Read more about our work and financials in 2016. Click the image to download.
We thought you’d enjoy this essay written recently by one of our founders.
We. They. Us. Them.
These are powerful pronouns, which is never more clear than when they’re used in discussions about global poverty.
Most Americans enjoy an income that ranks us among the top one percent of the world’s wealthy. We know poverty is bad, but if given the chance, most of us would do something about it. America is an altruistic nation, which is why efforts to address poverty through nonprofit donation, social activism, online portals, mega conferences, cause marketing, social entrepreneurship, and crowd-sourcing campaigns are at an all-time high. The business of “doing good” has never been better.
Unfortunately, our altruism is largely ineffective. Our best efforts at poverty alleviation have made only a small impact, and in many cases we have worsened the problem. Why? Most of the innovation aimed at fighting poverty occurs within a rigid paternalistic paradigm where those living in poverty receive and those fighting poverty give. People think “they” (the poor) will rise out of poverty if “we” (the wealthy) simply give them clean water, new shoes, or better eyeglasses. The result? We foster dependence both in the developing world and in our own low-income neighborhoods. Instead of bringing real change, we destroy initiative, damage dignity, and create a cycle that requires constant input.
Breaking this cycle demands the reeducation of both the givers and the recipients. Both groups must recognize that those living in poverty can pull themselves out of it if they have the chance. Both must recognize that those living in poverty are the solution, not the problem.
By living and working among the poor for the past 12 years, JoyCorps and its partner businesses have discovered immense, transformational power lying dormant in the hearts of impoverished people across the globe. Once they’re empowered to tap into it, amazing things happen. JoyCorps has helped local entrepreneurs establish businesses that employ hundreds of artisans in their own neighborhoods. Many have overcome abuse, disease, trafficking, addiction, or lives of begging.
How do we do this? We work to cultivate a capacity for innovation, arming people with the weapons they’ll need to fight poverty in their own communities—weapons like work, training, education, and micro loans. We also believe proximity is key. When we live among those in poverty, we learn to love them not as projects but as friends and neighbors. Proximity breaks down the us/them dichotomy; the word “we” begins to include our neighbors of all income levels, nationalities, and backgrounds.
What can you do? Support holistic businesses and organizations, those that equip people living in poverty with tools for long-term transformation. Choose to live in close proximity to the marginalized in your own community, so you know them as your neighbors and friends and better understand their needs—and your own. Finally, remember that we are all we. We inhabit this globe together, and it is only by working and living together that we will change inequality and chip away at poverty. Together, we are the solution.
We love sharing about our work and how we are stewarding our resources. Please check out more details, including our financials, here.
We’ve had quite a start to 2015! We have many exciting updates to share for each of our community development categories:
Read more here:
Click on our Donate page if you’d like to support our efforts of holistic empowerment—giving opportunity to those who need it most.
We are excited to share all six episodes of The FIND: India, which shows the community and businesses we support in northern India. Enjoy!
Click the image below and scroll to the bottom of the page to find the episodes.
Please take a moment to read our (mercifully short!) annual report and learn about all we accomplished in 2014. We look forward to even bigger things in 2015! Here’s to a joyful new year.
It’s time to question our assumption that profit and philanthropy should be mutually exclusive.
Business publications were abuzz last week with the news that Bain Capital bought a 50-percent stake in TOMS Shoes. The reports are various, but I’ll give you a paraphrase of the most common headline: Private equity giant Bain Capital has purchased the philanthropic company, and founder Blake Mycoskie is now getting his payday after years of charitable work.
You can palpably feel the snark dripping from the journalists’ fingers as they type these articles. “Yet another do-gooder sells out for money!” they assume, shaking their heads in smug satisfaction at finding yet another juicy story about corporate greed and the evils of big business.
Then I found a single article that included a description (though buried in the last paragraph) of Mycoskie’s plans with his part of the profit. He has pledged to give away “at least half” of his profit from the sale, part of which will go toward starting a fund to support social entrepreneurship around the world. And Bain has pledged to match his investment in the fund.
I work with social entrepreneurs, and this is big news for them. It means that under-equipped small businesses dedicated to social causes might actually get some real support in their battle against the giants of poverty and injustice. And sustainably run business, according to the UN, lies at the core of poverty eradication in the developing world.
So really, the headline could be written a different way: TOMS Shoes expands efforts in its mission to help other social entrepreneurs, and a big investor has pledged to help its cause.
But no, those aren’t the headlines. Why not?
Listen, I’m not going to make a value judgment on the wisdom of Blake Mycoskie’s decision. Time will tell whether TOMS’ partnership with Bain will work the way he clearly hopes that it will. I don’t write this to defend TOMS or its founder, but to question why our culture is so skeptical of businesses that claim a humanitarian mission, businesses that set out to use profit for good.
JOYN India’s founder Melody Murray with one of her artisans. Lali would normally be outcast from society
as a result of her leprosy, so she is thrilled to have the dignified work of hand weaving. JOYN has enjoyed a
two-year partnership with TOMS Shoes, which sells JOYN product in its online Marketplace and has created
an exclusive line of shoes using the very fabric that artisans like Lali weave by hand.
The comments underneath the news articles make it clear that journalists aren’t the only skeptics. Americans in general like to keep a three-foot-thick wall in place between business and philanthropy. Among the numerous comments that say, “Well, I’ve purchased my last pair of TOMS!” are those who write things along the lines of, “Why is a profit-making entity buying stock in a charitable enterprise?” and “I prefer that my charitable purchases not be a front to make rich people richer.”
