DESIGN DOING GOOD

Empowering People Works Better Than Giving Aid

I’ve long questioned the traditional approach to development where donors and governments invest in basic health, education and access to food in developing countries, with the hope that the beneficiaries will eventually become self-sufficient.

While all assistance is to be acknowledged and appreciated, we need to rethink the ways in which we help others. We must revisit our definition of development.

If we support people in a more sustainable way – by increasing access to economic opportunities – they can afford to pay for those same basic goods and services that governments and donors sometimes struggle to provide. We need to give from the perspective of empowering the recipient rather than making them dependent. When we invest in jobs and economic opportunity, beneficiaries will lift themselves out of poverty. This approach fosters the spirit of enterprise and decent work, and will preserve dignity and reinforce self-reliance. It also enhances social stability because minds are constructively engaged.

Traditional development models are often top-down and non-inclusive at the grassroots level. Entrepreneurship is a bottom-up approach to spurring economic growth and progress. It focuses on empowering individuals to develop and implement nuanced solutions to social and economic problems.

This is the core philosophy behind my new social enterprise Tallulah. 

Tallulah is a design initiative I founded to promote sustainability, self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship in marginalized African communities by celebrating their unique talent. 

Each collection begins with an aesthetic direction I create before the artisans are then commissioned to create the necessary fabrics and materials. But crucially, Tallulah isn’t sourcing products from the artisans; we are sourcing skills and co-developing products with them that fit into our seasonal vision. 

So far,  the real reward in my design initiative has come from seeing the impact Tallulah has had on the communities it works. Over the past two years, my project has supported over 500 people from marginalized societies. As income grows for some of the world's poorest people, so does the positive impact on children and communities.  

Six facts for two years of work:

  • So far 558 artisans have worked on the project from 6 different African communities. 76% of which are women.

  • All of artisans said the income they earned was more than they would have earned otherwise. Salaries have increased by 2-10 times.

  • 86% of the artisans involved received training during production, offering them international-standard skills. 88% can transfer the skills they learned to others.

  • All of the artisans were able to put food on their table and 76% saved from the income received, enabling them to plan for their future. 30% invested their income.

  • More than 400 children were enabled to go to school as a result of the project.

  • We have employed 100 men and women with disabilities and have worked to help them become more independent, self-sufficient, and recognized as equals within society. People with physical challenges in Africa are one of the most marginalized segments of society in the world, and this project is helping not only to create jobs but also to dispel stereotypes. 

It's very rare for people from disadvantaged communities in Africa to get good employment that also connects them to the lucrative international markets. In addition, they suffer from social labels. For [these men and women] the real joy of the project is based on the dignity they find in working. 

 

IMPROVING LIVES THROUGH ART.

Giving someone a job that allows them to feed their family is more empowering than giving them a cash donation. My new design initiative has provided women in Guinea, Ghana, Zambia, and Kenya employment while extending my ethos of fostering entrepreneurship, prosperity and dignity in places that need it most. 

These days, I have been economizing for a cause, pouring all my money and time into developing my own line of socially responsible fabrics, furnishings, and entertaining essentials. My brand, Tallulah, works in close collaboration with artisans in areas of economic and political conflict to promote self-sufficiency and economic opportunity.  To have the work in Africa is important - not only to support women and give them much needed income, but to also encourage  conscious consumption in the luxury market. 

Launching in 2016, my new  initiative connects some of the world’s most marginalised people with the top of interior design's  value chain, for mutual benefit. It enables communities of artisans  — the majority of them women — to thrive in association with the design industry.

I think ethical design is being responsible for people and for the planet. The social dimension is about extreme poverty and exclusion from the wealth of the world. We are responsible for it because if we change it, it becomes better also for us." - Mary McGee

THE ENVIRONMENT IS AN AMERICAN PROBLEM

The environment is an American problem - not a Democrat or Republican one. Even outside the context of American politics, the environment presents challenges of a unique character. By their nature, environmental problems are ‘big’ problems that likewise affect ‘big’ groups of people and require ‘big’ solutions. Clean air cannot be achieved merely through the regulation of one industry in one part of the country, or through the passion of one highly motivated group or individual; in an even broader sense, clean air cannot even be achieved only through the cooperation of one country. 

Human life and dignity depend on a healthy environment. Without the clean air, water, and food necessary to sustain life, we cannot realize our potential as human beings. Simply put, environmental rights are the foundation from which all other human rights are made possible. Protecting Americans from unsafe levels of air pollution is not only a question of good governance. Given that some communities are more exposed than others, it’s also a matter of social justice. Time and again, studies have shown that low-income and other socially-disadvantaged communities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards. 

Mother's Day: Mom's Best Advice

When I think about Mother’s Day I really think about my mother and my grandmother. They gave me strength. Fear was not an option.   Here I share with you some  great advice my grandmother and mother gave me. 

1. Have fun. Have fun no matter where you are. Always create fun and live in the moment.

2. Take risks and do something meaningful.  I am not afraid to try new things. Currently, I am working on a social-entrepreneurship initiative I founded that exclusively employs and empowers female artisans in some of the world's poorest nations. I know I might not get everything right at first try, but I will eventually.  Knowing that my program will provide women and girls - many separated and orphaned refugees - opportunities for basic education, livelihood options, and will also help protect their human rights in a supportive and safe community, it would be hard not to succeed. When I stop and think about what this project means to many lives around the world who, just because they were born, don't have access to something as basic as food,  education, and even family,  it makes me want to work even harder to reach my goals.

3. Family is everything. No work and no amount of money is as important as your home, your friends, your family.

4. Not caring what others think is the best choice you will ever make.  

5. Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have you will never have enough.  As a sister to a brother with cancer, I spend a lot of time in hospitals and that quickly puts life in perspective.  When you have perspective, you always end up having much more than someone who might have a great fortune with little or no perspective.