This is a guest post from TO THE MARKET.
Here at TO THE MARKET (TTM), we were honored when ONE approached us to utilize our diverse artisan network to design and create a meaningful and empowering holiday card set. The holiday card design was created in East Africa by a Kenyan artisan, Linda. She drew inspiration for the card pattern from the iconic cocoa plant in West Africa, specifically from Ghana.
TTM shares a special connection to ONE, as we officially launched our market-enabling platform in November 2014 at ONE’s AYA Summit on Girls and Women. It was a natural fit, given that both ONE and TTM address issues of extreme poverty, which disproportionately impacts women and girls.
TTM’s approach is unique—we serve as a market aggregator to connect vetted co-operatives around the world with businesses and consumers seeking social impact products. We specifically focus on artisan groups that are employing highly vulnerable communities (ex: survivors of abuse, conflict, and disease) armed with the belief that empowering impoverished women through the dignity of work creates multi-generational change. These women then invest in their children, families, and broader communities.
The idea for TO THE MARKET evolved over time. Our founder, Jane Mosbacher Morris, was deeply moved by the role that markets and enterprise can play in economic development through sustained incomes while on an anti-human trafficking trip to India in 2013 with the McCain Institute, where Jane shares from this experience:
“While we had visited numerous after-care facilities, I was struck by the distinction in the energy I felt when visiting the social enterprises…the survivors were working as artisans–and because of that, they had a renewed sense of energy and dignity. I wanted to be a part of that.”
It was out of experiences like these and numerous interactions with artisans around the world not simply asking for help, but also seeking market access that TTM was born.
In addition to providing fairly-contracted work for an artisan in the TTM network, ONE and TO THE MARKET have teamed up with another TTM-network partner, Marie Mae, to support their business school training programs in Africa. A portion of the proceeds from each holiday card set go to Marie Mae business school, to benefit the female entrepreneurs empowered by this program.
Marie Mae hosted their inaugural business school training in 2015 in Rwanda, where women participants were equipped with practical business skills such as public speaking, business planning, market research and contract negotiation. The business training imparts invaluable skills and new confidence for the women participants to embark on their own enterprising endeavors. One such participant, Lydia, noted that the course taught her not only how to save, but also what types of saving she needed to make to grow her business, as well as how to save for her children’s future needs, such as education.
Another Marie Mae business school trainee, Xavera, developed a business model to use her tailoring and seamstress skills to make uniforms for the local schools. During the Marie Mae business-training program, Xavera was able to perfect her uniform business pitch, which she would later present to local school leaders. She was also able to negotiate with the local schools to secure a uniform-making contract.
It’s stories like Lydia’s and Xavera’s in Rwanda, or the graphic designer, Linda, in Kenya that show how through the right skills, access to markets, and drive to constantly improve, women in Africa are forging their own paths and empowering future generations.
TO THE MARKET continues to find inspiration in these women and so many others around the world. We hope that through the sales of the ONE Holiday Gift Cards sets, individuals will support initiatives such as Marie Mae’s Business School Training Courses, as well as commit to purchase more everyday items where the story of the producer is known, the supply chains are vetted, and workers are paid fairly.