Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus wrote, “I would rather be adorned by beauty of character than jewels. Jewels are the gift of fortune, while character comes from within.”
But what if your jewels — or your jewelry — could represent the empowered character of a woman entrepreneur? Kendra Morris and Amy Barad have done just that with Rural Revolution, a global company that uses the sale of hand-crafted jewelry to support empowerment, for the women who create the pieces and the women who wear them.
The goal is to connect women from around the world and help them leverage their skill sets into sustainable businesses as a means of empowerment. Jewelry pieces created by artisans from Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, New Orleans, and Peru are sold through the company’s website, as well as through sales ambassadors and trunk shows across the United States to foster the economy and culture of regions around the globe. By using the direct sales model, a mutually beneficial network of self-employed women is created in which the profits are split among artisans and the sales ambassadors who represent them.
The company was founded 10 months ago by Kendra Morris, who, when nine months pregnant, applied to be a fellow in the Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans’ accelerator program, and was accepted upon moving to the city with her husband and young daughter. Through the fellowship, Morris connected with several mentors and consultants, including Amy Barad, a transplant from L.A. who had joined the program as a way to hone her skills in urban development and sustainability.
As Morris’ business grew, she realized there was an opportunity to take Rural Revolution to new heights, but didn’t yet have the resources to hire an employee. However, she found a potential business partner with Barad, and was able to transition her role from mentor into partner with the help of SENO Executive Director, Andrea Chen.
Using the same values represented by Rural Revolution, the dynamic women have found a beneficial partnership with shared views on humanity and their respective strengths and skill sets in business.
While different paths brought both women to New Orleans less than a year ago, their views on helping inspire women on a global level came from their personal travels to developing regions around the world.
After graduate school, Morris spent time in Haiti as a visual anthropologist, and then traveled throughout the Caribbean and Jamaica as a cultural liaison, a job she, like a true entrepreneur, created for herself. Her role was to work with high-level individuals in the Jamaican government to create ways to teach women how to conduct businesses using their skill sets – assets that can be used as a means of strengthening the economy in developing countries.
Co-founder Amy Barad was driven to Rural Revolution through her passion for urban development and sustainability. Barad, on the other hand, spent a significant amount of time in South Africa studying housing policy in post-Apartheid Johannesburg, at a time when people were moving from marginalized conditions into suburban areas. After seeing the significant role the private sector played in building and sustaining the infrastructure in Johannesburg, she realized how vital private entities can be to rebuilding developing areas.
Although their business model is based on a social mission, both women agreed that a for-profit structure would be more effective and beneficial to help carry out the message of Rural Revolution, and would allow them more flexibility in what they can accomplish in the future. And with their growing network of sales partners in the U.S., summer travel to visit their international artisan partners, and plans to create a co-op space where women with children can run their businesses, the possibilities for what these women can accomplish are endless.
“We are practicing what we are preaching. We are women who run businesses, have lives, and still need to be caretakers, and we want to provide other women with the resources to help them accomplish it all,” says Barad, further attesting that their success and opportunities have come from the common ground they share with all their partners.
Their business promises to make a global impact, but they want to create the foundation here in New Orleans, by keeping their headquarters here and establishing programming in the city. This summer, Rural Revolution will be launching a program in Central City to teach women who are pursuing their GEDs to be entrepreneurs, using jewelry making as a means to do so. The goal will be to identify each woman’s skills, cultivate those skills, and bring community members together to empower women with the entrepreneurial skills and tools needed to be leaders in their communities.
“It’s really important for us to create something that gets the community involved, and creates leaders out of the women in New Orleans,” says Morris, emphasizing that, while their first program will focus on helping women primarily in Central City, the overall outcome is aimed to positively impact our entire community.
Who knew a piece of jewelry could inspire so much? Clearly, Plautus did not think this one through.
If you are interested in joining the revolution through blogging, creating jewelry, or hosting a trunk show, and to purchase any of the jewelry, visit http://www.ruralrev.com/.