Shopaholic and do-gooder are not titles that typically go hand in hand. But for Priya Haji, every purchase is an opportunity to give back.
"The object you buy is not just an object, behind that object is a human being. So consuming is not a passive activity, it's a way to positively shape the world around us," she said.
Raised in a family committed to social justice -- Priya's grandmother participated in Mahatma Gandhi's movement for Indian independence -- she knew from a young age that she wanted to "build businesses that help people and create a more just and fair world," she said.
With this in mind, Priya enrolled in UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business where she developed World of Good, Inc. at the business incubator before receiving her MBA. World of Good, Inc. is an online marketplace committed to fair trade and the alleviation of global poverty. Their goods are made by people, predominantly women, living in impoverished communities in the developing world.
"At the time we launched World of Good, fair trade was growing and we could see the need that women, mostly women, needed an outlet for their product. We saw it as an opportunity to make sure they had access to the marketplace," Priya said.
For one of the company's early ventures, they worked with Conserve India
in Delhi, India. Conserve India organized a group of female garbage pickers to transform the plastic bags they found into fashionable handbags. With the help of an engineer, the women were able to melt the bags into a pleather-like fabric that they weaved into purses, which were then sold by World of Good and other US-based vendors.
"Not only were the women's lives transformed by selling their products to the world, but people who were going to buy a Gucci handbag were buying something on World of Good instead," Priya said.
In Delhi, Priya saw the impact her work was having on the next generation. "The women, most of whom were illiterate, were making enough money to send their kids to school," she said.
In 2007, World Of Good launched an online marketplace in partnership with eBay, which provided market access to socially and environmentally responsible sellers and producers around the world. In 2010, World Of Good sold the wholesale business to another fair trade importer and eBay fully acquired the World Of Good brand, including the online marketplace. Today, Priya estimates that the company has helped 6,000 people distribute their goods across 85 countries.
And Priya continues to preach the gospel of fair trade and socially conscious consumption.
"Think about your daily choices," she said, "Ask yourself, do I really need this? Can I avoid consuming or buying it at all? If I really do need this, can I get it without buying something new? And if I am going to buy something new, can I buy it in a way that's more sustainable and is humane to the people who made it?" she said.
She is currently working on a project that she plans to launch in the next three to four months. It is designed to address her new concern: sustainability.
"It is more possible than it ever has been to create a world where everyone has access to food, housing, education, clean water -- the basics," she said. "The question now is, are we going to consume the world's resources before we get there? Can we feed everyone without fishing all the fish out of the ocean?"
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