Social entrepreneurs lead a global revolution from New Orleans
Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus wrote, “I would rather be adorned by beauty of character than jewels. Jewels are the gift of fortune, while character comes from within.”
However, what if your jewels or your jewelry, even, could represent the empowered character of a woman entrepreneur? What Kendra Morris and Amy Barad have done is just that with Rural Revolution, a global company that uses the sale of hand crafted jewelry to support empowerment – for the women who create the pieces and the women who wear them.
The goal is to connect women from around the world and help them leverage their skill sets into sustainable businesses as a means of empowerment. Jewelry pieces created by artisans from Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, New Orleans, and Peru are sold through the company’s website as well as through sales ambassadors and trunk shows across the US to foster the economy and culture of regions around the globe. By using the direct sales model, a mutually beneficial network of self-employed women is created where the profits are split between artisans and the sales ambassadors who represent them.
The company was founded 10 months ago by Kendra Morris, who, at 9 months pregnant, applied to be a fellow in Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans’ accelerator program, and was accepted upon moving into the city with her husband and young daughter. Through the fellowship, Morris connected with several mentors and consultants including Amy Barad, a new transplant from LA who had joined the cohort as a way to hone in her skills within urban development and sustainability.
As Morris’ business grew, she realized there was an opportunity to take Rural Revolution to new
heights, but didn’t yet have the resources to hire an employee. However, she found a potential business partner within Barad, and was able to transition her role from mentor into business partner with the help of SENO Executive Director, Andrea Chen.
Using the same values that Rural Revolution stands for, the dynamic women have found a beneficial partnership within their shared views on humanity and their respective strengths and skill sets in business.
While different paths brought both women to New Orleans less than a year ago, their mutual views on helping inspire women on a global level came from their own travels to developing regions around the world.
After Graduate school, Morris spent time in Haiti as a visual anthropologist, and then traveled throughout the Caribbean and Jamaica as a cultural liaison, a job she, like a true entrepreneur, created for herself. Her role was to work with the high level individuals from the Jamaican government to create ways to teach women how to conduct business using their skills sets – assets that can be used as a means of strengthening the economy in developing countries.
Barad, on the other hand, spent a significant amount of time in South Africa studying housing policy in post-Apartheid Johannesburg when people were moving from marginalized conditions into suburban areas. After seeing the significant role the private sector took in building and sustaining the infrastructure in Johannesburg, she realized how vital private entities could be to rebuilding developing areas.
Although their business model is based on a social mission, both women agreed a for-profit structure would be more effective and beneficial to helping carry out the message of Rural Revolution, and would allow them more flexibility as for what they can accomplish in the future. And with their growing network of sales partners in the US, summer travel to visit their international artisan partners, and plans to create a co-op space where women with children can run their businesses, the possibilities for what these women can accomplish are endless.
“We are practicing what we are preaching. We are women who run businesses, have lives, and still need to be caretakers, and we want to provide other women with the resources to help them accomplish it all,” says Barad, further attesting that their success and opportunities have come from the common ground they share with all their partners.
Their business promises to make a global impact, but they want to create the foundation here in New Orleans, by keeping their headquarters here and establishing programming in the city. This summer, Rural Revolution will be launching a program in Central City to teach women who are pursuing their GEDs to be entrepreneurs, using jewelry making as a means to do so. The goal will be to identify each woman’s skills, cultivate those skills, and bring community members together to empower women with the entrepreneurial skills and tools needed to be leaders in their community.
“It’s really important for us to create something that gets the community involved, and creates leaders out of the women in New Orleans” adds Morris, emphasizing that, while their first program will focus on helping women primarily in Central City, the overall outcome is aimed to positively impact our entire community.
Who knew a piece of jewelry could inspire so much? Clearly, Plautus did not think this one through.
If you are interested in joining the revolution through blogging, creating jewelry, or hosting a trunk show, and to purchase any of the jewelry, visit http://www.ruralrev.com/.