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…

The “Business” of Changing Lives

Your nonprofit is (in most ways) a business. That doesn’t mean embracing a factory-mindset or the relentless pursuit of profit.

But it does mean creating something of value. It means changing lives and creating impact. And it means investing enough in yourself that your organization can continue to make the world a better, more astonishing place to live.

-Marc Koenig 

Dilli Meri Jaan

The past five weeks I have been on a non-stop holiday. Rough life I know. I got myself booted from India over a bit of a visa issue. The result was a three week forced break at home. It was unexpected. I was lovely. For the first time in three years I saw myself living in Brooklyn with my friends. I saw myself enjoying the more “normal” easy, American life. But, I knew if I didn’t return to New Delhi I would enjoy New York only a short time before it would be full of regret. As I brought in the New Year here, surrounded by good friends old and new dancing like a fool I knew I made the right decision. I’m exactly where I need to be and we have things to accomplish this year.

I have been told that I will know when I am done here.  When I shut my eyes I see my vision for this project and what it will look like when I do finally jet off to some place new. This will go from a tiny project managed by me to having a full blown, full of life, a centre in Dharampura where the girls and women can come to feel safe. There will be no caste or colour discrimination in this centre.  It is theirs. No media invades them to run stories on their situation.

They are bold leaders within their community, standing up to “social pressures” and saying no to forced prostitution as a way of means.

Their centre serves what it best for them. It will be adaptable to the needs of the community.  It is a clean, beautiful space that they have created. Their beautiful artwork hangs on the walls. The days begin with yoga and meditation. There are art classes. For the older women and girls there is employment and job training that will best serve them and their monetary needs. They can learn how to make the jute bags we have been creating or for small group paid at fair trade wages to sell locally or they will come every day, sew and earn a monthly stipend in the “Sewing New Futures” program.

One of the community girls will be paid to teach dance classes to anyone who wants it. There will be education classes. The teacher (s) will work at getting the children enrolled in local schools and working with the teachers to solve why the children are dropping out.

If they feel like dancing, they can dance and be kids. Every child needs a chance to be a child. Every girl needs to feel special. When I was with my mother in NYC, we had a day to do all the typical Christmas and things I loved seeing as a kid. One was going to FAO Schwarz to marvel at the toys. While walking down memory lane in the doll section my mom, picked up a tiara and handed it to me, “Your girls need to feel like princesses like you did when you were little. Every girl needs have a chance to feel pretty. You should have a box where they the younger girls want to be silly and dress up they can.” How brilliant to have fun stuff to make them feel special and so easy to do.

This centre will be a fun place but also things will get done to serve the community such as health services and easy access to a qualified medical doctor with no discrimination.

But… my dream, my vision it takes funding. It takes seed money to get sewing machines, to hire a staff, to find a buidling. I am so grateful to have the support of The Pollination Project which allows us some small funds to have a tiny IGP bag making project.

However, 2014 is our year and we are ready to grow. These girls are smart and bold and they want to work. They want a change in their community. I am sick of sitting around and waiting… this is the year we our going to turn this vision into a reality.

 

-K