a realistic and worthwhile venture.”
The idea originally came up in a meeting with Work of Worth Executive Director Barry Morehead, who at the time was working with BDC as a visiting executive. As he was leaving the U.S. for Bangalore, a knitting enthusiast relative of Barry’s asked him to look for sari yarn. Catching the latest trends in reused or upcycled materials, in this process saris are shredded and made into yarn, which can then be used to make unique and colorful items. As Barry and Harrison researched the process, they realized that they were onto something – a potentially untapped market in the West for sari yarn, and the potential to build a socially conscious, value and development driven business in an impoverished part of India.
“The name of the yarn is Rethread,” says Harrison. “Our goal is to have a legitimate profitable business that exports to the United States. We would provide jobs, training and education in an area with an extremely large amount of poverty and unemployment. Our business would provide jobs, health care, a healthy meal, financial and health education, as well as open doors to relationships with the community.
“Over the last couple months I have met and talked with different retailers, distributors, product designers who are all interested in our product. We have just recently moved to North India, and we are working on learning Hindi, finding a house and building relationships. We are very near the "do it" phase... its no longer just an idea or a far off dream.
Harrison and his wife hope to have Rethread launched by the beginning of 2015.
When Work of Worth founder Barry Morehead travelled to India in 2012, he found himself confronted by the poverty and lack of positive economic opportunity in the rural areas. But, through the Business Development Center (BDC) in Bangalore, he also had the chance to meet some truly amazing entrepreneurs who are transforming their communities all across India through business. This is the story of one of those world-changers. Meet Asha:
“My husband and I used to work for a charity called Neerekshe, a family-run trust started by my husband’s parents in their home village of Muranpur in Karnataka,” says Indian entrepreneur and Business Development Center (BDC) Bangalore graduate Asha Sangster. “I [was] the principle of a school that provided quality English medium education for six to eight villages in and around Muranpur, and my husband was a church planter and social worker.
Tucked away in the state of Karnataka in southwest India, Muranpur’s approximately two thousand residents live in abject poverty, surviving entirely on livestock and seasonal agriculture, dependent on rainfall in a drought-prone area. Rampant malnutrition, lack of economic opportunity, and absence of medical facilities make it a poverty trap in need of the empowerment and training that Asha, her husband Sangster, and the Neerekshe Trust sought to provide.
“One of the struggles I encountered as a teacher was the regular attendance of students, especially girls,” says Asha. “Most of the children [in Muranpur] work for their parents looking after cattle or herds of sheep and goats, or working in the fields… Education was a luxury, especially for girls. I always had a dream to provide regular jobs for parents and part-time jobs for students. This way we thought they would have the opportunity to attend school and continue their education.”
“We had ten acres of land, [so] we wanted to [utilize that resource for] an income generation project. I started keeping few goats and sheep in the farm. We asked a young lad who had dropped out of the school to help graze the goats. When the time came we would sell our goats and earn some extra income for the charity.”
Asha and Sangster wanted to expand the business, but had neither the capital nor the knowledge of how to start and run a successful farm. But the dream remained.
Then pieces started falling into place. From 2008-2011 Asha and Sangster had the opportunity to work with friends in the UK who ran a dairy farm, and they learned a bit about farm management from the experience. Then in 2012 the director of BDC Bangalore asked Asha if she would like to join their 3-month Entrepreneurship program.
“I was thrilled,” says Asha. “Because this was a short, part-time course, even as a homemaker and mother I was able to attend the evening class. BDC equipped me to plan and prepare a detailed financial cash flow for the first two-years [of the business]. This helped me to start putting each piece in the puzzle for our dream to start a business.”
“BDC was a stepping stone for me. It gave me an opportunity to meet other business owners and business teachers [skilled] in marketing and planning, which helped me [further] develop a passion for business. It also helped me to understand the value of entrepreneurship and the great need [in] India for honest business and providing employment where every customer and employee is valued.”
“When we worked in the rural Karnataka, I noticed the way the rich farmers exploited the laborers,” says Asha. “[Workers] were treated like slaves: minimum wage and no days off. They never felt they were created in the image of God like their masters… [But] I also noticed that the laborers did not work hard and [had no commitment]. They were unskilled and dishonest, and there was a lot of wasted time and energy. The work place was very inefficient… We wanted to have a business where the employee is respected and he or she can earn a good income, and also be invested in the farm where they work.”
“Only God could change people,” she adds. “We want [our employees] to know that God created them and He loves them. We are hoping and praying that the way we treat our workers… will be a great witness.
