Day in the Life.

Meet Candice my guest blogger for today. She is one of my heroes. We met in college (way too many years ago) where I was instantly in awe of her positive outlook on life and her drive to help those around her. She got her MA from Columbia and works as a nurse practitioner where she has worked for MSF / Doctors Without Borders in both South Sudan and Central African Republic. Total rockstar.

IMG_6179

Day two in India. I put her to work carrying fabric to the center.

The phone rang at 7 am; the Tempo-truck driver was on the phone.  He and Kristin were speaking in a hybrid combination of English and Hindi.  Without trying to understand, I rolled over, fell back to sleep.  An hour later when I finally came to, I learned that our ride to the center and the transport for the generator and supplies was cancelled.  No alternate Tempos were available, meaning we could not deliver the heavy machine or schlepp the large bundle of fabrics that had taken up residence on Kristin’s couch that day.

This was the beginning of a typical day in Delhi with Kristin.  We rolled with it, got dressed, ate the American cupcake that I smuggled over and started the two and half hour commute to Najafgarh.  The first leg of the journey was a 15-minute bicycle rickshaw ride to the metro station where we were scanned through the metal detectors and were given an obligatory pat down by security staff.  We then boarded the women’s only carriage and commenced the hour and half ride to the outskirts of Delhi.  Fortunately, she had her laptop and could work, and I always carry a good book.  Our metro trip ended in an area called Dwarka Mor, from which we transferred to a local open-air bus. On this this 30-minute ride I saw an urban dairy farm with free roaming cows, a wedding hall decked out with ribbons, street children, and many beautifully colored fruit carts and stalls.

Lots of cows here.

Lots of cows here.

The scene was enthralling to me, but to the bus riders and Kristin, this was a completely normal mash up of what is on the outskirts of Delhi.  The bus dropped us off in Najafgarh and we started the last leg to the Sewing New Futures Center, a 15-minute walk.

By the time we arrived to the center,  the electricity was out again.  Girls were sewing wall hangings by hand in the courtyard or using the hand crank sewing machines in the classroom.  It became very clear to me why the generator was invaluable; with the electricity out, work was delayed and no Bollywood music could set the background mood or set the beat for a head bobble.  After tons hugs and greetings of “ Hello Didi,” we settled in the office/supply room/lunchroom with Monica, the stellar social worker turned centre coordinate who manages everything and Auntie, the surrogate mother to all at the center and sewing teacher, for a cup of chai and update talk.  Things speed up once the electricity turned back on and allowed for the workday to end with a final dance number.  (I honestly could not get enough of the dancing and the girls equally enjoyed laughing at my lack of choreography and coordination).  We left the center following goodbye hugs and with a throng of children ages three to six chasing close behind.

Trying to find the light to sew in those long power cuts.

Trying to find the light to sew in those long power cuts.

Though work at SNF center was finished, one more meeting was waiting.  At around 5:30pm, we boarded another bus for the two-hour ride back into South Delhi.  After grabbing a quick and delicious dinner of biryani, we met up with Prianka, the business mind of SNF.  Over a hot cup of chai; accounting, sales, and donations were discussed. We parted ways with Priyanka and hopped in an auto rickshaw for the 30-minute ride home.  We closed out the day falling asleep to bootlegged Netflix.  Recounting these days through texts brings about a slight visceral sense of exhaustion; I would go back and do it again tomorrow and the next day.

Candice

Can’t win them all (but I’m going to die trying).

My laptop and smartphone died on my two hour commute home from the centre. For some reason I was on the only metro in Delhi without those fabulous plug points. I usually use the time to work smushed amongst all the bodies but this forced time out from electronics gave me time to think my day and more importantly my business.

For anyone who have had the pleasure of visiting our centre… it’s exactly that a pleasant experience. It’s really impossible to have a bad day there. Everyone that makes up SNF:the women, girls, kids, Monika (who is the heart / badass / brain / powerhouse running the centre), Sunita aka Auntie our sewing teacher, and our new education teacher Deepika since our last two have gotten married are all wonderful. Everyone is so happy to be there and it’s just a fun work environment.

It’s been a year since we opened our centre. Our lease is up and we need to move to a bigger space! I spent the morning looking at buildings with Monika. This process is both wonderful (growth) and heartbreaking. It’s hard to say goodbye to our first centre that we have built from the ground up.

Her first wall hanging

Her first wall hanging

We have our first promotion from our first training batch! We have a pretty strict media policy to never use anyone’s real name and I am mentally too tired to think of a good fake name.

<- She is going to be a manager and will be filling in for Auntie on days she absent. She will be given more responsibility over the other girls cutting fabric for their pieces, quality control checks and helping process orders.

