Gifts that Give Back: Introducing Thistle Farms

Thistle Farms stands for the truth that, in the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world. – Reverend Becca Stevens, Founder of Thistle Farms

I am a huge follower of journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s work. The couple have dedicated their lives to promoting women’s rights around the world and it was after reading their eye-opening book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” that I made up my mind to devote my life to giving back and making a difference. I know it sounds rather cliché but honestly, I was so moved and intellectually awakened by their book that I began my work volunteering abroad, fundraising for building a school in Nepal and all the other social good writing and advocacy I do.

Their most recent book and documentary “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunities” expands on the overall themes in “Half the Sky”.  It was from watching the documentary on PBS last year that I learned about the inspiring work of Reverend Becca Stevens and Thistle Farms, and I was delighted when they contacted me for an interview on my blog.



Like many amazing organizations, Thistle Farms and its residential program Magdalene, all began by one woman who wanted to make a difference and promote change, Becca Stevens, an Episcopal Priest from Tennessee. Becca was finishing her last year of Divinity School at Vanderbilt and became inspired to give back to the community. After talking with police officers, homeless people and other social services within the community she realized a strong need to help women get off the streets and away from drugs, trafficking and prostitution. Many people believe that prostitution and human trafficking exist only in third world countries when in fact it is a huge problem here in the United States as well.

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Macy’s Celebrates 10 years with Rwanda’s Path to Peace

Given the scale of trauma caused by the genocide, Rwanda has indicated that however thin the hope of a community can be, a hero always emerges. Although no one can dare claim that it is now a perfect state, and that no more work is needed, Rwanda has risen from the ashes as a model of truth and reconciliation. – Wole Soyinka

Where were you in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide and do you remember what you thought about it? I clearly remember where I was at that time. I was a student completing the last year of college at the University of Wisconsin. The world was my oyster. Nothing could stop me. Of course I’d heard the news of Rwanda and the mass killings but at twenty-two years old, I could hardly relate. It felt surreal and far, far away from the carefree lifestyle I had as a student in Madison, Wisconsin.

It wasn’t until years later when I began to follow my passion for international affairs and travel that I watched the tragic 2004 film Hotel Rwanda and read the 2009 novel by Gaile Parkin “Baking Cakes in Kigali” that I began to truly contemplate the sheer tragedy and horror of what surpassed in Rwanda. Even today, it is hard to believe that in just three months, nearly a million people, 20% of Rwanda’s population, was massacred when tribal hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis turned into ethnic slaughter. It was unimaginable. Neighbor killed neighbor in one of the worst genocides in human history.

Like in most cases with war and tragedy, women and children were the most severely impacted by the genocide. After the violence ended, many Rwandan women found themselves thrust into the unfamiliar role of being sole breadwinners for their families since their husbands, fathers and sons had been killed. Others saw their husbands jailed for committing unspeakable atrocities. If women were going to survive, it was up to them to take action and do whatever they could to improve their lives for their children.

After the genocide, Rwanda was looking for ways to move forward and many women embraced opportunities that would help them heal. It was around this time that an American woman named Willa Shalit, a social entrepreneur, artist and activist, visited Rwanda and vowed to make a difference to help the Rwandan women. She noticed that weaving beautiful baskets has been a part of Rwanda’s culture for centuries and that perhaps this tradition could become a way forward towards peace and reconciliation.

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In 2005 Shalit showed the baskets to executives at Macy’s (one of America’s largest retailers) who committed to sell the baskets through a program called Rwanda Path to Peace. Like her counterpart Macy’s Heart of Haiti (which I had the honor of seeing for myself last February), Rwanda Path to Peace is a trade not aid program that is not a charity but a business initiative. Women from both sides of the ethnic divide have come together to weave baskets,creating an industry supporting thousands of Rwandan women and their families. It has had a huge impact on the community lifting the women and their families out of poverty and giving them sustainable hope for the future.

Each Macy's Path of Peace basket comes with a story.

Each Macy’s Path of Peace basket comes with a story.

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Gifts that Give Back: The Inspiration behind Kurandza

 “Kurandza” = “to love” in Changana, the local language of our women in Mozambique

Last fall 2014 after returning from serving three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique, Elisabetta Colabianchi an American from California fulfilled a long-term dream of founding Kurandza. Kurandza is a purpose-driven fashion company that creates handcrafted jewelry and accessories with women in Mozambique. Their mission is to empower women, the majority of whom are HIV positive, through education and employment opportunities. In addition to receiving fair wages for their work, profits from sales go back to this community to fund development projects.

