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#2 Small Steps, Big Impact Von Petra Zlatevska

22.07.2016

This three-part blog series, curated especially for NATIVES, explores the rise of the social entrepreneur, profiles a Berlin-based social business and illuminates the future of this way of working.

ORDINARY PEOPLE DOING EXTRAORDINARY THINGS 

ABURY’s founder first lived in Morocco after deciding to renovate an old Riad, a traditional Moroccan guesthouse. “I fell in love with the country and saw Berber women and men in the village passionately making leather bags, carving and cutting them into shape. I knew I needed to make sure other people around the world knew the stories behind the bags and give these timeless crafts a new lease of life”, says Andrea. 

Since its creation in 2011, ABURY bridges that critical gap between ancient knowledge and modern trends. Its social business model is based on a 50/50 profit sharing model: 50 per cent of the profits are invested into the ABURY business through sales from the online shop and distribution channels in Europe and the US. The remaining 50 per cent are re-invested into local projects in the region through the ABURY Foundation. “Paying people fairly for their work is not enough—it may make their daily lives easier, but does not help them buy a new sewing machine or enable them to finance their children’s education. It’s our responsibility to support local communities through collaboration and not dependency”. 

Part of the sales profits have funded three international designers from Brazil, France and Spain to live with local families in two geographically and culturally diverse regions: Africa and South America. In Morocco, Berber families create and cut traditional Moroccan leather carry bags, with iPad pouches, clutches and wallets recently introduced to the collection driven by demand from Europe. In Ecuador, Quechua women sew alpaca and wool jumpers, scarves and gloves from  hand-spun wool. It is a symbiotic exchange: the designers learn ancient handicrafts from the local artisans and in turn, advise the artisans on quality management and international design trends.  In Morocco, the ABURY Foundation funded a village solar pump in 2012, and in 2013 built a new school for 29 women and 25 children, teaching them basic literacy and numeracy skills.

In 2014 ABURY exceeded six year sales figures, and counts international fashion designer Donna Karan as one of its fans. It recently received endorsement from the German UNESCO Commission for its innovative social business model to preserve “intangible cultural world heritage”: heritage elements that cannot be physically seen (unlike natural landscapes or ancient buildings) but that demonstrate the diversity of the world’s cultures and raise awareness about their importance (as part of the UNESCO 2003 Convention on Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage). 

“Our social enterprise is scalable because as the UNESCO Convention shows, traditions and cultural heritage are disappearing all around the world,” says Kolb.

Part three coming soon.

This article was written by guest author, Petra Zlatevska.

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