Celebrating Social Entrepreneurs this International Women’s Day

HappyInternationalWomen's Day!

Happy International Women’s Day!

We know that women are drivers of change in their communities. Not only is this common knowledge but we have also seen it first hand.

Over the years, we have been fortunate enough to have worked with many inspiring female social entrepreneurs. This International Women’s Day we wanted to tell you about a few of them. Not only are these ladies running their own businesses and changing mindsets at home, but they are also partnering with women and families abroad who use the economic opportunity to improve their own communities. 

You can meet all these talented entrepreneurs at the Buy Good. Feel Good Expo this May 13th & 14th in Toronto!

Cassandra Ciarallo of Chic Made Consciously

Inspired by her travels through Asia, Cassandra started her ethical and sustainable accessories line Chic Made Consciously. While in Ubud of Bali, Indonesia, she came across an artisan creating accessories from repurposed tire inner tubes. Seeing how these accessories not only diverted waste from the landfills but also provided opportunity to artisans, she decided to bring them to her hometown of Toronto and Chic Made Consciously was born. Cassandra’s energy is contagious. She motivates those around her to think critically about their purchases and to maintain a positive attitude.

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Jennie Coleman of Equifruit

An all-star entrepreneur, Jennie took over the organic and fairtrade banana business, Equifruit, in 2013 from the original mother-daughter team. Since then her dedication to small-farmers in Peru and Ecuador and expanding the fairtrade market in Canada has driven Equifruit’s growth. Originally selling to the Quebec market, Equifruit have now seen significant expansion throughout Ontario. Jennie has also brought on three more dedicated women to the Equifruit team. Most recently, Equifruit has begun importing conventional fairtrade bananas and fostered a partnership with Concordia University. Concordia is the first campus in Canada to sell only fairtrade bananas.

Isabel Stigge of Little by Little

Believing that no child should be without a home, Isabel has always focused a lot of her energy on helping orphans. With six adopted children of her own (and four biological), she also volunteers annually at an orphanage in Haiti. What she saw was that many children in the orphanages actually had at least one living parent, but a lack of economic opportunity made it impossible to take care of the children on their own. This led Isabel to start her business, Little by Little, providing job opportunities to at-risk parents. Now Little by Little employs 18 Haitians and directly benefits 50 children, while supporting 15 other extended families and their children.

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Rose Creamer & Stacey Guymer of Sweet Leaf Bath Co.

Sweet Leaf Bath Co. was born out of a desire to create something that was good not only for your skin, but for the planet as well. Rose and Stacey teamed up in 2007 to create handcrafted skin care products in small batches using pure, organic and Fairtrade Certified ingredients. Their choice to source Fairtrade Certified ingredients from West Africa, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Costa Rica was the easiest business decision they made, as it allowed them to impact people’s lives in a positive way.

Janet Viirre of TresBello

Since she was young, Janet dreamed of owning her own store full of beautiful things. Her later experiences travelling and meeting new people led her to realize her dream and open TresBello – a fair trade artisan shop on wheels. The truck brings fair trade accessories, apparel and decor directly to consumers. Her mobile business matches her love for the nomadic lifestyle. It also allows her to share the stories of artisans from around the world, connecting consumers to the people behind their products.

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Daphna Lewinshtein of Craft Talk

An artisan herself, Daphna has always been interested in the artisan sector and making fashion more fair. She wrote her thesis on fair trade and artisans, created a toolkit for artisans, and organized events and workshops on the sector for students and new designers. From here she founded the nonprofit artisan accelerator and design consultancy Craft Talk. Projects through Craft Talk have involved working with new Americans in the United States, indigenous women in Burma, and former factory workers in Bangladesh.

TresBello: The Fair Trade Artisan Shop on Wheels

If you were at our last show in June, it was hard to miss the big truck parked inside Heritage Court that was overflowing with beautiful fair trade products. TresBello is the Fair Trade Artisan Shop on wheels that sells a variety of global and local products, mainly apparel and accessories. TresBello makes house calls through their ‘Host a Party‘ model, making it easy for a group of friends to shop from a global selection.  You can also find the truck at various events throughout the year (including The Fair Trade Show)! Check the calendar to see where they will be next! 

At TresBello you can find products from around the world including countries like India, Vietnam, Ecuador, Ghana, Kenya and Burma. These products aim to empower marginalized groups, often women, children and people living with disabilities.

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In the photo above you can see Janet Virre, Founder of TresBello, visiting a few of the artisans she sources her products from in Carabeula, Ecuador. We asked Janet to tell us a bit more about her business.

What was the inspiration that made you get into this business?

I have always loved the allure of the exotic, foreign lands, and people around the world.  When travelling, markets are always my favourite thing to visit. I love beautiful things made by the beautiful people of the world.  I like to create connections between my customers and these people through their purchases to gain a better understanding of the world.

