ZOË Alliance has been working with the team at Asociación Hogares Internacionales Para Ninos for just over two years and we all got together in Guatemala this past February to review our progress, and to work on some key areas to ensure growth in the impact of this collaboration. This month’s blog is our trip update including some great learnings and takeaways from a local leader named Ramiro.
The best part of our work is getting to spend time with the amazing people we work with around the world. It was so good to be together. Rudy, Sully, Jorge and I were able to catch up on each other’s lives. I was able to practice my fledgling Spanish speaking abilities with them, Cindy and Maria. In the evenings I especially enjoyed my broken Spanish chats with Cindy, and even though I probably speak at a 2-3 year old level, she was very gracious and helped me to learn more.
Overall the trip was fantastic, we were able to review the progress of the past two years and identify the challenges we face in growing the scope and impact of the effort.
Progress Over the Past 2 Years
In terms of progress we celebrated that a business with 1 leather portfolio product has developed into an 8-item product line that the team has made and shipped on time to many customers for their client events and tradeshows. All this has led to skills development, income for local workers and their families, and income for the local suppliers to the business and their families. A good solid start, we all agreed.
Challenges To Overcome
In terms of challenges, we have a few remaining. Our purpose for gathering was to take these head on so that we can continue to increase the impact of this project.
The key challenges include access to capital for the local business, the need for advanced leather-working training so that we can make more sophisticated product designs, and the need to reduce non labour production costs such as raw material costs, operational procedures and shipping so that the products can be more competitive.
During the course of the trip, we worked through all of these in great detail. Some of the trip highlights included:
- Developing 6 very stylish and competitive new products (New products on our website coming soon)
- Developing a practical 3 year business & funding plan for the local business
- Identifying great local trainers & sourcing the right equipment for the job
- Auditing the tannery and realizing the positive social & environmental impact achieved through this wonderful business.
What We Learned From Ramiro
I was so impressed by Ramiro and his tannery business. His father started this business 50 years ago, and he has been personally running it for 32 years. I think we all know instinctively when we meet someone who is genuinely passionate about their trade and their people. Ramiro is one such gentlemen and he shared three things that I think we can all learn from.
- Excellence in Your Trade: He shared how when he was a young man he did not understand why his father spent so much time on experimenting with leather finishing techniques. He thought at the time that he should be focused on other aspects of the business, but came to appreciate and be passionate about the finer points of design and technique. As he toured us through his small business that employs 40 local workers, every aspect of the work showed commitment to excellence in design, production AND environmental impact.
- Environmental Leadership: Excellence in product design was not enough for Ramiro. In his country he has shown great leadership in the area of environmental responsibility. His little business has achieved 3 different levels of environmental certification for it’s leather production processes and the government and environmental groups regularly sponsor him to advance his training. The facility is a zero waste facility with waste being either recycled or utilized to create by products such as glue for the local shoe industry.
- Social Leadership: As impressive as all of that was, the third point was so consistent with our heartbeat at ZOË that it really resonated with me. He said that part of his business strategy was to intentionally support local small producers. He was attracted to working with Asociación Hogares Internacionales Para Ninos because they help benefit marginalized local people in a way that enhances skills and future opportunities. He deals exclusively with local businesses to support the growth of the local economy.
The Take Away for All of Us
Industry can be intentionally or unintentionally exploitative of workers in the course of pursuing larger profits or more competitive offerings. This statement sounds harsh and is a bit of a hard pill to swallow. But the reality is that our everyday buying decisions fuel this. It takes an intentional commitment to find out if our next giveaway came from a production facility with questionable practices or one that we can trust.
The good news is that, because the Meetings & Incentive Industry is so large, there is great opportunity to influence substantive social change. This is exciting!
Local economies in developing nations, (where most promotional products are made), can only achieve sustainability as their small to medium size business sector grows strong. This is crucial to funding the investment required to improve the quality of living in the country for everyone.
It is true that our model at ZOË achieves social impact through the sale of competitive products. It’s that simple. Our commitment to the M&IT industry is that the competitiveness of our partners businesses and ours will be achieved through excellence in value, design, and operations. And the heart of our businesses will always be the people, a bit like our friend Ramiro.
If you like where we are going and want to be a part of the movement here is our suggestion. Consider asking your suppliers two additional questions on all of your formal and informal RFP’s for promo items and gifts:
- Where are the items you are proposing manufactured?
- Describe the human rights, social and environmental policies of the manufacturer.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, merely asking the questions will start to build momentum behind the movement. There are lots of good resources available on social sourcing guidelines, a good starting point are the fair trade principles. You may have some within your organization now that are applied to other areas of your business. Please feel free to get in contact with us if we can be of support to you in developing a social sourcing evaluation framework.