“We bring them in, enable them to earn sufficient wealth, then graduate them out.”
That’s Blessing Basket founder and CEO Theresa Carrington talking about her organization, which allows artisans to earn significantly higher than fair trade wages for their products during the time they are in the program. Their model creates a cycle of entrepreneur-driven growth that results in financial independence for the artisan.
Blessing Basket finds entrepreneurial-minded artisans and gives them market access and financial assistance in starting a small business. Through that model, the artisan will be independent and ready to graduate from the Blessing Basket program in three years.
This model makes conducting business more difficult for Blessing Basket because they have to continually find and train new artisans—but the organization believes helping each individual eventually stand on their own two feet and lift themselves out of poverty is worth it.
Just ask Azoko.
At 23, Azoko was homeless, out of school, and weaving baskets on the streets of Accra, Ghana. After a representative from Blessing Basket found him and enrolled him into the program, Azoko was able to sell his wares, return to his village, and put himself through school.
“I felt I had a fruitless life because I missed a lot of opportunities in school,” says Azoko. “Blessing Basket made it possible for me to return home.”
“We created the opportunity,” Theresa says, “but he had to do the work.”
Each year, Blessing Basket puts on a graduation ceremony for the artisans who are ready to leave the program and become independent business owners. During the ceremony, each graduate is given a badge and certificate—these items can be used as a means of proving business acumen and potential to local banks and lending programs so that they can continue to grow their businesses.
“I felt happy and excited when I graduated. My friends and family were all jubilating and congratulating me,” says Azoko.
Earlier this year, Blessing Basket was honored by the United Nations for its innovative Artisan&You program. When you purchase a Blessing Basket product, you’ll find a unique ID number that allows you to connect and exchange letters with the artisan who created your handicraft. This allows customers to understand how their purchase is helping in the fight against poverty, and enables an intercultural connection between individuals who may be oceans apart.
Today, Azoko is a teacher in the very village where he once had to drop out of school. He teaches seven different subjects at a local girls’ school—his best and favorite subject is mathematics.
“His is a story that should inspire others never, ever, to give up,” says Theresa.
“I will come into contact with pupils who may have similar problems I faced,” Azoko says. “I am using my past experience to motivate pupils never to give up, no matter the situation they go through, because perseverance brings success.”