 

How do you think your business impacts the world?

My impact is through connection.  Connecting our world with that of the artisans.  The love that goes into these products continues when you wear it, look at it, admire it.

 

How do you see the future of social entrepreneurship and how do you see citizens playing a role in social change?

This is so important if we are going to have a peaceful planet.  Social entrepreneurship plays such a vital role in connecting the world. Social change will only happen when all citizens embrace the new reality.

 

 

What have you found to be the biggest challenges to running a social enterprise and how have you overcome them?

My biggest challenge is creating a sustainable business model so that I can keep going and grow.  It is important that social entrepreneurship survives but it has to provide a living and allow us to model the life we want to live in order to support other initiatives.

 

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Alonso, an artisan of Otavalo, Ecuador
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A young girl in Burma with Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment (WEAVE)
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Join TresBello and other like-minded businesses at the next Fair Trade Show – May 13&14, 2017!

Reelworld Film Festival: Harnessing the Power of Film as a Force for Social Good

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The annual Reelworld Film Festival is taking place at The Harbourfront Centre from Oct. 12–16th. They’ll be showing tons of films about compelling issues and each film will have an opportunity to connect with organizations who are working on issues on the ground. You can watch films about the Syrian refugee crisis and then connect with organizations like Lifeline Syria. You can check out a film about the ivory trade with WCS Canada. There is a film about eldercare with The International Federation on Aging. The film Almost Sunrise will also be there with Wounded Warriors Canada!

The list of films with a cause is extensive – check it out! Make sure you use The Fair Trade Show discount code FTS10 for 10% off of festival passes.

If you attended our previous Fair Trade Show in June then you probably noticed the virtual reality set-up at Reelworld’s booth. They were showing the very powerful short, Clouds Over Sidra, about a 12 year old Syrian girl living in a refugee camp in Jordan. Hopefully you got the chance to experience the film yourself and to understand how powerful these visual stories can be.

 

 

We asked Sarah Mortimer, Reelworld’s Communications Coordinator, to tell us a bit more about their motivations

Tell us a bit about Reelworld and what you are aiming to do.

Reelworld Film Festival is a social impact film festival based in Toronto, Ontario. Now in our 16th year, we’re dedicated to harnessing the power of film as a force for social good. Through our programming, we work to connect inspired people to inspired partners and films. We screen films about pressing social issues like immigration, conservation, the refugee crisis and more. Our main goal is help you bridge the gap between feeling inspired by what you see in a theatre and taking direct action. After our screenings, we help connect audiences with non-profit partners, activists, and people who are on the ground making change so that you can make a difference too!

 

What was the inspiration behind the Reelworld Film Festival?

The story that helped our Executive Director, Gave Lindo, really understand the potential social impact of film is a documentary called Almost Sunrise. Almost Sunrise follows two veterans suffering from suicidal thoughts and depression as they walk from Wisconsin to California. They meet lots of other vets and mental health care professionals along the way and meditate on this idea of moral injury. Moral injury is different from PTSD which is very fear-based – instead it’s the feeling of despair you get when you’ve done something that goes against your own moral code. Gave was at a pitch session in Chicago when he learned about the film and what really struck him was how many people – ordinary citizens – could relate to the film and were rallying behind it. Former soldiers, families and friends truly believed it was the film that could save lives. Almost Sunrise had a really successful impact campaign – through post-screening meditation sessions and outreach they really were helping to make a difference in communities. So that’s what Reelworld is working to help important films do. We want to use films to help ignite change.

At The Fair Trade Show, we use the power of storytelling to inspire and activate citizens. The media impacts the world every day but it’s up to us to choose what kind of media we want to consume. If you love eye-opening films and shorts, this is one festival you don’t want to miss!

ROOTA: Generating Income and Restoring Dignity for the Zabaleen of Egypt

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Rising Out of the Ashes (ROOTA) is a non-profit with a mission to support one of Egypt’s most marginalized groups – the Zabaleen. Zabaleen translates to garbage collector in Egyptian Arabic, meaning this group is in charge of almost 80 percent of the recycling done in Egypt. ROOTA works closely with the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE), an Egyptian non-profit that teaches the women in the Zabaleen community to repurpose the garbage collected into beautiful handmade products. Then ROOTA brings these products to the Canadian market!

We asked Nevine Yassa to tell us a bit more about ROOTA’s impact in Egypt.

Tell us about the work of APE.

APE’s motto is learning through earning. APE teaches women in the Zabaleen community various crafts using recycled materials, allowing them to work from home. APE teaches these women a trade like spinning and weaving of carpets, quilts, and bags. The home producers are then free to sell their products wherever they choose. IMG_3511 (2)The purpose of these income generating projects is to empower the women to help their families. APE also helps women and young adults by providing adult literacy classes and remedial classes for kids. APE also provides health services through their clinic which provides support for Hepatitis C patients, addiction and diabetes. At ROOTA our mission is to promote their products to help these women become independent.

