ZOË Alliance is privileged to have an advisory board comprised of experienced and supportive professionals with a broad range
of expertise. Today’s blog is a Q&A with one of our advisors Stephen Barry. Stephen is the President of Elm Stone Investment and an Adviser to Sure Fit Home Furnishings, a company that he lead through tremendous growth and change in the competitive and changing environment of Canadian textiles manufacturing.
Stephen’s experience has given him a great deal of insight in the area of off shore manufacturing and imports, so we spent a little time discussing his observations in this context.
Q: Stephen, what insight from your experience with sourcing from developing nations caused you to want to get involved with the work we are doing at ZOË?
A: Sure Fit has been a Canadian manufacturer for 50 years, however the competitive environment in textiles in last 15 years caused us to evolve our manufacturing model, moving it to third world countries.
It has been a very successful model in terms of the business. The industry moved manufacturing offshore to access lower labour costs in other countries enabling us to be competitive here. It allowed us to continue to grow the business and create other forms of employment locally.
The one insight that had the greatest impact on me was the extent of the poverty in these countries, specifically with the people who work in factories. The growth of business opportunity in China, India and Pakistan is not resulting in broad based wealth distribution. The overall gap between the rich and the poor is widening despite our efforts to ensure fair working conditions.
I liked the ZOË model because it helps address poverty in the villages, which is staggering compared to even what we saw with the workers.
Q: Doesn’t the ZOË Model seem a little targeted and small? In light of larger Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, where do you see opportunity for it to have impact?
A: As business people we have corporate social responsibility campaigns and initiatives that we invest in. We are all genuinely working toward making a difference.
It is very hard to ensure that there is equity, and only the larger manufacturers in these countries can afford to meet the testing and verification criteria in order to qualify for contracts.
This leaves many organizations and entrepreneurs who are unable to access opportunity. And it is very hard for large organizations here to due diligence with smaller suppliers. What ZOË does is focus on these smaller manufacturers opening up opportunities for them to be viable suppliers.
What excites me about ZOË Alliance is that the distance between the product and the person impacted in the village is very short. The portfolio literally takes you from the village to the boardroom. Through this approach it is not donations we are giving but opportunities. Creating sustainable growth for people who would otherwise not have access or opportunity.
I also like that this model is designed so that the day to celebrate, will be the day that the NGO and ZOË are no longer needed. The local businessperson and the community will have developed and moved on to bigger or better things.
Q: You commented earlier about wealth distribution, how does the ZOË model help in this regard?
A: Many of the workers are migrating from rural areas to find work in the factories in major centre’s. They are separated from their families. The opportunity to find work in their own community and provide for their family is a success.
The least opportunity and greatest poverty is in these villages and these are the entrepreneurs and employees that ZOË Alliance can help. The whole community benefits from the development of a local economy.
In terms of the corporate gifting arena, I see significant opportunity to distribute wealth. I don’t like “trinkets and trash” as options for client or employee gifts. I believe it is very wasteful, my kids have a recreation room full of things we don’t need.
In previous corporate gifting we’ve given goats to a village, or supplies for a school in the name of a customer or employee. This is nice however; it’s more of a donation than giving the tools to have sustainable growth for the community. Through ZOË Alliance you have the same impact through the gift and a tangible item that represents the handiwork of the individual whose life has been impacted.
To give or receive one gift that helps a person in a village is very meaningful. That I would do with pride because the impact is very significant to not only the person who receives the gift, but also the person who made it.