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Drawing near…

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 10:00 pm

My time in Peru is drawing to a close. I can’t believe how fast time has passed–wasn’t it just yesterday I was stumbling through Spanish introductions and speaking hesitantly to the ladies?

This week at Krochet Kids has been crazy. A shipment going out this Saturday means pulling late nights at the office (8 am to 10, 11pm sometimes) counting, sorting, tagging, bagging, sealing and boxing hundreds of hats, scarves, sweaters, shirts, and more. I am amazed at how close I feel to the people here, how quickly they became my family. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow along the way my heart got invested in each of these ladies, in their kids, in their stories. The first week of adjusting was difficult and all i wanted were the comforts of home, but now, more than anything, I wish I could stay and continue this journey with these people, to continue the daily grind that we all hope will be worth it in the end. That’s the best, and the worst thing about social enterprise. You never have any idea what is about to happen.

We have just begun the process of integrating and training 10 new ladies. They will train with Chabela, our in house knitting expert, mother figure, and one of my best friends and mentors here, for a month, have one on one mentoring sessions with the mentors, and be integrated with the other ladies once they finish their training. It was crazy and fascinating to see how fast and agile we were able to move in order to grow the program almost 30% in a week and a half-I got to be a part of the meeting where every detail of the process was decided in less than 45 minutes. Every decision is an exciting mix of risk, trust, aggression, discernment, and faith that it will somehow all work out. I think that’s one of the reasons why this line of work interests me so much. It’s quick, effective, exciting, and results are seen quickly, but that doesn’t mean you can disregard foresight either.

The new fall 2013 line of products we have been working hard on has been released…check it out here: www.krochetkids.org

Why do we do this?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 2:02 am

Throughout my time here I have been learning more about the importance of asking “why?” Not only do I learn a lot by asking this little three letter word, but it is the most important question to ask in the entrepreneurial process.

An interesting conversation between my boss and I came up one day on the car ride home. He was explaining to me the generational poverty that exists in the type of urban poverty we work with in that community, and how it is different from other types of poverty (for example, event related poverty–Haiti, northern Uganda–act differently than generational poverty and respond differently to the KKP model). I had never really thought to look at poverty this way. I, like most people, originally thought that poverty was just an overall lack of basic things, but it affects so much more than quality of life and day to day convenience and comfort. It affects the entire person-physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. He told me about an unexpected obstacle they’ve encountered in Lima that they didn’t in Uganda–the poverty mentality, he called it. This “poverty mentality”, has been created as a result of many things–generations of families living in poverty, not being able to educate their children, not being able to find jobs because of incomplete education–, NGOs that had good intentions–toys at Christmas, relief aid and other hand out type programs–but actually damage a community by making it dependent, materially and mentally, on the NGO, and other various unaccounted for variables.

He told me that sometimes they encounter with the ladies a “poverty mentality”, something that more or less sounds like “I’m poor, and you are a Western NGO, so you are supposed to help me and I am entitled to that help”. Krochet Kids is different than other NGOs in that we try to create opportunity, not just relief, not just economic success. The ladies get paid for their work, but sometimes we run into difficulties when different expectations collide. It is difficult to make decisions when trying to balance so many factors and systems–the ladies and their wages, orders from HQ for new products, samples being produced for the next season, yarn orders and inventory, post production, and the training of the 10 new ladies–and not prioritize some things more highly than others. It would be easy, if we were not an NGO, to do whatever it takes at whatever cost to meet every order on time. But that’s not what we are about. We have to continually ask ourselves, “why do we do this?” The answer is, and always will be, to empower these ladies to rise above their situation, their poverty. If that means being a couple days late on an order because one of our ladies is having a baby, or a batch of products were produced in the wrong color, so be it. The ladies are our priority–we aren’t going to fire workers because of inefficiency. However, it is not an easy change to make because it is not a decision that has needed to be made before.

This, unlike the video shoots and house visits, is a less glamorous part of the job, but was an important learning moment for me. I often have a simplistic, idealized concept of what this type of work should look like, and don’t always anticipate speed bumps. Not everyone who is poor thinks like this.

One can read books and study poverty, social enterprise, and entrepreneurship (I am), but there is no education quite like being here, interacting with these ladies, their families, working in their community, and learning from my boss and our model more everyday. Theories, models, studies…they’re all just words. But these ladies, these stories, this place, and this organization…this is real. This is empowerment. This is entrepreneurship. This is what change looks like.

 

And I am so excited that I get to be a part of it, and am gaining the knowledge and tools and passion to do more.