At the end of the 3-month training, Asha’s business plan for the goat farm ultimately won the BDC’s business contest, and she was awarded a monetary prize for start-up capital. Equipped with newfound knowledge, confidence, start-up capital and 10 acres, Asha and Sangster were ready to begin. Taking the final plunge, Asha used her wedding jewelry to get a loan from the agricultural bank, and in June 2013, she and her husband started STARS Farm in Raichur.
Since then they have met with tremendous success and attention. That initial investment enabled them to fence an acre of land and build a shed for 60 goats. Asha and Sangster networked with the local agricultural college and have begun an ongoing, collaborative research project on the farm, which itself enabled them to build a bio gas unit and compost system, and develop a fodder cultivation scheme. As they grow, profits are continually poured back into the farm, allowing further growth. Further growth creates more jobs for individuals in the community, more economic development, more positive, personal relationships, and, back to the starting point, more girls afforded the opportunity to stay in school.
“Our vision for the Farm is to have a team of men and women from India, seeking to empower and transform our lives and community through Christian discipleship, training and income generation through modern scientific farming,” says Asha. “We are developing the farm as a model farm for the local villages so we can train local farmers too.”
There seems to be no end in sight, and Asha dreams big: plans are in the works to expand to 150 goats. They will need an electricity line, lights, a borewell for constant water supply, surveillance cameras, fencing for the whole property, and more trained workers. For the more distant future, Asha aims to develop a brand for future meat processing capabilities, goat milk cheese, and goat milk handmade soap…. She even hopes to create a craft unit and a children’s storybook based on farm life.
“As a Christian I had grown up thinking that business is for those people who love money and not for those who want to serve the Lord,” Asha adds. “Seeing the corruption in business and politics in India, I did not believe that economy and wealth belonged to God. BDC helped me to think that economy of this world belongs to our God our maker and [that business too can be] an opportunity to be in the world, not of the world.”
On March 4, 2014, Forbes.com Op/Ed section published an address delivered by author, philosopher, and theologian Michael Novak at the Catholic University of America on January 14, on the first anniversary of the university’s School of Business and Economics.
Now there’s some controversial words in there, but whatever you think of Novak’s arguments of building businesses as a necessary bulwark against the leviathan of the state, there’s some incredibly important thoughts here, and its an important contribution to the ongoing and growing conversation about the role of Christians developing and utilizing small businesses and entrepreneurship in the fight against global poverty.
For example, Novak writes:
“There is a whole world of economic activity to be built. It is the role of entrepreneurs to bring to these vast possibilities down-to-earth imagination and practical experience in producing success. There are fortunes to be made in the poor regions of the world, whose worth can be used for ever more investment, donations to cultural institutions, and help for many different branches of civil society, including local groups.
Think what a great vocation it would be to place oneself in solidarity with the poor of the world by setting up networks of assistance to small business formations in this or that poor country or region, in order to help lift its peoples from unemployment and its resulting poverty. Such poor persons need small amounts of start-up money, technical and practical support, instruction in many bookkeeping or other business skills, and links to the wider world. What a great work a new generation of young Americans could produce, speeding up the move of the last billion human beings to break free from poverty.”
President of the Institute on Religion & Democracy Mark Tooley weighed in on the blog Juicy Ecumenism saying that:
“Creating new businesses is a Christian moral imperative…. Only business can meaningfully alleviate poverty, fund charity, and sustain liberty. Why aren’t more Christians speaking of business and economic expansion as central to true social justice?”
And Christians are pursuing Christ-driven justice in this manner worldwide (and should more!) – starting bakeries and factories in the slums of India to employ women trapped in the sex trade, exporting goods and training disenfranchised women with solid business skills in East Africa. These are sustainable and holistically transformative solutions.
That said, human brokenness in business must be acknowledged just as much as brokenness of states. As much as, as Tooley and Novak argue, “business must stand as a bulwark against the leviathan of the state,” so a bulwark must also be erected against the leviathan of business and the yet fiercer leviathan of greed within the human heart. Free enterprise, rightly construed and executed in the manner spoken of by the authors, has enormous potential to break chains and lift individuals and community out of poverty, but the pursuit of wealth also has the potential to trample the weak and to be abused. Given the burden of history (particularly when we’re talking about Western economic interests in the developing world), perhaps Christians ought to be talking not only about increasing businesses and entrepreneurship, but also pursuing justice through checks and balances on freedom in supply chains, opting for fair trade (or beyond fair trade) and fair wage options, and redeeming businesses new and old.