Mid-day while Monika and I were sitting in a pile of beautiful silk saris, matching them for skirts, bags, ties and other new accessories that we are making. I noticed that someone pretty essential to SNF was missing. This is a girl who lights up the room with her joy! Her name is proudly displayed on her sewing machine, chair, and every product she beautifully sews.

“She is getting married this week and has shifted to Prem Nagar…”

It was like someone punched me in the gut. That is three girls since we have started a year ago that have gotten married, had a baby, and due to intense family pressure that we can’t fight they have to drop out and are forced to start prostitution. It’s still the mindset in this community to be the only source of livelihood to support themselves and their families. In addition, the community practices bride price and the men pay INR 50,000 – several Lakhs. For my overseas readers this is at least $1,000 – $3,000. This practice further exacerbates these girl’s vulnerability towards forced prostitution, as there is pressure on her to repay the bride price. I have seen this again and again. These girls lose any choice over their life.

SNF is just not financially stable enough yet to get these girls earning what they need to in order to fight the family pressure (INR 8,000 / $150  per month). Right now our business model is to make our own products which will sell B2B both in India and aboard but sales are slow as we don’t have a lot of (re. any) capital to hire design help and marketing. It’s been homegrown efforts. The second part is trying to work with businesses and custom make products for them. This second part is ideal in our current state because the girls get paid for their work and we don’t have any dead stock.

I think anyone running a one year old business grows through ups and downs. You choose to either fold like a pussy or you dig deep, find your passion and work harder towards your goals. Today was the slap in the face I needed to do whatever I need to do to hustle and find those girls the work they need.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 7.54.33 PM

Making it Happen.

A year ago I nervously stood on stage in front of 350 creative entrepreneurs and pitched my idea for Sewing New Futures at The Coalition – TC/1. This year SNF got an opportunity to produce some swag for TC/2. OML one of the conference organizers orderIMG_6155ed 250 custom business card holders for a free gift for everyone who registered. It was a very last minute idea but turned out pretty successfully for everyone! Our ladies learned the new pattern and made all 250 in one week. I was so incredibly proud of them.

 

The week long journey was full of ups and downs. This was the first time we implemented our quality control process to standardize making products for someone. Anika put up the instructions and measurements on the wall. Auntie made a sample. The girls each had to turn in a sample with practice fabric that was “approved” before going on to make the make the card holders with the purchased fabric. IMG_6078

My two biggest learnings during that week were:

1) How important positive feedback is within an organization. I saw how fast the girls would get discouraged when we told them what they needed to fix and that was frustrating. I learned how important it was to reassure them (and the staff) how much they are learning in a short time and how well they are doing. I found by making them point out the positives of their work first before having them point out what could be improved it improved morale.

2) How important culture is to your organization. As a leader what kind of culture are you developing? I feel our centre is a positive, fun, safe space for all the women and children. However, when I am stressed the staff feels it and I need to be a whole more zen when trying to complete a tight deadline. I need to work on showing every worry (cough cough money). It’s an interesting experience being a leader in IMG_6073a country where you are not from. So many things get lost in translation. Work styles clash. I know that without Monika (who runs our centre) we would collapse in a day. She handles so much and is learning how to do many things outside of her comfort zone. She handles it all extremely well. Our whole team is very important to the organization and they need to know their value. When challenges arise (and they will) I need to remind them how important they are before saying we talk about how we need to do better (back to point one).

We are busy following up on some business we got from the conference. Along with that several of our girls are helping with St Art Foundation and OLEK’s crochet installation. They are helping sew together the pieces and in a few days a night shelter in Delhi with be transformed by a beautiful installation.

 

Milestone.

On Valentine’s day we did a pop up event in New Delhi selling our products. We were part of a design collective “Broken Haat” that was in the co-working space I work out frequently when I am not in our centre in Najafgarh called AntiSocial. The space is in an area called Hauz Khas Village which if you have never been to New Delhi- it’s a mashup of bars, restaurants, shops, beautiful monuments. It’s a very popular at night and with tourists. It’s a very interesting place to have a stall selling handicrafts!

I was very impressed with how well our products sold.  Almost everyone that stopped at our table bought something. This was a very big milestone for us because it was the first time we did an event (we have done five now) and didn’t have to push the social side of our business. The work of the women, the beauty that they created was enough to move people to purchase. It was amazing to see! I was so proud. They are working SO hard! It’s inspirational to see how much they have learned and how far they have come in a short time.

The twenty women we employ are really an incredible bunch.

IMG_6034

Our headbands made from upcycled saris

IMG_6035

Card holders, cushions and the children made handmade valentine cards

IMG_6033

Our scarves, wall hangings, and cushions.

