After visiting Ghana and the weavers that make our products, the entire core of our business model changed. My initial purpose for this visit was to formally meet the people who produce our Victoria Baskets. I had no idea that I was about to encounter a level of poverty that took me 100 years back in time.
Before my visit, I was under the impression that the weavers were weaving based on the sketches and photos I had emailed them. I thought they had printed them and used them as the guide to produce my products.
Well.. thats not how they did it. Because they didn't have a printer.. because they didn't have electricity.
Instead, the head of the group would trek 2 hours into town on a scooter, find WiFi either in a cafe, or anywhere someone would give him the password, download the images from WhatsApp onto his beat up and overused iPhone 4 (in 2018 we already had the 10), ride back to the village, and using the image on the small screen, the villagers would create our designs.
I was shocked... especially because I had no idea how I could ever create something so perfect from such a small and grainy photo. Yet they did just that. Beautifully.
Now, imagine going into your office or job one day and there is no internet, or electricity, or the toilets don't work.. Oh the drama!
Now add all those things up, plus the African heat, little ventilation, NO SOAP, and dirt floors which you have to sit on and you get the idea of how dismal the working conditions are in the village.
When it rains, the dirt floors turn into mud. These weavers have to sit on the floor in order to roll the straw up and down their legs. Considering that soap is hard to come by and education about hygiene is a no-show, muddy floors becomes a huge hygienic problem (a hugely preventable hygenic problem).
Upon my return, I realized that it was in the interest of our business to ensure they worked in humane conditions- conditions that were conducive to the production of top-quality, luxury grade products, like the Victoria Baskets. And more importantly, conditions that made them feel proud, empowered, and like their skills are worth a damn, because they are even though they have never been made to feel that way.
Our products can be found in some exclusive boutiques, yet they work in squalor. That isn't fair. So how do we fix it?
Well, that's a big question with a lot of answers, and all the answers are doable and inexpensive in the grand scheme of things.
1. WE MUST INVEST IN THEIR BUSINESS
This means we have to help them rebuild the weaving center, pave the floors, add a real roof, install fans (AC is very expensive), fix the walls, and ready it for electricity. We also have to work with them in getting plumbing and toilets where they can go with dignity and privacy, but more importantly, where they can learn about the hygenic importance of using toilets and washing their hands (more on that later).
We also need to help them with important and basic tools required to run a business, like printers, paper, internet, computers, and tables.
With all of these things, they can begin to scale, produce more and faster, and sell better goods at better prices. This can really be something where we can help them help themselves, because they can do it, they just need a little nudge.
2. WE MUST INVEST IN THEIR EDUCATION
Having a new and shiny center with toilets, running water, and electricity may be a catalyst for the improvement of their lives but it won't ensure that things get better the same way education will. In this center, the weavers will find resources to learn new trades, improve on current ones, and learn how to produce products that are on par with the expectations of prime markets like the US.
In addition to this, they will learn about the importance of hygiene and hand washing. This is crucial because so many people, including children, get sick and die over things that a preventable. If they understood the importance of washing the hands they use to eat with, a lot of health issues would be avoided.
Another goal in mind is to have a place where art is encouraged. We want the people of the village, especially their children, to know what it is like to experiment with colors, textures, and mediums. After all, they are the designers of the baskets. They should be able to experience the benefits of being exposed to art of all kinds. Plus, kids shouldn't be denied crayons. They deserve to know what it means to color and play with crayons, chalk, and color pencils.
3. WE MUST INVEST IN THEIR FUTURE
Just like we want to improve the working conditions for this village, we must do the same for others in the area. As our business grows, so will our commitment to the people of Bolga. We will venture into other places, reach out to other capable weavers, and collaborate with them to help their communities prosper via trade and community development.
These are some pretty ambitious plans considering we are still a very small company, but I like to think big and with purpose. I once heard someone say that when I had a big vision not to focus on the "how" instead focus on the "why" and the how will come.
As a believer in the law of attraction, I post and share this with all of you. Out loud, over and over, I remind myself why I want to do this. And the how fills itself in via all the opportunities that show up.
Speaking of which... we have some cool and exciting projects on the way intended to help us fund these Education Centers I dream of.
So stay tuned!