Meet the SHEROES - Kristin Braddock
Muhammad Yunus often known as the banker to the poor always said, 'If you go out into the real world, you cannot miss seeing that the poor are poor not because they are untrained or illiterate but because they cannot retain the returns of their labour'. Quite rightly so!
Today we share the story of Sewing New Futures, an initiative started by Kristin Braddock, where they believe they can change futures one stitch at a time...
What does your company do?
Sewing New Futures is a social enterprise that works with ‘backwards caste’ communities that have traditionally engaged in prostitution. At our pilot center in Najafgarh on the outskirts of New Delhi, marginalized women have access to paid training and production related to sewing, appliqué, and textiles. Sewing New Futures pays fair wages to the women to sew products as an alternative employment to prostitution. We function as both a for-profit business as well as a non-profit trust. This unique hybrid model allows the business to be driven by its social benefit model. Through this model it relies on profits from sales as well as grants and donations from funding sources in order to expand to serve more women from our target group.
How did you decide to enter this field of work?
I didn't plan on starting a social enterprise. I originally came to India in 2010 and then I quit my job in corporate America for an unpaid job for at an anti-sex trafficking NGO. I planned to stay a year, and then go to law school. In the Fall of 2011, I went on a field visit to Najafgarh where the NGO I worked with ran a centre. We had an event for the kids that day to encourage education and literacy. One of the women, during the event invited me into her home for chai. I grabbed two of the staff members, to come with me. After we left, the field staff asked me to come back the next day- it turned out the staff had some trouble initially getting invited into their homes but when they came with a foreigner it was easier.
Thus, began a year of my getting to know the Perna community. I learned how they are at risk to be exploited to a life of prostitution. No one bought them and sold them. But, because of their scheduled caste status, for years of being treated like, “criminals” and “less than” in order to survive they marry their daughters at a young age (around 14), and after the birth of their first child, the in-laws/new husbands would drive them to more populated areas of Delhi (such as Uttam Nagar close by) where they would be forced to sleep with men for money. It was a cycle driven by the basic need to survive. Above all I heard the women express again and again their desire for other employment and how they wanted another life for their daughters. They showed me homemade blankets, and things they had made. Although, flawed, I thought with guidance people would pay for these “handmade ideas” especially with the story behind the product. I began working with a few women as a side project by selling the products through a friend’s store. They were sold within days. When the NGO I worked with didn't want to further any income generation activities- 10 women from the community, Priyanka and Monika (the field staff at my previous NGO) decided to quit and form Sewing New Futures during Spring 2014.
What are the top 3 challenges you face in this line of work?
1. Funding. 2. Production challenges with training "un-skilled workers" 3. Understaffed (back to funding)
What advice would you give women with careers today?
You just have to start and then keep going. There have been times when I have no idea how we are making it through the next month and then we just hustle it through and some months are wonderful. With every up and down you just keep working.