LOS ANGELES, California — Upon first glance, Ten Thousand Villages appears like any other fashionable boutique with artisanal goods. The store contains the essentials: clothing, candles and handy knick-knacks that make the perfect gifts for loved ones. One would not assume Ten Thousand Villages functions as a non-profit organization working to break the cycle of poverty for people worldwide.
The Story Behind Ten Thousand Villages
With 100 store locations across Canada and the United States and a thriving online boutique, Ten Thousand Villages changes lives globally. The store, a non-profit organization, utilizes a fair trade maker-to-market strategy that began with Edna Ruth Byler’s volunteer work in 1946. Byler visited Puerto Rico and witnessed how working women struggled to provide for their families. Byler decided to help impoverished women by introducing their handmade wares to a new market in the United States. Thus, a fair-trade partnership began. With support from the Mennonite Community, Byler expanded her project to Jordan and India. Eventually, Byler’s project became Ten Thousand Villages.
Ten Thousand Villages’ name derives from Mahatma Gandhi’s memorable quote: “India is not to be found in its few cities, but in the 700,000 villages – we have hardly ever paused to inquire if these folks get sufficient to eat and clothe themselves with.” The organization maintains Gandhi’s lasting point in its efforts to help those in need. Ten Thousand Villages empowers artisans in developing countries by establishing lasting trade relationships and expanding their markets through the maker-to-market model.
What Is the Maker-to-Market Movement?
Ten Thousand Villages creates trading connections with artisans across the world. As a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Ten Thousand Villages prides itself on its maker-to-market approach. The model aims to offer a financial safety net for makers through donations and product sales. Here’s how it works: the organization comes to a price agreement with an artisan and then provides an advance payment for materials and goods. Artisans receive an interest-free microfinance investment to increase financial independence and to protect artisans from loan exploitation. Once financed, artisans craft their products. After products go to urban centers, they ship to a warehouse in Akron, Pennsylvania. In Akron, products enter a new market in the United States and Canada.
Ten Thousand Villages provides additional benefits for artisans. For instance, the organization ensures safe working environments by investing in safe tools and improved lighting, ventilation and water treatment systems. Moreover, the organization promotes sustainability and cultural preservation. Makers are encouraged to utilize renewable materials and incorporate innovation into enduring indigenous practices. Additionally, Ten Thousand Villages works with all makers without discrimination. Primarily, Ten Thousand Villages works with women and people with disabilities. Most trade relationships average about 25 years and last multiple generations within artisan families. Thus far, Ten Thousand Villages’ maker-to-market approach has helped over 20,000 traders in 30 developing countries.
Helping the World’s Working Poor
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), employment does not always guarantee economic mobility for the world’s poor. In an analysis of global work statistics from 2019, the ILO found that the working poor tend to remain under the poverty line, living on $1.90 a day. This is due to low earnings, inadequate working conditions and lack of social protection and job security.
While many multinational companies employ the world’s poor, employment does not offer as much as one would assume. David I. Levine, a professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, stated that “although it does look like multinationals pay a little bit higher on average, there is no evidence that they are systematically sharing a lot of the surplus.”
In 2015, the ILO found that approximately 10% of the world’s population lives below the poverty line. The same analysis found that 9% of the entire workforce lived in poverty. So, while much of the world’s population may be employed, the workforce continues to contain much of the world’s poor. The ILO recognizes that employment does not reduce vulnerability.
Organizations like Ten Thousand Villages understand that helping the world’s poor exceeds employment. Boosting the world’s poor out of poverty requires much more. According to the ILO, alleviating poverty requires employers to provide adequate earnings, job security and safe working environments. Ten Thousand Villages checks off each mark and surpasses this list with the support it grants to its makers.
Ten Thousand Villages offers shoppers the opportunity to donate with in-store transactions and online. Shoppers may also seek out fair trade goods by checking out the World Fair Trade Organization’s partners, including 1,000 businesses and 1,500 shops. Thus far, Ten Thousand Villages has helped thousands of artisans escape poverty with its maker-to-market model. Organizations that invest in people’s work are capable of significantly reducing global poverty.
– Dana Gil