I was listening to a recent episode of This American Life on my way home from work yesterday. Its focus is on Give Directly, an organization that gives cash to poor people. They are mainly working in rural Kenya. They believe that if you give money to a person in poverty, they know what they need and will use it for that. Many other charitable organizations will not give cash directly, believing it will be hard to track how someone will actually use the money. Another organization, Heifer International, gives cows to poor families. Cows, along with an immense amount of training on how to best raise their cow and how to keep it healthy so it will be profitable for them. It sounds like an amazing organization. The spokeswoman believes in what she is doing because of the many immeasurables that come from teaching someone to farm. She relayed the story of a woman who had received her cow and in two years tripled her farm and yield. She was not only making a lot of money for her family, she had also gained a sense of self. She said she is now a proud woman, when she talks, people listen, she has gained a position in the community because of the skills she has attained.
Listening to this made me happy and excited but also made me scramble to try and relate. I love her story and her ambition and the results she has seen. I also think the organization sounds amazing and is doing incredible work. I also realize poor people in rural parts of the world are far more poor than I ever was, at my poorest. But, I always wonder why there are not more organizations attempting to help the poor and working poor of the US? Then, I started thinking about what empowerment is and how different it is for everyone. There are things like Etsy, which is by no means a charitable organization. It is a for profit business. But, they created a platform that blows away so many of the barriers for people to make a living making things. I do not believe that very many people are actually making a living from Etsy but, there are some. And there are lots and lots and lots who are making money. Maybe not enough to quit their day job but, they are making a thing, selling it and receiving cash. Cash they can do anything they want with. Chances are they have invested that cash back into the Etsy shop they have set up and they continue to make more things - a cycle that quickly self-perpetuates. For the right person, this may be the thing they need to not feel solely defined by their day job (which they may or may not love) or to be the launch pad for something different.
Etsy was the platform that launched Moop. I did not have a business plan..or even a business..but, I posted a bag, the first Market Bag, and sold it within a few days. I was just out of grad school and struggling to make our newly blended family work (Parker was 7 when Jeremy and I married and it was a rough transition for all of us). We lived in an expensive new town, I spent 8 months unemployed and finally found a job answering phones at a pediatricians office. I was not very happy and I was not finding success or life direction. I will never forget the feeling of selling that first Market Bag. It was like a lifeline. It was a moment where I realized an opportunity to create a future life different than my current life but, I would have to work my butt off to get there. And, so I did. The Market Bag is the most important bag we make and it will always be for sale in our shop.