sustainable business

An active member of our platform and an engaged social enterprise, beyondBeanie was created in 2014 to support Bolivian women artisans by re-selling their products and reverting part of the profits to social projects. In the following interview, Beyond Beanie’s founder, Hector Alvarez, tells us his story, makes plans for the future and talks about the importance of social entrepreneurship. An awarded member of SIGEF, Hector shares his experience of our most awaited event!

The beyongBeanie team with Bolivian children
The beyongBeanie team with Bolivian children

– What’s the story behind the foundation of beyondBeanie?

In summer of 2013, I travelled to Bolivia to go on a backpacking trip together with my wife and friends, among whom was Paty, a long-time friend and co-founder of the project.  While there, I noticed that there were a lot of women doing knitted handicrafts such as beanies and scarves on the streets of La Paz and the way they made their living was through the sale of these items to tourists. I could see that their lives were not easy.

I bought a handful of different hats from a few different artisans which I took back to Europe to give as souvenirs to my friends and family. While I was giving them my gifts, I talked to them about my experience lived in Bolivia as well as showed them pictures of the women who made these products. My friends immediately found this a cool concept to actually know who made their beanie. This positive reaction from my friends gave me motivation to want to start a social enterprise which would help provide much needed jobs to artisans in Bolivia. After a lot of planning, bB was finally born in March 2014.   

In addition to empowering artisans, Paty and I decided to expand the concept to not just provide work to artisans but also to help street and orphan children with every item sold. That’s how they idea of 1 hat = 5 meals was born which then expanded to other products, such as as bags = school supplies, bracelets = dental care, etc.

Bolivian artisans working on their products
Bolivian artisans working on their products

– You have a strong link with Bolivian artisans. How have you been supporting them with the project?

The artisans who make our products are all women from difficult backgrounds, such as women who have been abandoned by their husbands or boyfriends with two to five children to raise as single mothers or women who have had no opportunity to get an education and can barely read and write.

Through beyondBeanie, we are able to provide these women with the opportunity to work from home while taking care of their children.  Furthermore, we also support their children with school supplies, school uniforms, meals etc.

– How do you think you can empower these artists by selling their products?

One of the important issues which we wanted to do with bB was to not just provide our artisans with work, but also to help boost their self-esteem. When we first met, many of our artisans were quite shy and had very little pride in their work. In fact, many of them had nobody ever tell them that they have an incredible talent and that they do an amazing job. Therefore, in the same way as for example a painter signs his/her paint, each one of our artisans signs her finished product. Then, clients have the opportunity to meet their artisans through our site and even send thank-you letter if they want. This whole mechanism, while quite simple, plays an extremely powerful role in boosting our artisans’ self esteem.

The project boosts the self-esteem of the artisans
The project boosts the self-esteem of the artisans

– What was your biggest accomplishment with beyondBeanie?

The biggest accomplishment is seeing how our work is helping to make a difference in the lives of our artisans, as well as seeing the lives changed of the children we support with the help of our supporters. Thanks to our fans and customers, we’ve been able to provide over 10,000 meals and are currently able to give work to about 25 artisans. Our next stage is to increase our presence at retail outlets in the USA and Europe. For this, we are networking with different agents distributors and shop owners.  

– Do you believe sustainable businesses are the future of capitalism?

I do believe so. Thanks to the internet, nowadays, people are more and more aware about everything which is going on in the world and want to play a more active role in helping change the world for the better. Companies which facilitate this role to consumers will have a clear advantage over those companies who don’t.

beyondBeanie supports  children with school supplies, school uniforms and meals
beyondBeanie supports children with school supplies, school uniforms and meals

– Horyou is now organising the 3rd edition of SIGEF. You were awarded a prize in 2014, and last year you were part of the jury. How do you evaluate SIGEF and its impact on organizations worldwide?

For us, SIGEF 2014 was key to validate our business concept as well as to have much needed initial capital to start our first production of winter hats. This is aside the incredible networking which we did with like-minded individuals. SIGEF 2015 was equally important for us! It was a great honor to be invited to be part of the jury.

I really believe that SIGEF is a great portal to network with fellow changemakers, validate ideas and even find funding!

By Vívian Soares

Steve Sedgwick, Anchor of CNBC moderating the panel at Davos.
Steve Sedgwick, Anchor of CNBC moderating the panel at Davos.

The Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris in December was an unambiguous success, this was the narrative of the “New Climate for Doing Business” panel discussion at the 2016 World Economic Forum of Davos. The panel – made up of representatives from the UN, industry and politics reflected the fact that there is now a global awareness and furthermore a global agreement to radically change our behaviour and reduce our carbon footprint on the earth.

“Success” has been achieved on committing to this mission, however, how this success materialises depends on the action from here on.

One of the main sticking points of COP 21 was the reduction of carbon emissions by every country. Carbon is extremely harmful to the environment but embedded in everything that we do, in all of our processes and so unsurprisingly, it is industries that emit the greatest concentration into our atmosphere.

This is why the support of industry will be so crucial to the success story. Businesses from primary to manufacturing, right up to the services sector are realizing that being more environmentally conscious will attract consumers in the short term and pay dividends in the longer term.

Carl Douglas McMilllon, CEO and President of Walmart
Carl Douglas McMilllon, CEO and President of Walmart.

Walmart Inc, the multi-million dollar department store is leading the charge. During the panel discussion, their CEO Douglas McMillon said that “Walmart want to eventually be powered by renewables and reach its 0% waste target.” This is a huge statement and, whether they reach this target or not, actively pursuing these goals will not only reduce their negative impact on the environment but also send a message to America Inc of what they need to prioritize.

There has been a lot of debate about where fossil fuel companies lie in this. CNBC Anchor Steve Sedgewick, chair of the panel alluded to the fact that they have a major stake because they pay big tax bills to Governments on the earnings that they make from selling oil. However, if a profit driven giant with such a global influence like Walmart realises that the future of returns are green, then there is every chance that other companies will follow suit.

Developing countries were also central to the discussion. Opinion is divided but UN Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres made the point that yes these countries are not as resourced as their developed neighbours but they hold the greatest opportunities on account of their increasing connectivity and labor force. Alluding to notions of winners and losers she said that “this is not a partisan politics debate, it is win-win-win for individuals, industries and entire societies.”

I would have to agree and it’s hard not to be optimistic about the potential of what can be achieved now that we have collective commitment to the cause by every stakeholder.

We have international agreement, national plans of action, support of industry and civil society. It won’t be a clear road and there will be hurdles, but dealing with dilemmas is natural to humankind. The better you are reconciled to deal with them, the more likely you are to overcome and I think we are in a pretty good place to get over any obstacles we meet on the path.

Written by Dearbhla Gavin

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