My uncle booked a group table at the event I had invited him and my aunt to attend. When I offered to pay for my seat, but he said, “I’ve got you covered. Give whatever you want as a donation to the organization.”
We were at a Nepali fundraiser dinner for Friends of WPC Nepal, an organization dedicated to helping end and prevent human trafficking along the Nepal border. The founder is from a border town herself and growing up watched many of her childhood playmates leave for “opportunities”beyond their small town, only to never return.
At the back of the room was a display table where the founder and her daughter were selling beautiful, high-quality jewelry made by women in Nepal. The jewelry enables Nepali women to have employment in a solid community and prevents them from being trafficked into the sex trade. I thought about how much money I had allocated for this night and toiled between writing a check or purchasing a piece of jewelry.
A little personal background: I don’t enjoy shopping and rarely spend money on clothing, let alone jewelry. I’ve largely adopted my parents’ and grandparents’ model of thrifty living and generous giving. However, as I’ve become more aware of systems of commerce and the people impacted by those systems, I’ve realized that buying cheap clothing in order to write a larger check to a charity working against human trafficking is counter-intuitive when the cheap clothing was made by slave (or underpaid) labor. Or pinching pennies to purchase inexpensive chocolate so that you can have more pennies to donate towards an orphanage is hypocritical when you consider that the cocoa was sourced by child labor and conditions that harmed both people and planet leading to the need for an orphanage!
Furthermore, earning something causes people to value it more and feel greater self-worth than receiving a handout. Earning money can give people the ability to make choices previously unavailable to them, fosters self-esteem and provides opportunities that would not otherwise exist. As the founder of Sari Bari, an enterprise in Kolkata, India, which enables women to leave the sex trade by providing seamstress work, wrote after the first distribution of pay checks to the women, “a job does what a hand out can not…it gives hope and belief in self” (Power of a Paycheck). Case in point: before starting the Sari Bari business, the ministry team had worked for several years in the red light district, but during that time only one woman had left the sex trade. Yet since they began the Sari Bari business in 2006, 117 women have left the trade to find freedom and new lives!
In With Justice for All argued, John Perkins wrote, “Far more than they need our money, the poor need us—people. People with skills who will work with them and teach them how to become self-sufficient” (p.13). I strongly believe that providing people with dignified work is one of the best ways to end poverty and prevent human trafficking. Because of this, I chose to purchase a necklace rather than make a strict donation. Also, I chose it for myself in order to wear it as a conversational starter and promotional piece. When people ask about my necklace, I can tell them about Hetauda House, a place of safety for at-risk girls in Nepal.
I am not against gifts or donations, but sometimes it can be healthy to weigh all options. In this scenario, I felt like buying was a better investment in a cause I believe in than straight up giving.
Note: a few of my other favorite social enterprises that do similar work include the following:
If you know of others you’d recommend, leave a comment.