New Social Enterprise Partner: Common Thread Cooperative

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Given the enthusiasm and interest we received from Canadians at this year’s PPAI show, we are thrilled to announce our newest social enterprise partner, Common Thread Cooperative. As our first partner in Canada, we’re excited to expand our network and promote their social mission.

As a cooperative, Common Thread operates differently from our other partners. All of their members are organizations, not individuals. They are a cooperative of Canadian enterprises and organizations with sewing programs; and they provide brokering and production coordination for their social enterprise members and other producers. The co-op sources street banners and other fabric for re-purposing into colorful and durable tote bags, drawstring bags, aprons, messenger bags, notebook covers and more. Helping Hand Rewards is currently utilizing their services for gift bags and meeting bags.

Melanie Conn is a member of the Common Thread management team and conceived the initial idea and operation of the co-op. As a community economic development teacher and a consultant for people starting cooperatives, she worked with groups using social enterprises to facilitate participation in the economy by their members: people experiencing challenges because they were immigrants and refugees or living with mental illness. She noticed that a number of the groups focusing on women were providing sewing services.

“I thought a producer marketing cooperative that accessed contracts for these (sewing) groups and helped coordinate production would be a way for them to achieve their goals much more successfully,” says Conn. “I researched the idea and talked to groups across North America. Once I was assured about its feasibility, I was able to identify partners in British Columbia who were excited about it.”

She got very involved in the piloting stage, working on the business plan and connecting with members of organizations. Currently, she provides marketing and general management services for the co-op.

Common Thread was officially incorporated as a cooperative in December 2009, but began operations before then. Their first big contract was in the summer of 2009 for the 2010 Winter Olympics when they were contracted by the City of Vancouver to make 1500 drawstring backpacks from pre-Olympic banners. The City then distributed the backpacks to inner-city schools. After the Olympics, the co-op began to focus on producing delegate bags using their ample supply of Olympic banners and other street banner fabric. Their contracts grew because people liked making a purchase that had added social value and also reduced their environmental impact.

At first, individuals from member organizations worked primarily from home. However, Common Thread was able to purchase industrial equipment a year ago which enabled them to move to the next stage of production. Several members of the production network now work rent-free from a corner of The Flag Shop, an organizational member of the co-op. The owner of The Flag Shop is also a member of Common Thread’s board and an enthusiastic supporter of the co-op. Every order The Flag Shop fills is accompanied by information about Common Thread’s ‘banner to bag’ capacity.

Tote bags in production in a corner of The Flag Shop

While still a relatively new enterprise and the grateful recipient of grant funds from time to time, Common Thread’s current goal is to cover their overhead expenses through sales. They don’t pay production work by the hour. Instead, they break down every contract into operations and pay people for what they produce. The payment rate is based on what an experienced worker would be able to produce in an hour.

One major challenge for the co-op has been the balance between the volume of orders and the capacity of the production network.  As the business grows, expenses rise for coordination, as well as other support service the co-op provides.

“In the corporate environment, you aim to hire the cream of the crop. If they don’t perform, you let them go,” says Conn. “But of course that’s not our practice. Since the purpose of the co-op is to provide a flexible work environment, we find ways to adapt it to the strengths and needs of our production network. It’s quite the balancing act since we also need to get the work done! We’ve integrated a core of very good workers into our network to help establish the strong foundation we need to succeed as a business. We’re also moving into training in a big way to help all our sewers develop their skills. We’re thrilled to see how well it’s working.”

For Conn, the challenges presented by the co-op are a welcome opportunity to give those who thrive in a flexible work environment a chance at a good life. With Common Thread, people from all backgrounds are able to come together, work cooperatively and help each other out.

“I am deeply gratified when I see the pleasure and pride people take in their ability to get better at what they do,  and make some money doing it,” says Conn.

Support Bright Endeavors with a Groupon Purchase

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Groupon allows you to try new places and experience new things – all for a fraction of the price. But did you know they also allow you to make a difference? Through April 7, you have the opportunity to purchase a Groupon that will support Bright Endeavors, a non-profit that bolsters at-risk young mothers and their children with essential life services. With a $15 donation, you’ll receive $30 worth of eco-friendly Dreambean products. Plus, each donation will be matched, up to $10,000!

Through the manufacture of its Dreambean home- and bath-product line, Bright Endeavors provides young mothers with jobs handcrafting and packaging eco-friendly vegetable-wax candles in recycled glass containers, as well as calming bath products fashioned from natural botanicals. Participating in Bright Endeavors’ manufacturing and marketing program helps young women transition into economic self-sufficiency by building a store of personal and professional achievements that will translate into job skills in future careers. Additionally, all proceeds from Dreambean products go to support job training, mentoring, and permanent job placement with local employers for the young mothers who create them.

