Eve Blossom, author of Material Change: Design Thinking and the Social Entrepreneurship Movement, has always had a passion for design. She decided at age 13 to pursue architecture, and years later received a master's degree in the field from Tulane University. But three years into an architectural career, she grew dissatisfied and decided to leave the profession. Still, she feels that the training was terrific background for later becoming an entrepreneur because,"all business problems are essentially design problems."
After leaving architecture, Eve attended business school. She then moved to Hanoi, Vietnam for two years. The country was on a fast track to development in the mid-1990s. Eve was having fun renovating old French villas for Fortune 500 companies. And yet, she also became aware of heart-wrenching social issues that can arise from rapid economic change.
One night, Eve was confronted with the tragedy of human trafficking when she overheard a Caucasian man discussing his purchase of a very young girl for sex. Eve felt called to take action around this issue. "I knew nothing about human trafficking. But it truly moved me, grabbed me and wouldn't let me go," Eve said. "It gave me a terrifying, helpless feeling."
Eve's research into the topic revealed that 27 million people are trafficked for sex trade and slave labor every year. Men, women and young children are subjected to horrendous degradation. And yet, Eve also determined that when we only react to the emotional aspect of an issue, it keeps us from seeing the structure of what's really happening. She came to understand human trafficking as an economic issue."Job stability for any of us, anywhere in the world, is an economic necessity," Eve said in her TEDIndia talk.
That's when Eve committed herself to creating for-profit social ventures for a living. She started Lulan in 2003 to generate stable jobs for artisans and keep them safe from the trap of human trafficking. It took a year-and-a-half of hard work and development to open the doors. But for nine years now, Lulan has helped local artisans from five countries across Southeast Asia to create contemporary designs for their home décor and accessories products, and to connect them with a global market.
When people are in desperate economic situations, they can fall prey to human trafficking. As a designer, I was struck by my research findings that artisans are one of the groups most at risk for falling into human trafficking because their incomes are often below poverty level.
Then in 2010, a new idea was born, when Lulan artisans sponsored a design competition online. Designers from around the world submitted more than 1,600 designs in just 16 days. It was clear to Eve that there was a desire for an online community connecting designers, artisans and buyers. She began to develop her concept for WE'VE, an e-commerce community that uses story as the connecting thread for beautiful relationships and objects to emerge.
WE'VE has gathered designers to work with their artisans throughout the world. Intertwining thoughtful purchasing through production transparency and technology, WE'VE goes beyond traditional e-commerce marketplaces. Buyers pre-order desired goods, ensuring that demand always dictates creation, thus eradicating over-production and waste. The site also allows consumers a firsthand look at how each limited edition handmade product is created through integrated production videos.Eve says her hope is that the WE'VE community will be a place where consumers enjoy belonging and participating, knowing that their purchases create impact in people's lives, their communities and their children's lives.
When I asked what words of advice Eve has for other entrepreneurs and people on the heart path, she offered:
When we make our purchasing decisions with an awareness of the impact, we feel aligned in our choices and connected to one another. The story of how we can all connect and create beauty in each others' lives -- now that is powerful.
Photo credit: David Costopulos
We can align successful business models that are profitable and that also honor our humanity. When you align who you are in the world with what you do in the world, that is where you are most effective and where the biggest change can happen.