Kurandza got its start while Elisabetta was a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching HIV-positive women the skill of sewing so that they could earn a sustainable income and provide for themselves and their families. Today, Kurandza sells online and are supporting nine women in Mozambique.


Elisabetta with two women from her “Mother to Mother” support group at the local hospital where she worked.

Although I have already added Kurandza to my permanent page of “Gifts that Give Back”, I wanted to learn more about the story behind it. I had an opportunity to conduct and interview with Elisabetta to learn more about her inspiration behind Kurandza and what she hopes to achieve. Here it is.

Elisabetta in Geneva where she participated in a study abroad program at the United Nations through NYU.

Elisabetta in Geneva where she participated in a study abroad program at the United Nations through NYU.

A Conversation with Elisabetta Colabianchi, Founder and CEO of Kurandza 

Me: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What did you study and why did you choose to be in the Peace Corps?

Elisabetta: I’m from San Francisco, California, but have lived in many different places that I still consider home. During college in San Diego, I studied Biology, foreign languages and Peace and Justice Studies. I was so fortunate to be able to study abroad in Mexico, Argentina, and in Italy, where I spent my junior year. In Milan, Italy, I took several courses in International Relations at the Italian university and also studied fashion. After college, I moved to New York City where I worked for an anti-hunger non-profit, helping low-income residents apply for public benefits and learn about financial literacy and nutrition. There I realized that I wanted to do similar work abroad, teaching people skills that would help them have a better future. I’ve always loved learning new languages, traveling and adapting to different cultures and making a difference, so I thought Peace Corps was the right next step. I was thrilled when I found out that I would be a Community Health Volunteer in Mozambique and would be learning Portuguese (the national language) as well as a local language, too!

Me: What inspired you to start Kurandza? 

Elisabetta: As a Community Health Volunteer, I worked at the local hospital counseling HIV positive women on treatment adherence and the prevention of transmission of HIV to their babies. I noticed that many of the patients weren’t able to reach the hospital every month to pick-up their treatment because they didn’t have an income to pay for the transportation expenses. I wanted to help these women stay on treatment and continue attending their support groups and counseling sessions so that they and their babies would remain healthy. This is what inspired me to start an income generation activity for these women. My friend, Percina, thought that teaching these women how to sew would be a beneficial skill for them for their entire lives, and I’ve always been interested in fashion and creating jewelry, so we thought starting a sewing cooperative was a perfect choice!


With her friend and co-worker, Percina, at Elisabetta’s “despedida” going away party.

 Me: What were some of the challenges you faced in starting Kurandza? 

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Society B

Introducing Society B: An Online Marketplace for Good

“Our decision to give back is at the heart of our business. We are the first marketplace of social goods that also donates to charity. Giving 10 percent of our total sales to a reputable non-profit each week blurs the line between for-profit and non-profit, and we believe that is the future of commerce.” – Co-Founder Lindsay Byers-Hirth.

Earlier this month two sisters, Lindsay Byers-Hirth and Kelli Byers fulfilled a shared dream by launching their new socially conscious company Society B. Society B curates the best, socially conscious products available today and sells them to consumers online while also giving back 10% of its sales to a new charity of the week, every week. The selection of products are beautiful and carefully chosen after extensive research to ensure that the products are either fair trade or give back and does good to a specific cause. This cuts out the tedious research for consumers and allows them to easily do good.

I had the opportunity to chat with one of the founders, Lindsay Byers-Hirth this week to learn more about the inspiration behind Society B and what differentiates Society B from other online for profit social enterprises. Here is what Lindsay had to say.

Me: What inspired you and your sister, two working moms, to start Society B?

Lindsay: In early 2000, while attending Iowa State University Kelli and I were both very engaged in charity and the spirit of giving back. We talked often about how wonderful it would be if we could create products to give back to charity. But realistically we didn’t have the time or the money. We held on to our dreams while starting a family and career in different states. Then, last Christmas Kelli and I were both home talking about our corporate jobs and how we both wish we had a better sense of purpose in our work. We were brainstorming ways to create something that would do good when we literally stumbled upon it. We were shopping in Fayetteville, Arkansas and came across a few products that give back from brands we hadn’t heard of before. And we realized that we wished we could find all those do-good brands in one place, and that was really our epiphany.

Me: Once you had the idea, what did you do next?

