By Eve Kushner
In stores such as Elephant Pharmacy and Whole Foods, World of Good kiosks overflow with gifts and housewares from Third World artisans: journals with covers made from salvaged kites in India, raffia baskets handwoven by Ugandan women and coconut bracelets made by patients at a Thai hospital. Women from 31 countries have created the majority of these products, and Berkeley-based World of Good aims to empower the artisans by paying fair-trade wages, offering access to capital, providing safe working conditions and selling goods in a projected 1,000 U.S. stores by the end of this year.
In 2005 alone, World of Good sold more than 100,000 handmade items and won the Global Social Venture Competition. That was just one year after Priya Haji, 36, co-founded the company with Siddharth Sanghvi. “We’re still proving that this can work,” Haji said of their business model.
To help artisans even more, World of Good sends 10 percent of profits to its affiliated nonprofit, World of Good: Development Organization, which gives the money back to the artisan communities. With this funding, they can build schools, wells and other bits of crucial infrastructure. The nonprofit also works to create pricing standards so producers of all sorts will receive fair compensation.
As if these weren’t big enough missions, World of Good aims to shift the awareness of U.S. consumers, particularly through tags on each product that explain who made it and how. Educating consumers about producers’ circumstances is a fundamental fair-trade aim. “In the same way that organics help people think about what’s in their food, we think the fair-trade movement is helping people think about who is behind their food and their products,” says Haji.
Although World of Good is young, it’s been a long time in the making, at least in Haji’s mind. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she helped her father start a free health clinic in Texas when she was just a teenager. Then, while still an undergraduate at Stanford, she founded Free at Last, a nonprofit that helps addicts and ex-convicts. She wrote her undergraduate thesis on liberation theology, which is rooted in the idea that spirituality can be the basis of social justice and economic empowerment.
After six years at Free at Last, she headed to Haas Business School to think about how to address social issues within a for-profit model and maintain sustainable economic methods. When she graduated, she traveled around the Third World for six months, trying to determine whether she could do the most good by living in a community and working with a single group of artisan women. Ultimately, after meeting women in India, Guatemala and Mexico, she decided, “Nope, what I should really be doing is figuring out how to unlock the biggest market in the world for all these women at one time.” Isn’t that a rather large goal? Haji shrugs, saying, “Why have a small goal?”
Calling her an optimist is a bit of an understatement. “I look at all of the big problems, and I see that as just a million little things that need to be changed,” Haji says. “And if they all got changed, it would be different.”
Photo by Pat Mazzera.