Q&A with the Founder March 07 2014
The author of this article recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Barry Morehead, the founder and visionary behind Work of Worth. As always, Barry was passionate and enthusiastic as he answered my questions, giving some valuable clarification to Work of Worth’s efforts and plans. See below:
What do you mean when you talk about “Freeing the Oppressed?” Who are the oppressed?
“Almost half the world’s population, 2.5 billion people, live on less than $2 a day. And poverty, extreme poverty especially, is the root of many issues in our culture including human trafficking, [lack of proper] education, and the inability to eradicate preventable disease.
What we’re doing thru the businesses that we’re trying to start thru the Business Development Center is paying people a fair wage and treating them with dignity. With the jobs that we’re creating thru the Business Development Center, the entrepreneurs first of all have to agree to a set of principles. [Some] of those [are] that they will treat their employees with dignity and will not discriminate on the basis of sex or religion or caste or socioeconomic status, that they will treat people equally, and that they will pay them what their work is actually worth – hence Work of Worth.
Work of Worth, the organization that we’ve created here in America, originally was designed as an import and distribution company to support businesses, particularly manufacturing businesses, that are being developed in the Business Development Center in India, in Africa, and other parts of the world - Businesses that are creating these jobs and treating their employees fairly. We created Work of Worth to support them with western commerce by importing useful items that would be in demand in the states and distributing those to individuals either thru retail venues or retail outlets like the web or distributing them wholesale via companies that would then sell them for us. All of this takes commerce [and] commercial dollars, and puts it in some of the worst places in the world where poverty is rampant and extreme, where we can pay laborers a fair wage and give them enough money to take care of their children.
I’ve visited villages in India, which is where the whole concept got started, where single moms are trying to raise their families on less than $2 a day, and they don’t have enough money to clothe their children, much less educate them or provide medicine for them. Food is difficult for them as well. And oftentimes these moms are faced with extremely tough choices that we can’t imagine in our culture, like having to sell a child for survival. [Some of these mothers] will sell their daughter into sex slavery at a very young age just to get money to be able to feed their other children. And that is the root of Work of Worth is reversing and changing a lot… in areas of extreme poverty where people wouldn’t normally believe that they have hope.
Does that actually work?
We’re providing that hope [in that] we’re providing jobs, and it’s working. I’ve been back to the same children 12 months after my first visit, and I saw the same moms and [now] they’ve got a sparkle in their eye and a smile on their face because they got a job, because someone chose to treat them with dignity. Sometimes they’ve got the kids with them at work if the employers allow that. And the kids are wearing uniforms, which means that they’re going to schools and getting an education. It works. We’ve seen it.
What’s the relationship between Work of Worth and the Business Development Center?
“The concept [for WoW] started with myself and other businessmen who had been to the Business Development Center and had met with [and trained] these aspiring entrepreneurs. [We] wanted to do something on an ongoing meaningful basis to support them thru western commerce and commercial dollars. So there is no legal connection between the business development center and Work of Worth… but we’re all fighting the same battle, so we’re all working together…
We will support the training that’s happening with BDC and I will continue to be involved as a visiting executive…. I hope to [keep connecting to business owners thru the BDC), not just the BDC in India but also the BDCs opening in other parts of the world like the one opening in Uganda.
Work of Worth’s primary aim is not to train the business owners, that’s the Business Development Center’s job. Work of Worth’s primary responsibility is to import and distribute items that come from these businesses that come out of, either the Business Development Center or other similar worldview organizations.
What else does WoW have coming up in the pipeline right now?
Something else that we’ve started and are moving toward… Work of Worth is more than fair wage, it’s more than fair trade and more than fair labor… Our goal is social change, social enterprise, philanthropy and worldview… We’re interested in a lot more than fair wage. We’re training employees how to treat their employees fairly. We’re providing them with benefits like retirement, which is unheard of in these nations.
We are actually now in the beginning stages… of looking at a certification so we can certify a product as a “Work of Worth.” We suspect that there’s eventually going to be two tracks, where some products are approved as a “work of worth” and some are certified as a “work of worth,” certification requiring much higher criteria…. We may also offer this to other organizations who are interested – Kanzi Crafts for example, or Freeset, if they’re interested in using our logo on their items as a certified “Work of Worth,” especially for those organizations that have helped us get started, we would gladly do that for them. Eventually we’re hoping that there would be some value in that certification and that organizations would seek us out to get [it].
I love this idea. For a long time I’ve thought: “there needs to be something more than just Fair Trade.” Fair Trade only goes so far, and we want to do more…. I can just see the stamp right now: “this item is a certified work of worth.”