What inspired you to start this business?

When I saw how the Zabaleen are living, it touched my heart and I decided I would like to help them.  So the idea came to me that I could promote their products and give back to this marginalized community to improve their education, teach them a trade and eventually independence.

There is one story that I always think of – my visit to Mina’s apartment. It was very touching. He is an 18 year old boy married to a 16 year old woman.  He told me how grateful he was to APE for teaching him how to read and write.  He remembers that as a child, his dad was sick and his mother could not find the way to the hospital. She had to ask for help from a cousin who knew how to read and write to help them read the streets names. 

Are they any particular challenges you have faced so far?

There are lots of challenges working with the Zabaleen as they live in their own world. Helping them to understand the vitality of literacy for their empowerment was and is still a challenge. Explaining hygiene precautions was and still is another hurdle.

Not only are ROOTA and APE offering the Zabaleen economic opportunities, but they are helping to restore their dignity. By bringing positive attention to this deeply marginalized group, they are reminding the world to appreciate the individuals who are left to deal with what is left behind from our consumption-driven economy

You can also check out ROOTA online or meet them in person at Oak Park Neighbourhood Centre (OPNC) on Sept 20, 2016. 

You can read more about the work of APE here.

Rising Out of the Ashes (ROOTA) is a non-profit with a mission to support one of Egypt’s most marginalized groups – the Zabaleen. Zabaleen translates to garbage collector in Egyptian Arabic, meaning this group is in charge of almost 80 percent of the recycling done in Egypt. ROOTA works closely with the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE), an Egyptian non-profit that teaches the women in the Zabaleen community to repurpose the garbage collected into beautiful handmade products. Then ROOTA brings these products to the Canadian market!

We asked Nevine Yassa to tell us a bit more about ROOTA’s impact in Egypt.

Tell us about the work of APE.

APE’s motto is learning through earning. APE teaches women in the Zabaleen community various crafts using recycled materials, allowing them to work from home. APE teaches these women a trade like spinning and weaving of carpets, quilts, and bags. The home producers are then free to sell their products wherever they choose. The purpose of these income generating projects is to empower the women to help their families. APE also helps women and young adults by providing adult literacy classes and remedial classes for kids. APE also provides health services through their clinic which provides support for Hepatitis C patients, addiction and diabetes. At ROOTA our mission is to promote their products to help these women become independent.

 

What inspired you to start this business?

When I saw how the Zabaleen are living, it touched my heart and I decided I would like to help them.  So the idea came to me that I could promote their products and give back to this marginalized community to improve their education, teach them a trade and eventually independence.

There is one story that I always think of – my visit to Mina’s apartment. It was very touching. He is an 18 year old boy married to a 16 year old woman.  He told me how grateful he was to APE for teaching him how to read and write.  He remembers that as a child, his dad was sick and his mother could not find the way to the hospital. She had to ask for help from a cousin who knew how to read and write to help them read the streets names. 

 

Are they any particular challenges you have faced so far?

There are lots of challenges working with the Zabaleen as they live in their own world. Helping them to understand the vitality of literacy for their empowerment was and is still a challenge. Explaining hygiene precautions was and still is another hurdle.

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Not only are ROOTA and APE offering the Zabaleen economic opportunities, but they are helping to restore their dignity. By bringing positive attention to this deeply marginalized group, they are reminding the world to appreciate the individuals who are left to deal with what is left behind from our consumption-driven economy

You can also check out ROOTA online or meet them in person at Oak Park Neighbourhood Centre (OPNC) on Sept 20, 2016. 

You can read more about the work of APE here.

Soul Woven: From Guatemala to Canada, a True Family Business

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“The path that lead me towards founding Soul Woven was a winding road,” states Claire Levick, the founder of fair trade fashion company Soul Woven. It was her mix of interests, frustrations and desires that led her to take a risk, commit to her values and start a fashion business that stood for ethical and fair practices. Soul Woven is a fair trade fashion collection curating traditional Mayan creativity into innovative, modern design by working directly with a number of different artisan groups in Guatemala.

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Who are the people behind Soul Woven?

“My mom and I are very grateful for the relationship we have with our artisans. We take pride in the friendships we have cultivated over the small amount of time that Soul Woven has existed. A great part of Guatemala’s culture is devoted to family and it is common for the parameters of ‘family’ to stretch beyond. I learnt that from a direct experience a few years ago.

When my mother came to Guatemala for the first time, I introduced her to Esperanza, Marten and their family – the soul of our boot production.  We were invited to come to their workshop to observe their cobbling process. What we believed to be a short business trip, turned into a day I will never forget for the rest of my life.

