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Empowering Women: Give Your Holiday Shopping a Purpose

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HALF THE SKY
Courtesy, Opportunity International

Is the big box store in your neighborhood already putting out its Christmas wares? I love decorating for and celebrating the winter holiday season, but living in Southern California, I get quite annoyed on 100-degree October days when I walk into a local store and find fake snow and the latest plastic Santa bric-a-brac replacing Halloween decorations.

Thankfully, this year, I missed the stores' premature Easter decoration season, because I was traveling through China for the first four months of 2012. My China experience has changed my buying habits. After spending four months trying to breathe in putrid Chinese air, I aim to no longer buy cheap items made in anonymous Chinese pollution factories where workers are exploited and towering chimneys send carbon emissions across the Pacific ocean towards my neighborhood and yours.

This holiday season, are you willing to alter your shopping habits to do some good in the world? Are you willing to value the human face associated with the items you buy, to support individual women who make things with their hands? Won't you feel better about giving a gift with a made with purpose?

Raven + Lily, an innovative social business founded by CEO Kirsten Dickerson and CCO Sophia Hirokawa Lin, was created to empower women through design. Along with Lori Fox, Chief Designer, and Cameron Crake, Operations Manager, these American women are helping to change the lives of women around the world. Recently Raven + Lily won the Philanthropic Business of the Year at the 4th Annual Classy Awards, which aims to highlight the new generation of leaders who could be getting rich as CEOs but instead aim to improve the lives of others.

Have you read the seminal book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, heard authors Sheryl Wu Dunn and Nicholas Kristof speak, or recently watched the Half the Sky Documentary on PBS, featuring celebrity women activists America Ferrara, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union, and Olivia Wilde as they learn about the plight of women around the globe? If so, you know that improving the educational, economic, and health status of women improves the lives of whole families and entire communities. With that in mind, I am shopping online at ravenandlily.com with a new resolve for my holiday gifts this year.

Raven + Lily currently works with women in Cambodia, Ethiopia, and India, and their business is expanding to other countries. Women in Phnom Penh, hand loom cotton and dye jersey to make cozy well-styled t-shirts. Not only are the women paid a fair trade wage for their work, but Raven + Lily gives back profits from sales to fund health care and literacy programs in the Cambodia. In Ethiopia, farmers find bullet shells that village artisans melt down into beads for creating beautiful and inspired jewelry -- necklaces, bracelets and earrings -- designed jointly by local women and Raven + Lily. A warm scarf hand made in Ethiopia would be a great gift this winter. Women in an Indian town which depends on the success of its woodworking and paper industry are sustained with the sale of their handmade books made for Raven + Lily's market. Notecards and gift tags made by Raven + Lily artisans in India will complete your holiday gifts.

In the filming of Half the Sky, six recognizable, daring American female actresses stepped out of their comfort zones to understand about the conditions under which hundreds of millions of women worldwide live, learn, work, give birth, and die. These celebrities capitalized on their empowered status to help teach us about the harsh realities facing women and girls around the globe. We have a lot to learn.

Furthermore, we can be just as inspired that two lesser known Americans, Sophia Hirokawa Lin and Kirsten Dickerson, have used their talents and passions to branch out with their idea to use design in changing the lives of unknown women in remote corners of the world. The talented female artisans have faces, have families, have stories that are inspiring, and motivating. If you give gifts of their jewelry, soaps, or hand bags, their stories will be told for generations to come. You as the giver or your recipient might find motivation to pursue a new passion or venture too. That's a legacy we can feel good about as this holiday season approaches

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