19 Mar LTFF Blog: Around the World with Social Enterprise
By Natalie Deuschle, LTFF Director of Grants & Impact
After spending a year working for a social enterprise that supported survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia, I was eager to explore the root causes of poverty and inequity from a systems level view. I also returned thinking I would never be able to build a career that combined my interests in public health and artisan enterprise. My limited understanding of the world led me to believe these interests were too unrelated to be brought together.
Not yet ready to return to Tulsa, I moved to Aspen, Colorado, where a friend I had met in Cambodia lived. While I was searching for an opportunity that would allow me to explore the questions I had about the world, I worked as a nanny and sold art to Saudi princes. It was a jarring transition from life in Cambodia.
Admittedly, I didn’t think Aspen was the best place to explore the questions I had. Questions like, Why are some countries so much more impoverished than other? More corrupt? How is it that some countries have better health outcomes than countries that have more wealth?
When people heard about my work in Cambodia, they would laughingly respond, “Well you’re not gonna find much of that around here!” They were right, but eventually I met the woman who created the Aspen Ideas Festival, a multi-day event that brings in leaders from around the world to talk about the world’s most pressing issues and innovative ideas. That meeting gave me the chance to meet the Executive Director of Global Health & Development at the Aspen Institute, who was looking for Fellows to support a new program called the Artisan Alliance. I couldn’t believe it. A program that built on the two things I thought couldn’t be united, public health and artisan enterprise. Within a few weeks, I was leaving the mountain town I had grown to love for Washington.
Two other women joined me as Fellows for the Artisan Alliance. One of them was Ibada Wadud. I still remember the day that I met her. She effused a warmth and passion that simultaneously put one at ease and inspired them to work harder. I admired her creativity and resourcefulness. Together, we created and planned events everywhere from New York City to Lima, Peru. We spent hours brainstorming how a small startup alliance could be beneficial both for its members and the artisan sector as a whole. After exploring the artisan sector from a systemic lens, I was ready to work more closely with a community. Working as Director of Grants & Impact at LTFF has given me the opportunity to have those close community relationships, while also contributing to systems level change.
Last month, LTFF brought Ibada from NYC to Tulsa to share with Tulsa her expertise in social enterprise and conscious business. She spoke with a crowd of 75 Tulsans, all eager to pursue their own ideas for creating positive social impact. Ibada told stories about the challenges and successes of her social enterprise, Run by Rural, which introduced the talented work of Peruvian weavers to markets in the United States. With aspiring social entrepreneurs, she shared best practices she employs as Manager of Kate Spade’s On Purpose Collection. After the conversation ended, a group stayed to talk with her for two more hours. The diversity of people that gathered to learn how they can be agents of change in their own communities is what made the evening truly special.
The next day, 20 leaders in Tulsa’s social enterprise ecosystem gathered for a design thinking workshop for social entrepreneurs led by Ibada, who amongst many things, explained the difference between design and innovation. Design, without improving upon a product or service that is demanded, is just a creation- not an innovation. If a design creates a new product or service that is demanded by a market, then it is an innovation.
While I’ve gained a better understanding of the root causes of social problems throughout my career, I know there is a road ahead of me to most efficiently employing solutions to solve them. Social enterprise is the tool I am currently most interested in using to combat systemic problems, even though it has weaknesses, like barriers to scalability and lack of rigorous assessment and impact reporting. It’s rewarding to see all my experiences, both professionally and personally, contribute to my ability to make a positive impact in my community.