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To the Market: Empowering survivors around the world

During the ONE Women and Girls AYA Summit I attended in mid-October, I had the pleasure to meet Jane Mosbacher Morris, Founder and CEO of TO THE MARKET | Survivor-made Goods. Jane presented on her social enterprise TO THE MARKET | Survivor-made Goods (TTM) an amazing, creative organization that combines the powers of commerce and storytelling to empower the world’s most courageous survivor populations.

To the Market showcases handmade goods made exclusively by proud and passionate artisans who have overcome the perils of abuse, conflict, and disease. By assisting local partners around the world in bringing these goods “to the market,” TTM takes an active role in equipping the survivor’s they employ with economic independence, while raising awareness of the challenges that they face.

I was so impressed by Jane and the organization that she founded, that I invited her to do a guest post on my blog to introduce you to her work and To the Market. Here is her story.

This is taken in We are in the slums of Dehra Dun, India and shows Jane talking with a mother of a polio survivor.  Her son, the polio survivor, is able to work, allowing the family (including the mother pictured) to be supported.  Photo credit: Neil Ruskin

This is taken in the slums of Dehra Dun, India and shows Jane talking with a mother of a polio survivor. Her son, the polio survivor, is able to work, allowing the family (including the mother pictured) to be supported. Photo credit: Neil Ruskin

To the Market: How and Why it Began

Guest post by Jane Mosbacher Morris is the Founder and CEO of TO THE MARKET | Survivor-made Goods

Whether working domestically or abroad, I am consistently reminded of how crucial it is, especially for women, to have some form of economic independence. This economic independence helps to ensure that we are not left at the mercy of others when we unexpectedly find ourselves in a dire situation.

This point was hammered home to me during my time working for the U.S. State Department on women and security. I began studying the approach that many governments and non-profits were taking to provide assistance to vulnerable populations, many of whom were women. What I observed was a major focus on social service provision—administering things like medicine, housing, and pro-bono legal assistance.  Social services are extraordinarily important, particularly in emergency situations, but they are generally not available to the beneficiary for the duration of his or her life.  What seemed to be lacking was a plan to support those in need after they received the emergency assistance.

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2013 Holiday Guide: Gifts that Give Back

Last year I did a post on Gifts that Give Back. In a world where we have so much and others have so little, gifts that give back in return is a brilliant concept. Not only are you giving something special to someone you care about, you are also giving back perhaps even more to a person in need. Here is my list of top Gifts that Give Back for 2013. Feel free to add more ideas in the comment section below.

Scarves, Appareil, Jewelry and Household Items

Anchal (scarves, pillows and quilts)

“Designing Change Stitch by Stitch” Anchal creates absolutely stunning scarves, pillows and quilts each handmade out of recycled saris by Indian women rescued from prostitution. I can not tell you how many compliments I have received on my stunning Anchal scarf. I wear it every day and it is warm, colorful and a reminder of the hard work that was put into making it. I had to order another one I love it so much.

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Whole Planet Foundation announces new micro entrepreneur partnership with BRAC

Whole Planet Foundation, a non-profit run by Whole Foods Market, recently launched a new exciting initiative in the world of microfinancing. For the first time ever a donor can now give directly to specific projects around the globe which will give Whole Planet supporters an opportunity to choose exactly where their donation goes.

2013 Tanzania Pilinasoro BD- at business in market

Tanzanian farmer assisted by BRAC and Whole Planet. Photo credit: Whole Planet Foundation

This month, Whole Planet is piloting a program in Tanzania where 68% of the population is lives on less than $1.25 a day. In Tanzania, Whole Planet has partnered with BRAC, Whole Planet will be able to empower micro entrepreneurs like Jackline to alleviate poverty in the region of Mbeya, where Theo Chocolate, sold in Whole Foods Market stores, is sourced. BRAC began working in Tanzania in 2006 by providing micro finance and small enterprise development programs in Tanzania to create opportunities for the poor in agriculture, livestock and poultry.

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ONE Campaign and Heifer launch #GiveaGoat for the holidays

It is that time of year again. The holidays are coming! And with the onset of the biggest consumer spending of the year comes the reminder that many people around the world are not so fortunate when it comes to lavishing themselves with gifts. That is why for the next several weeks I will be highlighting unique ways to purchase gifts that give back and help someone else in need.


On October 24th, ONE partnered with Heifer International to launch an amazing, exciting campaign just in time for the holidays: #GiveaGoat to end extreme poverty.

