Torkin Wakefield is the Co-Founder & Global Ambassador of BeadforLife, a social business we profiled recently that empowers women in Uganda who create fair trade jewelry out of recycled paper. In the interview below, Torkin shares more about the history of BeadforLife, the business model -- including the power of hosting bead parties -- and what it's like being a social entrepreneur.
4 Questions With Torkin Wakefield, Co-Founder of BeadforLife
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
When we began BeadforLife, we three founders had no business experience -- not a single day of it. But we did know a lot about women, the power of story and the power of women working together.
We started with modest goals to reach out to our own circles. Having no retail experience, we decided to work woman to woman instead, and we soon adopted the home party concept. A volunteer webmaster helped us to build a web store.
So many opportunities began to unfold. Within just a few months we understood we had the power to enlarge the circle of interested people and we looked for ways to use every contact and volunteer. Our basic principles were inclusive, appreciative, and based on caring and respect. We do not believe in handouts in development work, as we have seen the destructive dependence these can create. So in Uganda, each encounter with our members was about respect and exchange.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
The sector we fit in most is Fair Trade Non Profit. We naturally adopted the principles of fair trade because we believed in them.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
I get my inspiration from the incredible strength, heartbreaking stories and determination of the Ugandan women we work with. Living on a dollar a day, these women manage to keep their families alive going through unbearable hardship. Their capacity for hard work, and hope, is inspiring.
We also hear stories from North America about how important participating in BeadforLife is to BeadParty hosts. We hear from school teachers who are teaching our poverty eradication curriculum about how students are deeply touched by getting to know children from Uganda. All of this is wind beneath our wings.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
I have always felt pride that BeadforLife is a learning organization; that is, we take chances, we try things and then keep the best parts moving forward with our next set of ideas honed by experience. Since we do not take outside funding, we are free to set our own destiny, which means that we can be creative.
We have lots of rituals. The most prominent is that we sing and dance every time we gather with our members, which is twice a month for each group. This includes drumming, and often members will offer a prayer as well.
At the staff level we have many rituals of appreciation, including art projects on staff retreats. Our Board of Directors also has an opening ritual in which we acknowledge every group within the organization: members, their families, staff on three continents, Ugandans in our compassion program, Ugandan school children, our vocation training students, our graduate members, our community partners, our BeadParty hosts, all the folks that attend BeadParties, our retail partners, the folks that shop at our website, our store, the journalist that write about us, the advisory board, people who get gifts of beads, the teachers and students who use our curriculum, and all the others we forgot that are touched by the work of BeadforLife.