Setting up M&E

Now that SNF is really taking hold – not only are we finally registered as a trust and a business, but our center has been in steady operation since opening. It is so hard to keep things going – but we are doing it! Now, we need to up our game and keep our quality consistent, and our orders coming. That being said, never more than now could we use your support to further our vision of a sustainable enterprise. Donate to keep our sewing machines going, and to help us pay for the A/C that we will keep the women in decent working conditions!

Recruiting skills and getting started

Over the past two weeks we have successfully conducted a trial of monitoring and evaluation! Surprisingly, it has gone really well. Our goal was to deepen the women’s understanding of their own work and what standards are expected in a very competitive market. A friend named Anika, who has previously worked with UNDP and SEWA Bharat, is seriously supporting us with some pro bono M&E consulting. Anika and Aastha, a distance volunteer, the field staff, and I have created a M&E form broken up into sheets spread across 2 pages for each woman. There are columns that related to the various aspects of production and quality: production rate (full or half day and how many pieces), shape accuracy, neatness of finishing, placement of details (buttons, tags, etc), cleanliness of the piece, and consistency of one woman’s samples. These simple categories help the women focus on important details to ensure marketable products. (Anika describes the session below).

The pilot monitoring session was carried out by Kristin and Monika, the field manager. To me this means that 1. the M&E form that we designed was actually easy enough to use and 2. without my presence, it was clear enough to be implemented by the people who need to carry it forward. When we started the evaluation, we first explained the book to the women, the different categories, and our goals and hopes of what they will get out of it.

The Process

Imagine a large room, painted pink, with sunlight light streaming in from one window. There we sat, 20 in total with powerful common thread: we are all dedicated women workers. The evaluation pieces were sample ‘card holders’ (for business cards, metro cards, etc) that the women needed to prepare for a large order (more on that soon!). One woman in the center, let’s call her Flora, is extremely gifted in stitching. Her command over hand work, using a sewing machine, and accuracy in design is remarkable. We used Flora’s piece as a model to demonstrate to the other young women what excellent quality looks like.

Each women held her piece in comparison with Flora’s and first was asked to highlight one or two good points of her work. Asking women to do this first resulted in nervous laughter, shyness, and comments such as ‘how should i judge my own work?’ and ‘nothing is good about it’. We encouraged them to use the categories define in the evaluation sheet in order to consider their own work. Although uncomfortable at first, the women’s sense of pride and also of their own need to progress was palpably emerging. Furthermore, these questions were mostly asked by Monika, and Kristin and I took the backseat.

After looking at the strengths, the each woman noted 2 points that she could improve upon. Finally, we had the group pitch general scores of how they would rate the quality of the work in comparison with Flora’s. After each category we gave out the marks that Monika and Kristin had decided upon. Then, of course, everyone clapped! There was a lot of pride in the room, and also a lot of self-awareness. That quality would have to be learned from hard work.

Our results

In the end we asked girls what they thought.

Didi, we can learn a lot from this.
We like this, because we will get better.’
Its good to see where I am good and where I can improve.
This will definitely help us sell!

Me? I couldn’t be happier with the fact that they even sat through the entire thing! Their feedback was so relieving and rewarding. I mean, managing monitoring and evaluation doesn’t exactly make you best friends. But the women not only saw the value in monitoring and evaluation, but actually demonstrated a critical awareness of their own work, a better understanding of marketing challenges, and an ability to support one another with excellent advice and insight.

SNF M&E Pilot Book

SNF M&E Pilot Book

SNF M&E Pilot Session 1

SNF M&E Pilot Session 1

2014. A big year.

I have been trying to summarize 2014 for several days now. To say it was a big year is an understatement. It was the year Sewing New Futures became a real legit (registered!) business. Our story is a confusing journey. I (Kristin) didn’t plan on starting a social enterprise. I originally came to India a few years ago after quitting a paying job in corporate America for an unpaid job for anti-sex trafficking NGO. I planned to stay a year, learn some cool stuff, have some great stories and then go to law school. Fall 2011, I went on a field visit to Najafgarh (West Delhi -past Dwarka) where the NGO I worked with ran a centre. We had an event for the kids that day to encourage education and literacy. One of the women, during the event invited me into her home for chai I grabbed two of the staff members (Priyanka and Monika), to come with me. After we left, the field staff asked me to come back the next day- it turned out the staff had some trouble initially getting invited into their homes but when they came with a foreigner it was easier. Thus, began a year of my getting to know the Perna community. I learned how they are at risk to be exploited to a life of prostitution. No one bought them and sold them. But, because of their scheduled caste status, for years of being treated like, “criminals” and “less than” in order to survive they marry their daughters at a young age (around 14), and after the birth of their first child, the in-laws/new husbands would drive them to more populated areas of Delhi (such as Uttam Nagar close by) where they would be forced to sleep with men for money. It was a cycle driven by the basic need to survive. Above all I heard the women express again and again their desire other employment and how they wanted another life for their daughters. The women all knew how to sew. They showed me homemade blankets, and things they had made. Although, flawed, I thought with guidance I could see people paying money back home for “handmade ideas” especially with the story behind the product. I begin working with a few women as a side income generation project with a talented applique artisan from Bihar and selling them back home to a friend’s store. They sold within days. When the NGO I worked with didn’t want to further any income generation activities- I decided to quit and form my own social enterprise, Sewing New Futures this past fall. The first thing I did was partner with a friend of mine in the states, The Shanti Project while we took our time researching and figuring out what and how we were going to do.

