For me, autumn has always been filled with birthdays, both my siblings, myself, and a number of my best friends (we Libras always stick together)! And so in the spirit of autumnal birthday gift giving, I thought I’d write a post about the best kind of gift giving – the gift that flows in so many ways! In particular – shopping at some stylish social enterprises for that special someone.
Disclaimer…as I’m currently a tad unemployed, this year’s gifts aren’t so possible…but it’s the thought that counts, right?
A social enterprise is a business that applies business strategies to achieve social or philanthropic goals. The financial and social returns made from the business are most often returned to the beneficiaries of the organisation, either directly or indirectly through the support of the organisation. And this can be done in so many innovative ways – whether it’s the design, production and manufacture of toilets in Cambodia, or amazing and lovely scarves in Peru, Afghanistan and Pakistan! In any case, the communities and individuals that benefit from social enterprise reap both the financial returns and social returns like autonomy, technical and administrative skills to help them gain empowerment and rise out of poverty.
And so, I thought I’d give some bloglovin’ to some of my favourite social enterprises around the world. You can find their products either in their online stores or in their local retailers (many found internationally), listed on their websites.
A Peace Treaty was started up by the sister (and her business partner) of my ever-stylish friend, Sana. Based in NYC, but really found in major department stores, little boutiques around the world, and online, A Peace Treaty works with women in countries like Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanstian that have experienced socio-political conflict. They essentially supports local artisanal design in beautiful scarves and jewelry, with profits going back to the artisanal communities and to other development efforts.
I first discovered lemlem from The Littlest’s post about the brand and I was blown away by the spread of simply sublime styles. It turned out that these beautiful scarves and tunics are the work of model, Liya Kibede, who created Lemlem in 2008 as a way to support artisans, the craft of hand-weaving and the empowerment of women in her native Ethopia. It’s a country I dream of working in one day, and most definitely still needs support as problems of malnutrition and women’s rights continue to affect its population. I’d love the beat of Addis Ababa and its surroundings that provide the rhythm for the delicious cuisine and styles of Ethiopia that make it truly cool.
While I was living and working in Cambodia, I became involved with an organization called AFESIP Fair Fashion through my extraordinary and beautiful friend, Savin, who worked with them. It’s parent organization, AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire or Acting for Women in Distressing Situations) is one of the leading organizations in South East Asia in the combat against the global sex slave trade through the rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration of victims. Cambodia is at the epicenter of the sex trade in South East Asia, where thousands of young girls (as young as age 5) and women are forced to work as domestic/sex slaves or prostitutes and are traded amongst the countries in the region. The sex trade is also one of the persistent mechanisms for the transmission of HIV in the region and continues to be an ongoing and worsening issue.
From AFESIP, AFESIP Fair Fashion was formed as a social enterprise to support the reintegration of women victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation, abuse and other vulnerable situations. Social and economic empowerment are transferred to these women through ethical employment and job training. The beautiful silk garments and accessories , designed with the help of hip young designers from Europe and the US and made by women rescued from exploitation, are sold to the public and profit from sales are reinvested back into the program to provide more capacity building programs, and more employment opportunities to the women whom AFESIP works with. Everytime I’m back in Cambodia, I always make it a point to drop by the shop to visit old friends, see what new styles they have and pick up a shopping list of items for friends back home! These items usually occupy pretty much the bulk of my baggage allowance. My faves are their beaded necklaces in silk, which come in every colour and length imaginable and are the perfect accessory when you can’t think of one.
And finally, the créme de la créme of social enterprises in Cambodia…Friends International, who actually works internationally in Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Honduras, Mexico, Egypt and Myanmar, but initiated all of their activities in post-civil war Cambodia, when 3 young people, working in the humanitarian aid, decided to tackle the growing and continuing tragedy of children living and working on the streets of Phnom Penh. From these beginnings in 1994, Friends International now implements projects around the world that support marginalized children, youth and their families. Of the services they provide are vocational training for young people in sectors like car mechanics, carpentry, hospitality, beauty, design and tailoring…which result in some amazing products and restaurants they have – in particular in Cambodia and Laos. These social businesses serve as a way to employ and continue the skills development of their beneficiary youth as well as generate funding for the organisations. I’m really lucky to be connected to this organisation through my D, who’s worked with them and continues to support the organisation. Their products are funky, sublimely colourful, street-wise and just plain cool. Check out their catalog! And if you’re ever in Phnom Penh, Cambodia or Vientiane, Laos, check out their delectable restaurants!