For one thing, TOMS is not a charity. It is a business. It has always been a business. And yet it has been a business built on the ideals of sustainability and social justice. People can’t seem to wrap their minds around this, probably because we have created a dichotomy in our culture between “doing good” and “doing business.”
This dichotomy goes back nearly 200 years to the Industrial Revolution, when simple greed led business owners to build massive empires on the backs of the poor. Some of these industry giants spent their later years doing a form of penance through philanthropy. So we got this idea that in order to help people, one had to make a U-turn from business. The belief that remains popular even today is that charities have a “people” motive and businesses have a “profit” motive, and never the twain shall meet.
This dichotomy has not always existed. Arthur Guinness, born in 1724, became the poster child for modern corporate philanthropy by living according to the motto, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” He saw business success as a calling to help mankind and believed that abundant prosperity demanded massive generosity.
Not only did Guinness pay his employees higher wages than any other employer in Ireland, but his company became one of the first to provide pensions and healthcare for its employees and their families. This legacy continued well into the twentieth century: “A Guinness worker during the 1920s enjoyed full medical and dental care, massage services, reading rooms, subsidized meals, a company funded pension, subsidies for funeral expenses, educational benefits, sports facilities, free concerts, lectures and entertainment, and a guaranteed two pints of Guinness beer a day.” (See more here.) Medical and dental benefits applied not just to workers, but to their families, to widows, and to retirees.
The Guinness family itself lived a simple life despite the enormous success of their business. You see, Guinness and his descendants found that it was far more fulfilling to use their resources to better the lives of their employees than to indulge themselves. In such a business model, justice is the motivator, not greed.
Businesses in north India support a local program for street children. When they grow up, these children will have the opportunity to enter a vocational training program to learn valuable work skills so they are not forced into lives of begging.
Examples go back even farther. In the Jewish Torah, written around 600 BC, property owners (the business owners of the day) were prevented by law from taking full profits out of their fields. The book of Leviticus instructs them—in two separate passages to make sure they get the point—to leave the corners of the fields for the poor and the foreigner to harvest, so that such people could support their families through dignified labor. Notice the property owners weren’t instructed to glean the entire field and give a portion of the profits to charity; they were required to limit their personal profit for the benefit of others. (See here and here.)
Historically, then, the work of earning profit has not always been separated from the work of compassion and justice (what we now call “philanthropy”). So why do we insist on divorcing them?
It’s true that many business owners have not done this and probably deserve our skepticism. And too many of today’s corporate giants are driven by the same oppressive greed that compelled their nineteenth-century predecessors to favor profit margins over people. This is wrong, and we should say so. But it’s much easier for us to vilify them than it is to accept our own culpability. When we purchase products that support oppression, slavery, trafficking—you name it, there are big companies that do it—we are using our profits to oppress rather than to redeem.
David Murray, the founder of Dehradun Guitar Company, trains Surendher in the art of handmade guitar building. Surendher’s past includes addiction, abuse, depression, and poverty, but his life has changed since coming to work
for a socially minded business owner who has provided sustainable employment and community support.
So my point is threefold:
Rachel Meisel is the executive director of JoyCorps, a 501c3 dedicated to supporting two social entrepreneurs that operate in north India: Dehradun Guitar Company and JOYN, a fashion company that has partnered with TOMS for the past two years. JoyCorps and its sister businesses are passionate about creating sustainable jobs and fostering a healthy community among some of the most marginalized artisans in the world.
Instead of using Amazon’s regular site, make your purchases through our AmazonSmile account. Every time you buy an eligible item, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to JoyCorps. You get the stuff you need, and so do we. It’s a win-win!
Using AmazonSmile is easy and free. Read more about it here.
The great news: We just received a grant for $40,000 from an anonymous foundation for our building fund!
The challenge: It is a matching grant, which means we will need to raise another $40,000 before they will disburse the funds to us.
Our partner businesses, JOYN and Dehradun Guitar Company, currently lease small workspaces and offices spread across six different locations. We are already tight, but if we continue to grow at the rate we’ve projected, we will soon be bursting at the seams. We would like to begin work—building new facilities and renovating some existing structures—within the next few months.
The new facilities will provide not only vocational training and work spaces, but plenty of room for English and computer classes, a small school for our artisans’ children, and transitional housing for street youth who have left lives of begging to come to work.
It can be very difficult to purchase land in India, but amazingly we were able to negotiate a property rent-free for the next 30 years—if we can raise funds to build on the land. That’s a big “if.” The total amount required to build facilities that could support our needs for the next three decades is $180,000, and we have yet to raise $100,000 toward this goal.
You can help us!
1. Donate to our building fund here.
2. Use this flyer to spread the word to your friends and family! Share it on social media, post it in a public place, or e-mail it to anyone you think may be interested.
Light the World is here in Dehradun!
Light the World is a photographic workshop designed and taught by award-winning humanitarian photographers Austin Mann and Esther Havens. The images they capture in their travels around the world help non-profits build compelling social-awareness campaigns and raise much-needed funds.
The LTW team spent last week with our partner businesses in Dehradun, using photography and storytelling to capture the work we do on the ground. The images they create will help us build media campaigns, raise money, and ultimately empower our artisans through work and community development programs.
Read more about our partnership with Light the World here and consider making a donation to help fund this amazing work.
The first 200 people to donate more than $50 will be given this gorgeous JOYN tote, designed exclusively for Light the World!