I went cycling one morning in Delhi and met (yet another) Priyanka, an Oxford MBA grad, who had run a successful E-Commerce business and works as a start up consultant. As soon as I met her I knew I wanted to work with her and knew she could sort us out. She indeed sorts us out everyday with financials (aka all the things I hate but need to love) and I am so privileged that I get to work with her.

IMG_4361

Centre Puja. May 10, 2014.

In May we opened our first centre in Najafgarh. Our opening day was on one of the hottest days in Delhi, around 43 degrees and because of our puja (prayer ceremony) we had a fire pit in our room. That was fun. We launched our Indie Go-Go campaign shortly after that to get started. Thanks to everyone for the great year! Looking forward to the next.

 

IMG_5092

Sushma (one of our teachers) working with one of the kiddos. We can have 20-50 drop into our centre. We have two teachers running three non-formal education classes.

Some 2014 highlights:                                                  

IMG_4877

August 16, 2014 Human Rights Law Network had a 2 day reproductive rights/health workshop for our trainees in our centre

IMG_4764

We launched our first (paid) sewing training class of 10 in June 2014.

 

IMG_4965

August 23, 2014 our friend Kirin at Funkanatomy held a earring workshop with our younger girls (10-14).

 

 

IMG_4927

We were mentioned on some great blogs this year; LiveMint, Homegrown, LBBD & Forbes!

Our friends at Wild City + Social thru a fundraiser for us.

September 9, 2014 our friends at Wild City + Social thru a fundraiser for us.

 

IMG_5260

October 18,2014 Diwali event with I Say Organic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5633

Always painting in our centre. Creativity encouraged!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5495

Launched our new website!

 

 

 

BIG NEWS.

 

We need your help with our crowd funding campaign we just kicked off! We are looking to train 50 women by the end of this year providing them with the technical training, financial management tools, and other personal development skills that will give them the choice to leave or not enter prostitution.

Please visit our Indie GoGo campaign to contribute and share to directly impact these women and teenage girls lives as we grow our business these next 40 days.

For any questions about our campaign please reach out to us at sewnewfutures@gmail.com.

Thanks!

-K

Ownership.

In the past two months we moved into a new four room building, hired two new full-time staff members; including a new sewing teacher and a new non-formal teacher for the kiddos (yay!) and launched a new batch of (paid) sewing trainees. Their training will happen over the course of the next three months. They will learn how to make scarves, wall hangings and pillow cases that SNF will then sell. After completing training they will have the option to gain full-time employment with us where they can have the option to earn more than the training stipend and share the profits of the products they have learned how to make.   IMG_4577

Each week, it seems our organization grows up so much and the girls along with it. It’s really exciting to watch and be a part of.

One of the things that is exciting to watch is how much the girls take ownership of the centre already. One of our visions is that we empower them to be leaders of their communities and take local ownership over different aspects of this business. In small ways, I see young leaders emerging already.

 

The girls (physically) open and close the centre. Check out the sweet keychain they made. #swag. IMG_4457A couple of them are “in-charge” of keeping the centre clean. They don’t let me do a thing when I am there. When I was sitting with Monika (our centre coordinate) to go over last month’s receipts, one of the girls brought over the admin folder, and showed me all the receipts she had put in a binder she had organized so proudly.  These tasks are small, but with every small task I see that they see the centre as theirs and not just ours that they come to waste some time. These small tasks show that we trust them. With time they are going to be given more and more responsibility and that will ensure that this program succeeds because it will be theirs.

 

Laser Focused.