The ONE Campaign works to end extreme poverty particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa while Heifer International specializes in bringing sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty, and have programs throughout the world. Both non-profit organizations are fabulous and by working together will be able to create even a greater impact on fighting extreme poverty around the world.

I have worked a bit with ONE already as a ONE Mom and Community Partner yet this is my first time learning more about Heifer’s work. While ONE is primarily an advocacy group with over 3 million supporters, Heifer provides the framework on the ground by working with smallholder farmers to promote economic self-sustainability and good health. Like ONE, Heifer believes strongly in empowering people especially women and girls who are the majority of the small farmer holders throughout Africa.

What makes Heifer’s work so amazing is that they don’t simply stop by helping one family. Heifer utilizes a program called “Passing on the Gift” which assures that each participant in the program—the person who receives the initial gift of an animal—becomes a donor by giving the animal’s offspring to another family in need. This concept helps build community and participation in each project. The families continually give to others, ensuring greater self-sufficiency and human dignity, one family at a time.

Although Heifer provides a variety of livestock ranging from chicks, rabbits, pigs, and sheep to goats, llamas, water buffalos, and heifers, for this campaign Heifer and ONE are focusing exclusively on the value of providing a goat.

So why a goat? Here are some facts you probably didn’t know about the benefits of having a goat.

  • 1 goat can produce 1 ton of milk/ year. That’s enough to pull 1 family out of poverty
  • A gift of livestock has up to 9x the impact, as families pass on the gift to others.
  • One goat can produce 15 liters, or nearly 4 gallons, of milk a day!
  • Goats were first herded by humans 10,000 years ago in what’s now Iran. Man’s most helpful friend for 10 millennia

Why goats are awesome?


Let’s meet Stella, ONE and Heifer’s mascot. Stella is quite popular and even has her own Twitter and Pinterest Account!

How #GiveAGoat works:  Now through December 31, you can buy or give a goat for $120 or a share of a goat in various increments.

Each goat can provide up to 1 ton of milk a year, enough to provide 1 family with enough income for shelter, education, health care and more.

Get a goat here:

What you can also do to learn more:
  • Follow Stella the Goat who is the mascot for the campaign and will be guest curating content on ONE’s Pinterest and Instagram accounts:

Instagram: @onecampaign

Related Posts:

Give A Goat to a FAmily in Extreme Poverty via ONE

More about the Limited Edition ONE Goat

Read how goats have changed people’s lives in Africa: ONE will be reposting success stories from farmers who have received a Heifer goat. Check each week for a new story.

In the first 24 hours since the campaign was launched, more than 280 goats were sent to families in need in Africa. These goats can help pull families out of extreme poverty by giving them milk to sell at the markets, providing a much-needed source of income.

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UncommonGoods “Better to Give” Program: You Shop, We Give

UncommonGoods is an online specialty marketplace that endeavors to feature unique designs and handcrafted products created in harmony with the environment and without harm to animals or people. Founded in Brooklyn, New York in 1999, UncommonGoods strives to provide gifts that are unique and made by local and international artisans. Imagine strolling through a local market in Guatemala or France and that is what it feels like to browse online at UncommonGoods. What is even better is the fact that the products are offered at affordable prices and also give back.


Story of the Earth set of 7 bracelets handmade in Guatemala.

I heard about UncommonGoods from a good friend of mine, fellow blogger Elizabeth Ataley of Documama who told me that I must check out their website as it is fantastic. Ironically, UncommonGoods contacted me while I was with Elizabeth in New York City, and asked if I would help spread the word about their social good program called “Better to Give“. Of course I agreed!

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An inspirational clothing line

Have you ever thought about the clothes you wear and what kind of statement you are making? Did you know that there are some clothing companies out there in the world that are trying to make a positive difference in people’s lives and change the way people think. Barnabas Clothing is one such company.


Sample of Barnabas casual sportswear. Photo credit: Barnabas Clothing Company.

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Gifts that give back: 1000 Shillings

This post is in response to the work I’m doing on behalf of Global Team of 200. 1000 Shillings has provided us with the content and images below that are used in this post. For more information on 1000 Shillings, please click here

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 2.25.22 PM1000 Shillings is a Uganda-based organization that helps impoverished mothers earn a living through their small business by selling limited-edition paper bead jewelry. The unique name for the company is quite symbolic as it is the amount of money that they average woman in the Namatala slum lives on per day – approximately 1,000 Ugandan Shillings ($.40).

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