When my mother came to Guatemala for the first time, I introduced her to Esperanza, Marten and their family – the soul of our boot production.  We were invited to come to their workshop to observe their cobbling process. What we believed to be a short business trip, turned into a day I will never forget for the rest of my life.

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Sitting in complete and utter shock, both my mom and I sat there feeling our hearts about to explode. Half way through the dance, I stumbled to find my camera to capture a part of this magical moment. When the dance ended, we met the girls individually and learnt that they were all nieces of Esperanza and Marten. Next, they proceeded to teach my mother and I the process of how girls in Guatemala learn to make Huipils and the graduating steps it takes to get there. That day, I grew a profound appreciation and understanding for the talent and lifetime dedication that goes into the creation of a Guatemalan huipil. We then went through the process of boot making with the cobblers. From cutting the pattern pieces and leather skins, to constructing the sole and adding the finishing touches, we learnt in great admiration the steps to completing a handmade pair of boots. The afternoon carried on for a number of hours as the house grew more full of family members, all with a role in the business.

 

Thinking our day was coming to an end and that we would return to our room, exhausted and ready for bed, we were told dinner was going to be served. We insisted, as Canadians do, that they did not need to feed us. And as Guatemalans do, they didn’t listen and sat us down in our seats and didn’t let us get up until the meal was over and table cleared. The meal that followed was one of the best meals I have ever had. Handmade tamales started us off as they were passed around the table. The main course was a traditional Guatemalan stew called, Pepian. A beautiful array of coriander, cloves and cinnamon, give flavour to a tomato and chili based chicken broth. We were told after the meal that they had butchered one of their chickens for the meal. I am still at a loss for words when I talk to Esperanza about that night and the symbolism of their gift that day. The evening ended with many hugs and an agreement that our relationship was not only business, not only friendship, but family. I am forever grateful to be able to have begun a business based on these values and I hope to continue to grow Soul Woven in the same way forever.”

Check out Soul Woven at www.soulwoven.ca and follow them on Facebook and Instagram

You can also watch out our interview with Claire below:

Big Village: Supporting Artisans Abroad and Inspiring Global Citizens at Home

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John and Liz Blaauwendraat are on a mission to share their message that “fair business relationships are the best way to effect change towards the challenge of income inequality.”

What was the inspiration that got you into this business?

We had been working with a social entrepreneur on a community development project in Ghana since 2009, and I was able to travel there in 2011 and 2013.  We were involved in fundraising, and had been investing personal resources in the construction of a school in the town of Asamankese.  We were thrilled to see that project completed and classes underway during our visit in ’13, but came to the realization that in order for this to be sustainable, we would have to find a way to use local resources to fund this and other projects.  We could see that there were so many wonderful products being made in Ghana that could be brought to Western markets, and started working on a strategy to use these products to bless projects in that country.

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The family business not only sells handmade products from Ghana, but they also commit to teaching the next generation about fair trade. John and Liz, along with their daughter Avery and son Anders, have developed a series of presentations that they take around to different students in grades 2, 6 and 10. These interactive presentations focus on the fair trade principles and how they tie in to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Along with fueling the next generation of changemakers, they also connect with students creative side by conducting a bracelet making workshop using their recycled glass beads.

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Weaving baskets in Bolgatanga, Ghana

How is Big Village impacting the world?

We use the baskets and beads as practical examples when we introduce topics such as recycling, cultural identity, social justice, and sustainability to our customers and students.  Our partners in Ghana are models of resourcefulness because they use materials that are readily available to them to make the products.  The baskets are constructed from a special type of grass that grows in abundance in Northern Ghana, and is resilient to the effects of climate change.  The glass beads are made from bottles in the community that were broken and unused.   The workers will gather them from the roadside and they are bring them to the factory to be re-formed into our beads.

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The Blaauwendraat family visiting their partners in Bolgatanga, Ghana

Visiting Ghana in June of 2015 they had an opportunity to meet with their partners. Spending time with the artisans allowed John and Liz to see how they live and work and to get to know their families.  Through a translator John had the opportunity to speak to them about how much Big Village customers love the baskets, I spoke about how our relationship with them is like a basket; each of us is like a blade of grass, and through our partnership we have, through the many connections, become woven together into something that’s strong and beautiful.”

 

Big Village, Big News: Big Village has teamed up with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to sell baskets which will support fundraising for the Grandmothers Campaign! The Grandmothers Campaign supports grandmothers and their communities in Africa as they struggle to care for the millions of children orphaned by AIDS.

Check out Big Village at www.bigvillage.ca and like their Facebook Page!

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John at The Fair Trade Show in June 2016 at Heritage Court, Enercare Centre
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Liz and John at The Fair Trade Show in June 2016 at Heritage Court, Enercare Centre