Home visit-Julia Gonzalez

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 1:16 am

Another opportunity I had was to visit the homes of a couple of the ladies with the film crew. I was excited to learn more about the process of visual storytelling, something I would like to be accomplished at myself, and also the chance to get to know the family and home behind Julia’s smiling face that I saw at work everyday.

Stray dogs run amok. Little kids laugh and play in the street. I try not to step in dog poo. The sounds and smells of lunch cooking drift through the air. These are the sights and smells of Pacifico, and my heart is filled with gratitude but is broken at the same time. This was my second trip to Pacifico, the first being a walking tour with the other interns, and with our big white van and handful of gringoes, you can imagine the stares we received. We pulled up on a Saturday morning, driving up a steep San Francisco reminiscent dirt hill crowded with poorly constructed houses. None of these homes have heat or running water, making its location right on the ocean undesirable. Pacifico has a certain beauty–the colorful wood panels of the houses contrasting against the gray washed sky above and muted dirt below, and the hills that overlook the ocean. Its location, above a magnificent bay, would be billion dollar property somewhere else, but here, it is the end of the line. Water arrives 2-3 times a week in a truck, ringing a bell signifying to the residents its arrival. The neighborhood residents run out of their homes with practiced precision and a touch of panic with large buckets and hoses–if they miss the water truck, they have no water to bathe, cook, or drink.

In the time we spent at Julia’s house, I learned a bit more about her story. She had come to Lima at 9 years old to work for a family member as a maid and was mistreated and abused, and went years without getting paid. She went about the house with quiet confidence, and I sensed her pride as she showed us the laundry machine and water tank she was able to buy because of her income working at Krochet Kids. We chatted while she cooked lunch, and I got to know her kids more, specifically, Jennifer, a sweet spirited 9 year old girl. We weren’t doing anything extraordinary, just making conversation and getting to know each other, but the normalcy with the way Julia treated us, a bunch of foreigners with cameras, was humbling. Once again I realized how lucky I am, and once again my desires and hopes and dreams of helping women like Julia overcome powerfully adverse situations were affirmed.

It was a glimpse into Julia’s life, a step deeper into the entrepreneurial dreams of my heart, and an experience I will not forget, not because of the things we were doing, but because of Julia, because of her story, and because I want to tell more stories like hers.

Here are pictures from that day: http://kristianachan.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/but-why/

A day in the field

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 12:56 am

One of the coolest things I got to do during this internship was assist in a video shoot for an upcoming promo spot. A video crew, 2 twenty somethings from California, came down for a few days and on the last day of shooting, the sun even came out (a rarity for winter in Lima. Though it never rains, it is always gray and overcast. Always.) That Sunday, we loaded up Hank, our not-so-trusty VW van with cameras, tripods, one of the bulky, heavy knitting machines, and 9 people and set off for a full day of shooting.

The day was spent traveling to different places in Lima–a picturesque plaza in the art district of Barranco, a barren plateau that has turned into a dump overlooking the district that Krochet Kids works in, a neighborhood soccer pitch, and Pacifico, the hilltop low income housing neighborhood where most of the ladies live and commute from everyday. This was such a treat for me–a sunny day, great subject matter, a VW van (always a life dream of mine), getting to shoot photos and video all day long, and learning more about the process of producing a video like this. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say what the video was about (it will be released in the next few months), but I can show you this video that Vans put out, made back in the spring, that I imagine will be similar in style. It was about their collaboration with KKP, and features pro surfer Leila Hurst.

Check it out–you will get to see where I work, the faces of all the wonderful ladies I get to work with, and hear the story of empowerment that we are trying to enable for each of them. It’s pretty awesome.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAWfkoxeQWQ

Also, if you want to see pictures from my intern’s day out, go here:http://kristianachan.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/lima/

Growth Spurt

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 2:52 pm

The more I learn about social enterprise and the model of business that Krochet Kids has established/continues establishing, the more I am surprised to realize how much structure in business and systems are needed, and with it, how much flexibility and creative thought is required. Business structure and flexible creativity; the two are not mutually exclusive, rather, they go hand in hand here. Because we are a non profit that works to serve and restore women from poverty, as well as a rapidly growing and expanding brand, the organization is divided into two main components: production and program.

Production is what it sounds like–all processes involving the actual products themselves (from designing, to prototyping, to training the ladies, quality control, post production, bagging and tagging and everything in between). Production offers economic relief from poverty–the ladies get paid per product, but Krochet Kids’ model is unique in that it seeks to holistically restore women from poverty-economically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The other side of Krochet Kids, program, aims to tackle these aspects of poverty through mentorship, training and classes (so far I’ve sat in on classes about contraception, personal budgeting, STD transmission, and goal setting), a much larger part of the process than I had originally anticipated.

