Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bead For Life

About 3 weeks ago, after getting out of work, I decided to stop by the bookstore and pick up the Fall issue of Boho magazine.  I made a cup of tea and began to flip through the issue, when I came upon an article featuring a non-profit organization called Bead for Life.  Founded by mother and daughter, Torkin Wakefield, Devin Hibbard and their good friend, Ginny Jordan in 2004,  Bead for Life provides many Ugandan women with the tools they need to become self-sustained entrepreneurs through the development and sale of their beads.  Net profits from the sales support the women and their families,  as well as provide community resources such as affordable housing, health, and vocational trainings. 

These are the kind of women that give us strength and hope of endless possibilities.  I had to know more!  So, after pondering for some time, I decided to contact Torkin.  Not only is she a former Peace Corps volunteer,  mother of two and mayor of her town. She's married to an Aids physician and has a degree in Public Health from Berkeley University.  She also admitted to being a hippie. Which I love!  After, recently returning from Uganda, Torkin graciously agreed to an interview.

1. What was the defining moment when you realized you wanted to pursue your idea into a career?

When I realized that there was a market for the paper beads,  and that indeed, I could help many women change their desperate lives. It happened in a moment.

2. What are your greatest influences & how do they influence what you do?

My mother is my greatest influence.  She was a simple woman with a wonderful heart,  who believed that bringing love to all problems was the beginning of a solution.  She taught me about human service and hard work.

3. Walk us through a typical day for you.

I get up at about 6:30 and do a few hours of email before I go to the office.  During the day,  I move around speaking with each employee,  helping them think through problems or think strategically.  I usually meet with the senior management to set agendas and to hear about progress.

4. What keeps you grounded?

I’ve always been grounded… some people are just earth.  Success and challenges also keep me grounded.

5. What can we expect to see from Bead for Life in the future?

We are interested in expanding our program to include more people moving out of poverty.  We are getting into a new initiative with shea butter which is being produced from a dirt poor area.  We are currently working with 1600 women in Northern Uganda. We have also just launched a curriculum for middle and high school students and we will be rolling this out in the next year.

Finally,  we are continuing to develop a superior product. Look for two new bead styles in 2010.

We have refined our way of doing business in Uganda,  and are changing some of our entrepreneurial programs to help more women succeed in leaving poverty behind.

6. What is your advice to someone who wants to start a sustainable non-profit venture?

Do it.  Start small, grow organically, stay true to your mission, use volunteers until you have money, treat your staff with lots of appreciation and mentoring,  lead with love,  change often as you learn what works best,  seek out media by telling compelling stories.

Bead for Life's mission is to battle extreme poverty one bead at a time. Want to get involved and help this initiative? Start Weaving.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

And the tall wise tree sprouts seeds of change.....

This past week, I was fortunate enough to visit family in the Dominican Republic.  For those of you who don't know, I am first generation American - Dominican.  Dominican Republic is an amazing island with a huge heart.  Although, it is still a third world country with great poverty, it is full of diversity, and immensely talented and motivated individuals.  Many of my family members made their way here to the United States in search for greater opportunities not available in Dominican Republic.  They worked tirelessly to make a better life for their children.  They made sure we remained close to one another and instilled the importance of family values.  Two of the many sages in our family are my Aunt Angelita (89 yrs. old) & Uncle Julian (90 yrs old).  They've been married for 63 years and are still as loving and affectionate as in their younger years.  After making their way here to the US, they decided to go back to their home.  Dominican Republic.  They give back to their community and even help some of the poorer neighborhood kids receive a college education.  They believe in the power of the individual to make a difference.   

Here, in the states, it can be so easy for us to get caught up in the trivial moments.  We tend to get a myopic view of the work, work, work adage.  We loose touch with the true importance of family and community.   We have a responsibility to ourselves and others to make this life count by giving back and cultivating seeds that will sprout love & change.  Now,  is the time to follow our hearts and build a life for ourselves  that will leave a lasting impression on the hearts of all those we encounter.