- What does Buy The Change really do?
Buy The Change does many things. On a basic level we purchase handmade products from women artisans in the developing world, sell them in the US and use the profits to purchase more products. This creates a cycle of business building opportunities for talented women who previously struggled to find a market for the beautiful items they create.
On deeper levels we do much more than that. We give our customers the opportunity to have a direct impact on the lives of women around the world. We educate our customers and potential customers about the issues of being female in the developing world, fair trade, slow fashion and the importance of using our shopping dollars to empower rather than contribute to exploitation around the world. We offer our partner artisans the dignity and self-respect of earned income and the truth that people on the other side of the world would want to buy and use the products they make. We give women the opportunity to earn income using the traditional skills taught to them by their mothers and grandmothers.
Through our non-profit foundation (10% of every website sale is donated to the foundation) we give grants to our partner artisans in order to eliminate barriers to business success. The grants have included funds for sewing machines, doors, roofs, cabinets, irons, metal working equipment, water filters, tables, school tuition for girls, gardening supplies and much more.
- What inspired Buy The Change?
Buy The Change was incubated during my years working in public health, as a psychotherapist, as a grief therapist and as a member of a women’s service organization called Soroptimist. The catalyst for taking action and really making it happen was when I read the book Half The Sky, written by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. In 2010 this book kind of fell into my hands and after reading the stories of struggle and resilience I was very inspired. I learned how truly dangerous it is to be born poor and female in this world. Billions of dollars have been spent studying, attempting to understand and seeking to eliminate extreme poverty around the world. Unfortunately, this money has not reached the people at the most grassroots level. After finishing the book and reading the excellent call to action Kristoff and WuDunn put forth, I was inspired and activated.
After a full year of research, a plan emerged and Buy The Change was born.
- Why did you choose the route of social entrepreneurship over being a non-profit?
We wanted to be in business with our partners artisans and be a model for what women in business can look like. We researched and found many great companies following a for-profit, social enterprise model, the most well known being Tom’s Shoes, Warby Parker Eyewear and 31 Bits Jewelry. With certification as a Benefit Corporation through the non-profit B Lab we have the extra credibility of showing that our business practices have been reviewed and certified as being focused on social change over profit, and follow fair trade, environmentally safe practices. We knew we would not be seeking or giving grants so the non-profit model didn’t seem to be a good fit. Later we learned that there is a place for grants in helping the women be successful so we founded the Buy The Change Foundation and made that happen too.
- What do you find most rewarding in your work?
The most rewarding part of my work is traveling to meet the women we partner with. Sitting down with them, often in their homes, and seeing the difference partnering with Buy The Change has made in their lives. We have met with women in the slums and red light district in Kolkata, India, villages in West Bengal, India, refugee camps in northern Thailand, the highlands of Guatemala, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and in Montrouis, Haiti. In all of these places one of the best things I hear is that the daughters of our partner artisans are going to school because their mothers are earning the money to pay the tuition. These women all live in countries where there is no government system to fall back on. Each family must figure out how to survive or it will not happen. Being a part of this process and helping to create generational change is the best part of my job.
I am so inspired by these women, what they have survived, the resilience they have, the talent they have. It humbles me every day and keeps me focused on everything I have to be grateful for.
About KARI HUGHES, Co-Founder of Buy The Change
Kari has been working with women and children for over 25 years, both in public health and as a psychotherapist. She has traveled the world and seen the devastating effects of poverty first hand.
In early 2011 the path to being of service at a higher level became clear and Buy The Change was born. It has been a labor of love every day since. Visiting women artisans (often in their homes), and witnessing the generational benefits of ethical trade, is by far the highlight of everything she does at Buy The Change