Have you ever thought that the parable of the workers should be your business paradigm? I mean a paradigm of work where each person is considered in the production process and their emotional, physical and spiritual well being is taken into account and where everyone gets paid the same, even though some products are easier and some are harder. It’s not “fair” and yet it creates an opportunity for something more than being just “fair.”
In the early years of Sari Bari, we realized that same product would not work for everyone, especially if we wanted a diverse range of women of all ages to find freedom and new life within the doors of sari Bari. We in those days had more than enough work with Sari Bari Blankets alone, demand was high, and we did not need to make anything else. Except we did, not for our customer, but for the women of Sari Bari, the reason for doing the business in the first place. We introduced bags at Sari Bari because it was our women who need the product diversification for them to be successful. Some of the women were just not succeeding at making the blankets, their age, their emotional difficulties, their own fear of hand quilting such a large surface area were holding them back from successful production and wages. So bags were born. About 30% of the women at Sari Bari are engaged in hand making our beautiful bags and putting them together on the sewing machines. The needs of the women guided and directed how we would move forward and grow as business.
Their needs continue to shape not only what we make but also how we do business. It is not so with all businesses where sometimes profit comes before people.
The generally practiced fair trade paradigm of business has always irked us a little at Sari Bari. Mainly because it is possible to run a profitable efficient fair trade business when you do what most businesses do: hire the best workers, at the highest price, to get the most efficient production in order to make the highest profit. It is a reasonable way to do business and can be profitable.
And it may not be the best way to do Justice. Social Businesses seeking to implement fair trade practices often hit some walls. In many cases, the target employee may not be the most efficient, most productive or most cost effective way to make the a product. And of course, these businesses still want to pay fair or better than fair wages and at least break even in the process. Yet, it may in fact take years to empower and encourage an individual employee to reach the place of doing their best. They may have years and years of trauma, negative internal and external messages, and culture barriers to overcome. And their personal growth process may never translate into efficiency but always seems to translate into life change.
We can confirm that it happens…we have seen it with own eyes over and over again. A woman transformed, almost miraculous in front of our eyes. The “I can’t” is replaced with “I can” and “I not only can and will but I want to be excellent.” This belief in self, the ability to change the broken paradigm of one’s identity is what we hope for through the work at Sari Bari. If you were to ask the women at Sari Bari what work they do, they would not tell you about you about the beautiful bags and blankets that we make, they would tell you that work of both their hands and hearts is FREEDOM. And you if you asked them what mark’s their life and their identity, they will say VALUE. A profound value that is affirmed daily in the presence of other women who journey with them.
These women, our friends and hero’s, are not what they do. This is a true statement both now and before they came to find freedom. The women you will find when you walk through the doors of this socially oriented, fair trade practicing business, are a beautiful tapestry of uniquely made human beings. They are unique, broken and healed, transformed, efficient and inefficient, mother and daughter, friends and family. They are the fabric of our reason for doing business. We partner with the women for freedom, empowerment, wholeness, generational and community transformation, personal transformation and new life and we find it together.
The women, human beings, shape the whole paradigm of how we do business at Sari Bari. We may not be efficient, we may only break even but we have earned something more important along the way: A journey toward new life that we do not have to travel alone.
The nomination of Founder and Managing Director Sarah Lance @sarahspundita/ Sari Bari @sari_bari_india for an Epoch Award will mean that we at Sari Bari can continue to provide even more opportunities for freedom though employment for the women in the red light areas of Kolkata and women vulnerable to trafficking. We will continue to build the dream and empower women to dream for themselves and their families.
See http://epochawards.com/nominations/2013-nominations/ for all the nominations and more information. You can also follow @EpochAwards on Twitter.