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Would buying a new bag or clutch be more satisfying if the purchase gave you the opportunity to give back to underserved communities? Well, that’s what Mercado Global is offering consumers. The social enterprise organization is actively empowering indigenous Guatemalan women to become agents of change in their own communities by selling their artisan products on an international scale.
As an undergrad at Yale University, founder Ruth DeGolia traveled to San Alfonso, a village located on Guatemala’s Pacific coast. There, she met women struggling to survive and feed their children, and many who were victims of domestic violence. Some of these women had endured the country’s 36-year civil war, only to face extreme financial hardship after it was over. National aid was drying up and things didn’t seem like they’d be getting better anytime soon.
DeGolia had an innate desire to help. Giving back was a major part of her upbringing. She was brought up by a family of labor leaders, who often found themselves on the picket lines. “Giving back makes life beautiful,” she says. “There’s such value in realizing that life is so much greater than just you.”
DeGolia wanted to ensure that any efforts made would make a lasting difference. She knew other organizations often addressed the effects of poverty, but failed to address the causes. “I saw such amazing artisans and realized all they really needed was a market.” And so, in 2004, Mercado Global was born.
DeGolia has always considered herself an activist, and she admits that she didn’t always see a correlation between business and philanthropy. Regardless, DeGolia, alongside cofounder Benita Singh, conceived a successful business model that allowed income-earning opportunities for rural indigenous women. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the two young women. They were turned down by many retailers, and at times discouraged. But DeGolia and Singh proved those retailers wrong: Mercado Global’s sales were up 75 percent in just the first fiscal year. The organization has been the recipient of multiple accolades, including a Social Enterprise Award from the Social Enterprise Alliance and a Brick Award from the Do Something Foundation. In 2006, the duo was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine for its “15 People Who Make America Great” feature.
Today, Mercado Global’s artisan network includes over 400 women, who have benefited from a significant wage increase: allowing them to not only feed their children and send them to school, but also to save money.
Through donations and the sale of bags and accessories, Mercado Global is able to provide ongoing training for the artisans. Each receives two classes per month on a range of topics, including literacy, business development, leadership, income management and childhood nutrition.
Most of us know someone (or we might even be that person) who believes a magnificent handbag can be life-altering. Through Mercado Global, that adage is true. These bags are changing lives. An outside-the-box business model has made community leaders and entrepreneurs out of women who were caught in a cycle of poverty. ■
For more information visit: Mercado Global.