Expires Oct 8, 2011. 100% of purchase goes directly to Bright Endeavors. Limit 1 per person, may buy 3 additional as gifts. Limit 1 per visit. Not valid for Moda Esperanza products. Donations are automatically applied.

Press Release: We Partner With The Chicago Lighthouse To Reach Incentive and Promotional Markets

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Helping Hand Rewards (HHR), a Chicago-based organization that provides business development and marketing assistance to social enterprises, has added The Chicago Lighthouse to its list of mission-driven partners. HHR is helping this important social service agency promote the wall clocks made by Chicago Lighthouse Industries-its modern manufacturing facility employing blind and visually impaired workers-to the corporate, incentive, promotional, and recognition markets.

Since 1906, the Lighthouse has been a national trendsetter in providing educational, clinical, vocational, and rehabilitation services that open doors of opportunity for people with visual impairments. Chicago Lighthouse Industries holds the official contract for manufacturing clocks for the U.S. government. In a given year, it manufactures between 160,000 and 200,000 clocks distributed around the world. The sale of this merchandise helps fund a wide array of social service programs, including the nation’s oldest Low Vision Clinic, a nationally acclaimed school for children with multi-disabilities, an innovative Legal Clinic to help combat discrimination, and a VA program to assist veterans in all 50 states.

Helping Hand Rewards was founded in 2006 by Michael Arkes, CEO of Hinda Incentives. His goal in starting the organization was to stimulate mutually beneficial relationships between businesses committed to social responsibility and social enterprises, like The Chicago Lighthouse, that manufacture and sell merchandise for the sole purpose of giving people in need the knowledge and resources to take charge and improve their lives.

“With the unemployment rate for blind people hovering around 70 percent, there is a tremendous need to support the agencies and organizations working proactively to provide training, job counseling, placement services, and employment opportunities to people with visual impairments,” said Arkes. “Organizations like The Chicago Lighthouse understand the critical and fundamental importance of giving people the knowledge and resources to be economically independent and self-sufficient rather than just giving them a hand-out.”

In addition to The Chicago Lighthouse, HHR partners with nine other social enterprises that primarily focus on creating opportunities for people to overcome barriers to employment and self-sufficiency. Using a zero-based profit structure, HHR provides marketing, business development, and distribution expertise to these partners and helps them connect with potential customers. For more information, visit www.HelpingHandRewards.org.

Women’s Bean Project Gives New Hope To Those In Need

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Helping Hand Rewards partner Women’s Bean Project (based in Denver, CO) has recently released a new catalog that shows how the organization is spreading their interests…and helping more people in the process. Through sales of items that primarily consist of beans, soup and cookie mixes, Women’s Bean Project helps aid their mission:

“Our mission is to change women’s lives by providing stepping-stones to self-sufficiency through social enterprise. Our goal is to change the world at large by helping women in the program see themselves and their world in a whole new way. They are women who have made the choice to change their lives.”

Part of the new catalog involves two new initiatives. The first being the organization’s expansion into school

Pearls of Wisdom necklace from WBP

fundraising programs. WBP helps track all web orders and offers 35% of all sales to the organizations using their fundraising services. It’s an initiative that not only helps fundraising efforts but also serves the dual purpose of helping women in WBP’s organization.

Women’s Bean is also expanding their catalog assortment from simply homemade food products to jewelry. They are working in conjunction with female jewelry designers to help employ even more women and change even more lives, helping these women learn more life and job-readiness skills to move toward self-sufficiency.

Learn more about Women’s Bean by visiting our site here or directly at their home website www.womensbeanproject.com.

CSR at the Motivation Show

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With new partners and a few social media tricks up our sleeve, we’re getting excited about this year’s Motivation Show. Setting up shop at Booth #4503 this year will be a treat to anybody browsing through the show floor.

We will be featuring several of our social enterprise partners at our booth this year. New to the team is Lambs Farm, a social enterprise located in the Chicago suburbs bringing samples of cookies and other baked goods to the show. Our additional new partner is Nikaya Handcrafted who will have a few jewelry samples at our booth including their “community bracelet” – a bracelet made out of recycled bomb shell casings!

In addition to adding new friends to our old friends like Greyston Bakery, Bright Endeavors, Mary Fisher, Women’s Bean Project and Mercado Global, we will try and be active social media participants during the show. Adding to what Hinda Incentives said in their blog post, we will actively engage with others on the show through the #moti Twitter hashtag. If you’re watching afar from online, keep your eyes peeled at our YouTube channel for videos from the show including some potential Q&A with some of our partner groups.

Going to be at the show? Stop on by and say hello (or even check-in on Foursquare) to the most socially responsible booth in McCormick place (#4503). You may even get some free food samples while you’re there.

