I have been in Guatemala since February 5th working with our Sharing the Dream staff. We've had many meetings with artisans, other NGO’s (non-government organizations) staff, the board, and people who have heard of us and drop by for a meeting.
I have been thinking about many of these meetings and the philosophy of Sharing the Dream. When I meet with people they sometimes ask me if my background is in business or design. When I answer that it is in neither, it is in counseling, they sometimes look at me perplexed.
When I encounter some of the fair trade NGOs and businesses here in Guatemala, I see that their main goal is to grow and bring in more money I am not faulting this, but I believe that Sharing the Dream is different. Coming from a non-business background, I try to ensure that when we work with our artisans we are actively fostering sustainability. For us, the artisans come first and not the profit. A few of these large Fair Trade organizations call the people they work with "producers." In contrast, we call the groups we work with “artisans."
Many of these organizations have designers that are not based in Guatemal, and some of these designers have never even met with their “producers." When this happens, the organization usually owns the design and the “producers” can’t sell it for several years. I understand this. Because they are paying a lot for the designs, they can’t have anyone copying it and need to sell it. We need these organizations because they are giving work to hundreds of people.
Sharing the Dream is smaller and our philosophy is to work with the groups so they can learn how to design their own products and market them to anyone. If we believe in sustainability for the people here we must work this way. The Sharing the Dream staff offers workshops to our groups on design, quality, marketing and other things that will help them move on the continuum line to sustainability. The greatest success we can have is when one of the groups we work with does not need us because they can do their own designing and marketing. Let me tell you this takes years and years, it doesn’t happen overnight.
We want Sharing the Dream to be sustainable too, so there has to be a business aspect. We are fortunate to have two boards that help with this goal. We have a great board in the U.S and they make sure we are always in the black. We have a wonderful board here in Guatemala made up of artisans and other interested people. We just had a board meeting last week. I will include a photos of that meeting. This board is remarkable too as they have good ideas on how we need to move forward.
I am so proud of our staff, boards, and volunteers here and in the U.S. They “get” it and it is making a huge difference to the artisans.
The people we work with are artists, and we need to treat them as such.