“Imagine never getting out of a dark room - the simple, basic concept of light would be so alien that imagination would not reckon with it.” Desihangover
Illiteracy is one such dark room - along with a myriad of other factors that keep certain communities bound to the “plague” of poverty, even in places not too far off from us. According to the United Nations, a whopping 734 million lives (10% of the world’s population) lived in extreme poverty: on less than $1.90 a day. These precious lives struggle to fulfil even the most basic needs many of us living in first world countries take for granted today: health, education, access to water, sanitation - just to name a few.
Such a phenomenon should not be.
While some may think that these people live in extreme poverty because they do not work, this is simply not true. Sometimes, just having job does not guarantee anyone a decent living. They are also the hardest hit due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with zero buffer or support systems.
Can steps really be taken to mitigate this huge problem plaguing our world since the dawn of the human civilisation? How do we not just end up “throwing money at the problem”?
While many businesses claim to be “ethical” and perhaps well-intentioned, without proper research, initiatives can end up harming communities and locking them in the cycle of poverty. Oftentimes, these are merely short-term “gestures” such as donations and hand-outs, but do not necessarily equip the beneficiaries on how-to-fish and succeed for the long-term.
So how should one truly partner and empower these communities sustainably? Join us as we take a deep dive to find out what 5 different partner brands 'kakis' of The Green Collective - Ma Te Sai, PURNAMA, The Eco Statement., The Handmade Romantics, and DesiHangover - are doing to contribute to shaping a better world.
The Handmade Romantics
“Individuals end up in poverty through no fault of their own. Often they are born into it and poverty is all they have always known, sometimes dire situations push them into poverty and they aren't able to climb back out.” Having grown up in Indonesia where the wealth disparity within the society was extremely apparent, Stephanie Pandji learned to turn her discomfort over the disparity she witnessed in her society into actual, tangible actions.
The humble beginnings of The Handmade Romantics is one that is truly admirable: starting with monetary donations and physical involvement in local programmes. Since then, they are now working with rural communities who benefit from income opportunities directly today.
Many of the artisan groups they work with use their income to supplement household expenses, allowing them to keep their children in school so that their children can gain a better foothold in determining their futures.
MYTH TO DEBUNK “Gestures such as donations are good for short-term impacts, but how are they being put in arrangements that set the recipients up for success in their future?”
Ma Te Sai
With a heart to help support rural communities, Emi Weir embarked on the Ma Te Sai project. Desiring to empower individuals, Ma Te Sai focused primarily on skills training so beneficiaries can work independently from home.
At the moment, Ma Te Sai is training a total of 20 women from 7 different ethnic groups in Luang Namtha to sew. This will increase their production of finished products and provide each individual with more income to support their families. With the skills learnt through the programme, the women will be able to improve the quality and design of their products for export, and thus have better access to overseas markets.
MYTH TO DEBUNK: “If you take people away from home, you increase their cost of living - it’s far better to empower them where they are for the betterment of their community & society”
After moving to Singapore back in 2008, Rae Indah and Charles Pitts both became passionately and personally involved in directly finding ways to sponsor the education of children-in-need throughout the region. As their ambitions grew, both Indah and Pitts began to seek a way to create a sustainable source of skills and income to bring up and support their beneficiaries. The solution came in the form of what we know to be PURNAMA today.
Setting off with an objective to provide regular employment to women and help women better support their children’s education, PURNAMA partnered with a Women's Skill Development Program in Nepal. The 2-year long program starts by providing literacy training to its beneficiaries before going a step further to equip women with skills like weaving and sewing.
Today, PURNAMA directly funds the education of the children in their Education Outreach Program, Fight For Education. They also directly collaborate & provide revenues for their artisans, and directly administrates extended donations in their impact communities.
MYTH TO DEBUNK: “Get on the ground, talk to them, see what they want, maybe they don’t need another wall painted you know. It is a mistake to think you know what they need to build long-term stability.”
Based in India, Lakshya Arora, founder of DesiHangover works with traditional artisan cobblers who have lost their livelihood to the mass production revolution. When Lakshya and his team first visited the under-served community of cobblers in South India, it was an eye opener to look at the kind of problems that existed in the ecosystem - from debt trap due to informal loans, injustice in trade by middle men and caste disparity. This eventually made them realise that if nothing is done soon, the system will collapse and the ones facing all the damage would be the artisan communities. Not only that, but a craft of over 8 centuries would die with them.
Today, DesiHangover's Athani artisan village has artisans who are bonded labour free. 50% of their workforce is made up of women, and they even support a school of 130 children from families of their artisans. In addition, regular upskilling workshops are also conducted. Moving forward, DesiHangover seeks to put Athani on the global map to be known for their artisanal products, so as to scale up their cause.
MYTH TO DEBUNK: “Giving donations for face-value, settling for substandard quality goods actually harms communities more than they benefit. Brands should teach and empower artisans to produce high-quality, market-standard products!”
The Eco Statement
With a simple wish to see environmental sustainability progress to having that ‘sustainable/circular design products’ become as viral as the next luxury handbag or iPhone or statement item, Sangeeta Nair founded The Eco Statement.
Today, The Eco Statement provides access to the urban markets to showcase the skills and products of the rural communities. Their efforts not only provide them with financial empowerment, but also goes ahead to give them a voice in society.
MYTH TO DEBUNK: “Instead of looking at the community as needy and providing hand-outs, start by identifying their assets and strengths! Mobilise their assets and work towards building sustainable communities for the long-term.”
So…. how can I help?
A similarity we can see in all these companies who produce products we dearly love today is this: they all began as individuals with a simple dream to see a change in society. Thereon, they supplied actions to their dream, and worked on it to turn their dreams into reality.
As individual consumers, you are not powerless in helping to eradicate poverty. Your every decision helps to bring us all a step closer to end poverty in all forms, everywhere.
Watch the replay of the discussion with Desi Hangover, Ma Te Sai and Connect Dotz on Eradicating Poverty to mark the International Day of the Eradication of Poverty!