Ubuntu Life CFO/COO
A dozen years ago or so I lived in northern California. I lived in a vegetarian co-op on campus with a theme of social action, and everybody wanted to make the world a better place. The credo then – and probably the credo now, in that community – was “think global, act local.”
It can feel naive to talk about the power of global commerce for good. A lot of international economic systems exist to drive up profits while driving down prices, squeezing small-scale producers in the process. It doesn’t need to be that way, though.
As it’s become easier to communicate internationally, ship across borders, and sell to your buyers directly, there exists a tremendous opportunity to form direct and powerful connections between consumers and makers in any part of the world.
Our model is built on a conviction that people are most deeply empowered when they are able to earn a fair living. Over the first few years of Ubuntu Life’s existence we implemented a huge range of programs, from environmental education to health care, animal husbandry and waste collection. All were completely dependent on donor support. If our donors lost interest, or for any other reason our funding dried up, we would have had to shut down, and our beneficiaries would have been back where they started. It didn’t feel empowering at all.
That’s why we moved into social enterprise. If we can earn sustainable income by selling well-made products with genuine appeal – not just because of our social mission, but because of their design, materials, and build quality – then we’re much closer to truly empowering our Maker Mums.
This is what we see in the potential of global commerce. To empower our artisans and their families, we transform everyday purchases into an opportunity for connection. Global commerce is usually associated with anonymous exchanges and even exploitation, but the opposite is also possible. By minimizing the intermediaries between our Maker Mums and our customers, we aim to reveal the impact of every purchase.
Shoes, bracelets, and bags will always be sold across borders; global commerce isn’t going anywhere. We can make it transparent, fair, and joyful. You can feel good about your purchase, and our Maker Mums can feel proud of their craft.