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, and live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success” Swami Vivekananda

The last few months have been pretty great. In March, I attended The Coalition TC/1 which was a three day meetup to in motivate young creative entrepreneurs in their creative and entrepreneurial ambitions through inspirational talks and stories. Around 400 creative mavens and supremely talented entrepreneurs from all across the country came together to clash heads, learn and find inspiration. The collective passion and creative energy at TC/1 was extremely motivational and exactly what I needed.

1146651_10153950300935055_1831512935_nI had the opportunity to speak on the first day during “The New Wave” session about what Sewing New Futures is about. It was fantastic.

My favorite part was when I finished Vijay Nair, founder of Only Much Louder (OML) asked how many ordered we need to get the women we currently work with out of prostitution (8,000) and he gave me pre-orders for the NH7 festivals. A promise that has not has been empty handed.

149250_10153950301135055_392929230_n

I was in Bombay this past weekend and met with OML to work on how we can collaborate together for the festivals. All of my follow up meetings from the Coalition had been really insightful/helpful/great/heaps of other positive adjectives.

 

 

In the last few months we have:

  • Gotten our legal structure figured out in India and well getting our registration finally started. Sewing New Futures will function as both a for-profit business as well as a non-profit trust. This unique hybrid model allows the business to be driven by its social benefit model. Through this model it relies on profits from sales as well as grants and donations from funding sources in order to expand to serve more women from our target group.
  • Signed a yearlong lease on 4 room building in the community: two rooms will be for sewing production and the other two for education and dance therapy classes (and other workshops such as health, legal etc…)
  • Had a successful fundraiser at Chapter 25 put on by Hang Loose where we raised over INR 8,000 which goes a long way in helping these women
  • Hired our first FULL-TIME employee, our sewing teacher who was just part time will now be a full time Production Manager. It is very important to find people that really care about this community because it is not like hiring, just a “sewing teacher”. These women have never worked a traditional job before and it’s easier for them to just stay at home. We need someone who can help motivate them. Which will got quite possibly the best person_ever. Win.
  • Working on hiring our second full-time employee who will be coordinate our education activities to go along with our livelihood training
  • Soon be launching a IndieGoGo campaign this month… stay tuned

Lots of good things have happened for us these past few months & in the works. Excited to be growing this and to see what comes next…

-K

Next Generation.

ca87a11ba45092c458dad502ea5ed32e

One of the most frustrating parts of this work is feeling a connection to these girls. It’s a bitter curse. Because when a setback happens, it is difficult not to take it like a soul crushing loss to the gut. I think most social workers, teachers, and really anyone that works with children (moms included) around the world can resonate with that feeling.

Yesterday, I found out that one of the girls just started prostitution. This girl is 17. For the protection of her privacy, I am going to call her, “Dolly”  Dolly is a wonderful dancer. She loves learning computers. Dolly is very bright, beautiful and bold. I knew despite our efforts thus far, this was bound to happen as soon as her baby girl was born as this is typically the practice. But, knowing and then actually imagining this girl who you love so much, having horrible crimes against her happen first-hand are different.  The last time I met Dolly and her baby, she begged one of the staff workers and me for a job. You could see that she wanted a chance to change her future. It’s hard because we are trying our best to support her dreams of giving her a future free of violence. Dolly deserves a life full of dignity, where she feels safe in her community, and where she doesn’t worry about her daughter’s future.

The program we have now is a small income generation program. Where vulnerable girls, like this Dolly, can come for 1-2 hours a day around their household duties and make macramé bags. For each bag that they make they get paid 100. This program and our small centre is a great starting place for these girls but they need more.

The problem is that we are a small community based organization. This is both our greatest strength and weakness. The girls trust us because they know us, because we have been working at the community level. But, our funds and capacity are limited. I am afraid by the time we have raised enough money to truly help them with economic empowerment; it will be too late. They will all be married. Their husbands and in-laws will have already forced them into prostitution and by then it will be too difficult to get them out. The time is really now. Not six months from now. Now.

Which is why I am asking for your help. I know that this beautiful girl, “Dolly” is not lost yet! I know that with a more sustainable way to earn an alternative income, she can leave prostitution for good.

The Shanti Project needs to raise $10,000 as seed money for it’s programs in New Delhi to get a strong enough income generation program going for this community.

With tax-deductible donations of $25, $50, $100 you can help us break free the vicious cycle of prostitution for Dolly and other girls just like her.

To make a PayPal donation to The Shanti Project and select amiemphillips@theshantiproject.org as the “to payment” it will link directly to The Shanti Project’s bank account. Please make a memo that this is for “Dolly”.

It may be hard for me to hear about setbacks, but setbacks also make us re-focus. I can tell you I have never been more focused as I am right now in helping support Dolly and the next generation.

-K

Her beautiful baby girl...

Her beautiful baby girl…