Theresa Carrington: The Blessing Basket Project
This past Thursday, Y’s Thoughts was lucky enough to host philanthropist Theresa Carrington and hear her speak about how her experiences with adversity equipped her to create The Blessing Basket Project. The Blessing Basket Project is a nonprofit organization designed to lift women in third-world countries out of poverty by paying prosperity wages directly to artisans and encouraging them to pursue entrepreneurship within their communities. The program has received several awards, most notably from the UN as one of its ten Intercultural Innovation Award finalists.
Carrington was inspired to create The Blessing Basket Project when, after personal tragedy, she began keeping encouraging notes and pictures from loved ones in a basket that she used for daily inspiration. When women she spoke with at conferences started requesting their own ‘blessing basket’, she sought to create a better way to connect artisans and customers, while assisting artisans living under the poverty line to create a sustainable living. After more than a year of research, and Carrington investing all of her personal savings in the project, The Blessing Basket Project was born.
The Blessing Basket Project is notable for not only its direct path between artisans and consumers (there is no middleman), but also for its Graduate Poverty model, used to promote entrepreneurship as a sustainable source of income for the impoverished. Carrington’s project begins with the selection of artisans in every village she visits—while the Project started out very small, it quickly attracted more and more attention from locals as word spread about how her system was improving the lives of participating artisans. In some villages, over 100 women would show up to her information sessions, when only 13 slots for artisans were available. With the help of a former WashU student, Carrington developed a selective algorithm based on a series of 15 questions. The algorithm would help determine which women, if chosen as artisans would be most likely to start small businesses and hire other women in the village, thus promulgating entrepreneurship within the community and spreading wealth.
Each artisan selected is given all the materials needed to create baskets, including straw and dye, saving them over half a day of travel time. Once their baskets are finished, they are tagged with Blessing Basket’s patent-pending Artisan&You technology. The tag on the basket not only includes a picture of the artisan who made it, but also a unique code which allows the consumer to learn more about the artisan and communicate with her through the Blessing Basket website. This encourages the intercultural friendships that the Blessing Basket Project is so renowned for, promoting interactions that Carrington often refers to as “the first step to peace”.
The baskets are sold using the prosperity model, which means that the basket is sold at 2.5x the local fair trade price, and the money is given directly to the artisan. Over time, Carrington hopes to graduate each artisan from poverty by encouraging artisans to use their wages to start small local businesses, buy land, raise farm animals, etc. This model ensures that artisans develop a long-term method of earning income, and will always be able to provide for themselves and their families, even after The Blessing Basket Project leaves their village. The Blessing Basket Project’s Graduate From Poverty model has already improved the standards of living for over 3,000 women in 6 different countries (Uganda, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia) and are hoping to earn enough financing to expand into new countries soon.
When asked about how she made Blessing Basket successful, founder Theresa Carrington says: “I think my adversity in my early life uniquely equipped me to help these women in a way nobody else could.” She believes that her difficult childhood and her foster home experiences helped her understand what it felt like to be in a situation beyond her control, and thus made it easier to empathize with the circumstances of the impoverished women in third-world countries that she was trying to help. The daily adversities she faced as a child and a single mother gave her the courage to directly address many of the conflicts she faced while running Blessing Basket, such as the theft of $27,000 from the organization by four supposed local partners she’d been working with, which she was eventually able to regain. She also attributed her success to her own self-sacrifice—when starting Blessing Basket, she sold all of her personal belongings with any value to fund the early stages of the nonprofit, which demonstrated to her investors that she had put everything on the line for this project, and would not let it fail. “You have to put skin in the game,” Carrington emphasized, “to show people you’re serious. If you show that you can’t afford to let something fail, people will believe that you won’t let it fail.”