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Andrea Newell headshot

Female Survivors Take Their Goods To The Market

By Andrea Newell

One Nepalese woman was married and a mother by age 14. Three years later, she was a widow for the first time. After struggling as farm workers to support four children, she and her second husband moved to Pokhara, Nepal for better opportunities. They didn’t come. Later, she discovered she had leprosy, which ended her ability to work in the fields, but during her treatment, she was introduced to the Women’s Skill Development Organization. There she learned a new skill (weaving) and is now able to support her family and even save some money.

ARZU, or “hope” in Dari (one of the official languages of Afghanistan), means not only hope to its female employees, but opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty through employment, education and access to health care. One girl, Masuma, lived through the Taliban occupation of her home, Dragon Valley, Bamiyan, during her childhood. Her family fled to a refugee camp to escape danger, and she had no chance for formal education. Years later her family returned, and she began learning through ARZU. The organization put her on an educational fast track to catch her up to her peers and she also began weaving for ARZU in addition to her studies to help provide for her family.

“With education I know I will have good opportunities in the future. That’s why I encourage my siblings to continue their education as well… As a wage earner, I am a contributor, rather than burden to my family. When a person works and earns her own income, it automatically gives her a power in the family. I have this power now,” Masuma told TO THE MARKET (TTM) in an interview.

These survivors’ stories, and others, have been brought to light through the efforts of TTM founder Jane Mosbacher Morris. TTM is a marketplace offering goods made by survivors of conflict, abuse (domestic, physical, sexual and human trafficking), and disease (women living with HIV/AIDS, leprosy or physical disabilities). The organization spotlights their stories to show the world the power of resilience and works with partner organizations like ARZU and WSDO to provide services.

It’s not news that empowering women strengthens communities. More organizations are focusing their efforts on helping women around the world capitalize on educational and vocational opportunities to the benefit of their families and communities. Morris explains that TO THE MARKET is unique compared to other female-centered or fair trade organizations due to their three-pronged approach.

“We believe that we have developed a unique model that effectively supports survivors of abuse, conflict, and disease and the organizations that employ them. While conducting due-diligence about the benefits and challenges of employing survivors, I was surprised to learn that the ups and downs were very similar across organizations, regardless of where that organization was operating and what type of survivors it was employing. Accordingly, we made the decision to work with a wide variety of organizations from around the world and with different types of survivor populations. We are the only social enterprise that exclusively sources from survivors of abuse, conflict, and disease. We also feel proud of the fact that we have such a close relationship with our local partners on the ground---it allows for trust between us and the local partner and between us and the customer,” Morris said.

Morris has a long history with women’s issues and survivors. She was previously the Director of Humanitarian Action for the McCain Institute for International Leadership, where she managed the Institute’s human trafficking initiatives. Before that, she worked in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

“I spent the first part of my career working in the U.S. Department of State on the intersection of women and security, where I first learned about the significant marginalization of women in many communities and the role that economic dependency plays in that marginalization,” Morris said.

Morris began to focus specifically on survivor populations when she left the Department of State to work for the McCain Institute for International Leadership on human trafficking, where she was exposed to even more vulnerable populations.

“A lack of economic independence made it very difficult for survivors of abuse to leave exploitative dynamics and even if they did escape, it made them highly vulnerable to dependency on social service providers or worse, another exploitative relationship,” Morris said.

During her career, she has been immersed in the issues surrounding women all over the world. She has witnessed that most solutions focused on survivor populations (abuse, conflict or disease) are social services, including pro-bono legal services, emergency food, and/or medicine and shelter. Morris stresses that these services are invaluable, but are usually only available for a short period of time. After that, women have few places to turn for long-term support. This need became especially clear to Morris on a trip to Kolkata, India in 2013.

“While in Kolkata to learn more about human trafficking, I visited two social enterprises that had set up shop in Kolkata’s red-light districts to serve trafficking survivors by offering them employment. I was so moved by the model of providing the dignity of work, that I left determined to do what I could to support the employment of not only human trafficking survivors, but also survivors of other forms of abuse, survivors of conflict, and survivors of disease,” Morris said.

She spent most of 2013 defining how she could create an organization to fill this space and soft-launched TTM in January 2014 (the marketplace came online in November 2014).

“Our business model is built around supporting our partner organizations and ultimately, ensuring that survivors of abuse, conflict, and disease can continue to be hired and employed. By helping the organizations with which we partner to sell products, we are ensuring that they can continue to operate, if not expand,” Morris said.

Through storytelling, TTM takes the opportunity to both raise awareness about the issues impacting these survivors, as well as highlight the personal stories of individual survivors and the organizations employing the survivors.

Lastly, TTM supports their partner organizations by providing services such as trend forecasting to improve production, and mental health resources to aid management.

The organization is expanding rapidly, partnering with countries including: Afghanistan, Uganda, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nepal, and the U.S., with more coming in the future.

TO THE MARKET (TTM) founder Jane Mosbacher Morris visits Aashiana Shelter for HIV/AIDs infected and affected women and children in New Delhi, India. TTM local partner the Didi Jewelry Project sources beautiful handmade jewelry from Aashiana.

image credit: images used with permission from TO THE MARKET.

Andrea Newell headshot

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

Read more stories by Andrea Newell