Making Mothers’ Day Count for a Change

The small silver charm that decorates this coffee cup was made by a group of women in Lima who are keen to have another order.

I am not a cynic about every holiday. I am a total sucker for Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. But I cringe through Thanksgiving every year—too much football. And Easter feels like the last of a six-month sugar rush.

Don’t get me started on Mothers’ Day. We are supposed to think our mothers are so flattered by flowery cards, Sunday brunch, and maybe a bottle of eau de toilette that they forgive and forget the 364 other days of the year. You know, the days where we expect her to pick up our dirty socks and let us blame her for everything?

This Mothers’ Day, though, I can see a glimmer of something that could be meaningful. I have been traveling around North America for months, interviewing people at the businesses engaged in the Empowering Women Together program at Walmart. Several times, these women have emphasized something to me that, actually, I feel I already know: women want to help other women and if a purchase can do that, it makes them happy.

In the past couple of weeks, my interviewees have noted especially that a Mothers’ Day effort in which these gift purchases would mean revenue for women-owned businesses, social services that benefit women, or income for women in need, would be a way put this holiday to work for good. I think this is a brilliant idea and I believe most mothers would be in favor of turning the trinkets and flowers they get into something that would help other women.

Here is the Full Circle Exchange island in the rough, standing in the warehouse, before shipping out. Gift bags are on the left, scarves on the right.

As it happens, I know that one attempt of this sort is happening right now in the Empowering Women Together program. A Mothers’ Day island display is now standing in 2,700 Walmart stores all over the United States. On this display are scarves, aprons, gift cards, coffee mugs, jewelry, and chocolates that have been designed and made by women from several different countries. The items are signed and tagged with pictures and names of those who participated.  The entire promotion is an effort to support businesses owned by and benefitting women, especially those in poor countries.

Full Circle Exchange, headquartered in Boise, Idaho was the organization that made this happen. A family-owned social business headed by three brothers (Mark, Ed, and John Priddy), Full Circle Exchange is dedicated to economic empowerment for women. The company—which includes a team of enthusiastic men and women, all dedicated to the cause–has been working hard to coordinate shipments to Walmart from difficult-to-engage places like Rwanda and Haiti.  They have found that a single order often took a lot of trouble, but didn’t make much splash. So, they decided to bring together orders from several disparate businesses and package them into gifts that would be appropriate for Mothers’ Day.

Orchestrating this one display, with all its components and participants, was a serious act of imagination and logistics. I know because I was in Boise  when the whole thing shipped out. I also know it entailed a big financial risk. Everyone at Full Circle Exchange is now just waiting, holding their breath, to see if it will work.

The products on offer were produced by women-owned businesses (with mostly female employees) in Haiti, Peru, India, and North America (including 50 refugees from 10 conflict-ridden countries).  If the promotion is a success, it will not only put money in the pockets of disadvantaged women, but will also help establish another model for  EWT businesses to succeed in the future

Gift cards at the end were assembled by refugees. Aprons and cups on the side.

Sales of these items will ripple through with many other effects. Some of the refugees on this project, for instance, were mothers who had barely escaped with their children. Others were the grown children of mothers who were killed by warring factions at home. They were all glad to have a paying job, to be sure. But many of them told me they just appreciated having a safe, quiet place, where they were treated with respect, in which to work.  These ladies are all hoping the promotion is a success because it might mean more time in a quiet, safe job.

So, too, are the employees at Dream Chocolate, which provided the dark chocolates in a special gift package. The employees there also included refugees, as well as former convicts who would have trouble finding any job, and one older woman, who appreciates just getting out to be with others once or twice a week.

The product for Mother’s Day on the small table in the break room at Dream Chocolate. The chocolate benefits women locally in Boise; the heart necklace is made in Haiti.

I am sure there are other products offered elsewhere for Mothers’ Day that promise meaningful change for women around the world. The Women’s Bean Project, also an Empowering Women Together business, is  featuring Mothers’ Day, for instance.  Nearly all the women being trained there are mothers, all of them poor, most without partners to help them.

Whether you buy the Full Circle Exchange offering or buy elsewhere, please check the tags first.  Try to buy for other mothers while you are buying for yours. Make a change by making this holiday count.

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