While “conscious shopping” has become a buzz phrase of late, when it’s coming from a former Counterterrorism Advisor at the US Department of State, you pay attention. Jane Mosbacher Morris, who also worked at the same department’s Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and later became Director of Humanitarian Action for the McCain Institute for International Leadership (managing the institute’s anti-human-trafficking program), wasn’t a born entrepreneur. But as she saw first-hand how survivors of abuse, conflict and disease were able to gain control of their lives through economic independence by selling wares they made, To The Market was born out of a desire to specifically support these “survivor-made” goods all over the world.
The dignity of work is not only restorative to one’s spirit, but it also helps to ensure that the survivors of abuse don’t return to their exploitative relationships…
“I felt like existing efforts to ’empower’ vulnerable populations were largely focused on providing social services—things like food, housing and pro-bono legal assistance,” Morris tells CH. “Social services are extraordinarily important, particularly in emergency situations, but they are rarely sustainable for the duration of a survivor’s life. The dignity of work is not only restorative to one’s spirit, but it also helps to ensure that the survivors of abuse don’t return to their exploitative relationships; that survivors of conflict can forge a new life without relying on charity; and that survivors of disease could afford the care that they need.”
During a memorable trip to Kolkata, India to learn more about the country’s human trafficking issue, Morris visited red-light districts and aftercare facilities but was most inspired by the two organizations she met with who were employing human trafficking survivors to make bags, T-shirts, and homewares. Realizing there were hundreds of similar organizations around the world which seek to empower women through craft-making and work, Morris founded To The Market as a way to assist these organizations’ causes in three specific ways: selling their products, aiding production and management and most importantly, sharing their stories. On offer is everything from ballet flats made in the Guatemala City slum of La Limonada by former gang members to totes from Catrinka (a global organization that support education for girls and fair employment for women)—and expect organizations within the US, too, to be added soon.
The first entry in their Stories blog, which will be updated once a week, takes an in-depth look at Aashiana, a shelter in New Delhi helping women and children infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS. The women here receive training to make jewelry, which is then sold to organizations like the Didi Jewelry Project; this earned income can be a major source of support to women’s families (especially those who have lost their husbands to the disease); the sales also support the shelter’s HIV/AIDS-related outreach.
Visit To The Market, which launches today, to peruse their offerings and learn more about the partner organizations they’re working with.
Images courtesy of To The Market