Lambs Farm: Bringing More Than Baked Goods to the HHR Table

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Helping Hand Rewards’ newest partner is Chicago-based Lambs Farm, a non-profit organization helping over 260 people with developmental disabilities. Through employment opportunities, these individuals learn valuable vocational skills that can be transferred to other jobs in nearby communities, helping them create more sustainable lives for themselves.

What started as a small pet shop has grown into a sprawling campus. Located in Libertyville, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) they’ve grown their outreach to a country-style restaurant, a petting zoo, a country store and an amazing bakery. With these different business functions all out at their farm, Lambs Farm has been able to help, teach and even house hundreds of mentally disabled individuals have a more normal working life.

Social outreach isn’t all that Lambs Farm brings to the table. Their assortment of baked goods is absolutely out of this world! Famous for their “Butter Cookies,” they also provide toffee and turtleletts. In our Holiday Card assortment this year, we’ll be featuring their “Chocolate Lovers Collection” – three pounds of a lavish chocolate variety including an array of  buttery English toffee, dark, milk and white Lambs Farm logo chocolates, dipped fruit, enrobed sandwich
cookies, dark chocolate nut bark, turtles, nut clusters and coconut patties.

Want to learn more about Lambs Farm? Check them out at LambsFarm.org or even on Twitter as @lambsfarm.

If you’re attending the Motivation Show this year, it makes a prime opportunity to learn more in person. Lambs Farm will be featured at our Helping Hand Rewards Booth at this years show. Check in at the booth on Foursquare and you’re likely to score some free samples.

New Partners!

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We are pleased to announce that in the past month, Helping Hand Rewards has added two additional social enterprise partners to our organization. Chicago-based Lambs Farm has joined us, bringing their wide variety of baked goods to our assortments. We’ve also added a social enterprise based in Cambodia called Nikaya Handcrafted, a social enterprise providing interesting community jewelry, scarves and pillow cases – all used to help benefit those less fortunate in Cambodia.

Keep an eye out in the coming week for more in-depth posts about our two new enterprises!

A Documentary Featuring Two HHR Partners!

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As it turns out a couple of our partner social enterprises are going to be featured in a documentary film. Chicago-based social enterprises Bright Endeavors and The Enterprising Kitchen are being featured in Crafting Hope, a film following different Fair Trade and social enterprise organizations who help impoverished women create better lives for themselves through employment opportunities that offer fair wages and training to overcome the poverty cycle.

You can check out the trailer for the film at www.craftinghopethemovie.com to learn a bit more about what the film is all about. Want to learn more about Bright Endeavors or TEK? Check them out here on our home website or visit www.brightendeavors.org and www.theenterprisingkitchen.org.

How Mary Fisher’s ABATAKA Program Changed Tamanya’s Life

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Tamanya Luhana was barely 20 years old when she was raped and became pregnant. She says police didn’t believe her and some relatives didn’t support her. But her mother helped her learn to love her baby girl, Twambo, born in 1998 – and then, within months, her mother was dead, and her father not long after. Tamanya was left to care for her five younger siblings as well as her baby.

After the rape, Tamanya says, “I never felt that I mattered” – until she fell in love with Kegwin, the man she married in 2002. “I didn’t have knowledge of HIV so was not aware of the need to be tested,” she says now. “I got married with no testing” – and in two years of marriage she endured three miscarriages and one child dying at birth. In 2004, Kegwin died; after death, he was confirmed HIV-positive.

After Kegwin’s death, Tamanya says, his relatives took her money and property; she moved in with a sister. The next two years brought a tuberculosis diagnosis, treatment that left her still feeling ill – and, in 2006, a positive HIV test. When her sister left town and Tamanya became homeless, she sold family heirlooms – including her late father’s chairs – to get rent money. The windowless, one-room house she could afford flooded when it rained. Tamanya tried to stay on her antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) but often had no food to take them with, or to feed Twambo.

Since early 2007 when she learned to make jewelry, Tamanya says she has never had to skip a meal. She has money to support Twambo, who’s living with an aunt an hour from Lusaka so she can attend a good school. Tamanya says being part of The ABATAKA Collection project “makes me feel that I can live, that I can provide for my family – that I am able to do things without asking other people for help.” She works now as a peer educator, going into the community to counsel HIV-positive children. “I love the job,” she says – helping children ages 7-17 deal with their illness “and making them feel that they are loved.”

Learning a bit more about Women’s Bean Project

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One of our domestic social enterprise partners is Women’s Bean Project. Located out in Denver Colorado, Women’s Bean helps homeless, recently incarcerated and other at-risk women develop job skills to better their lives and potentially break out of the poverty cycle they have been trapped in.

There are is another great Women’s Bean video found on our Helping Hand Rewards YouTube channel. It is a slightly more in-depth look at this great organization!