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned in my time here so far is about how these two systems need to work together, and how they drive different decision making priorities that need to find a common synergy. The most recent and dramatic example I can think of is we recently received an order from another major brand, and it’s our largest order to date. Looking at current production outputs with 28 ladies in our production line, we quickly realized that we didn’t have enough to fill this order–or even later orders of our current collection. An executive decision was made to hire 10 new ladies–a huge growth spurt for Krochet Kids considering that after 2 years we are at our largest with 28 ladies.

From a production standpoint, we needed to hire these ladies ASAP. But from the program standpoint, seeking to find quality workers as well as good candidates for the program and restoration, so many factors had to be considered that ideally the process would take a month. We settled on a having the new ladies in a week and a half. (More about that process in the next post!) My boss, the country director of the entire effort here, explained to me how these growing pains are very much a part of this type of social entrepreneurship, and the tension between expanding the brand and ensuring a quality program of what we are trying to do. Growing pains indeed–the Peru division of Krochet Kids here is not even 2 years old, but appears to be 6-7 years old, like a third grader reading at an eighth grade level, still stumbling over words as they expand their vocabulary and encounter larger and more challenging words, but impressive all the same.

Krochet Kids International–a brand with a plan

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 4:36 pm

Sorry for the tardiness of this post–it’s been sitting in my drafts for over a week now. Oops.

My experience at Krochet Kids so far has been dizzying, exciting, and eye-opening. Meeting and getting to know the ladies behind the products and brand, adjusting to the time and cultural difference from my previous trip to Kenya (see blog post here), retraining my brain to understand and speak Spanish, and learning more and more every day about this quickly growing social enterprise–

The morning after I arrived, I went to work in the Chorillos district of Lima–pretty close to the outskirts of town. The Krochet Kids office is situated just outside Pacifico, a large low-income housing neighborhood where the majority of the program’s beneficiaries live. Some would call it a “slum” or “shanty town” as many of the houses are poorly constructed with plastic or tin roofs, and none have running water. It was interesting to see that just on the opposite side of the hill was the ocean, a large beautiful bay that lay completely undeveloped. It could easily be a multi million dollar property anywhere in the states, but is undesirable in Lima because close proximity to the ocean makes for much colder, damper conditions in already under insulated homes without heating.

My responsibilities at the office vary day to day–oftentimes in the mornings we quality control products turned in by the ladies the day before, and do little tasks that need to be done in the afternoon (sewing trims, payroll, inventory, getting things ready for a big shipment). I’ve learned so much already, about this enterprise and their model, the growing pains of a quickly expanding business and social enterprise trying to balance programming (financial training, mentorship, etc.) while increasing its variety of products and overall brand power. My boss knows that I have an interest in photography, art, and graphics, so this week I’ve been working on some graphics-related assignments in creating the technical packs for the ladies–instructions with diagrams and measurements for each product and how they’re made, in English and Spanish. My other tasks for the week include designing and creating a fake currency system for the program mentors to use in financial training on a rewards system, designing a mural for a blank wall in the office, assisting on photo shoots, and continuing compiling and designing the instruction packs.

Quite a full plate. I’ll let you know how all that goes.

Ciao,
Kristi

 

Krochet Kids International-Peru

Monday, June 10, 2013 1:30 pm

Buenos dias, fellow bloggers.

My name is Kristi Chan, and I’m a rising junior at WFU, a studio art major with entrepreneurship/social enterprise and international studies minors.

As I type this, I’m sitting on a plane en route to Lima, Peru, where I will live and work for the rest of the summer with an organization called Krochet Kids International. I couldn’t be more excited to embark on this next adventure, although I am bracing myself for major jet-lag whiplash. Just three days ago I was flying out of Nairobi, Kenya, where I had been working with another start up social enterprise, Uhuru Child. To say I’ve been bitten by the travel bug is a bit of an understatement.

The story of this company begins with three college guys who wanted to make a difference. In high school, they had a small business making snowboarding hats and beanies, calling themselves the krochet kids. Long story short, they founded the non profit in 2008, and began teaching women in Uganda how to knit and crochet hats, educating them about business and finance, and employing them with a fair wage. The business has expanded since then, operating now in Peru and producing a wider range of products, growing from 10 beneficiaries to over 150 in both countries. One of my favorite things about this organization is the personal touch on their products–each hat’s label is signed by the woman who made it, and consumers can go online to read their story, as well as write them a thank you note.

Check out the power of a thank you here<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/UHr7-_B03P4″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

The name of my position in Peru is “Production Assistant and Operations Manager”–a fancy title that still doesn’t tell me much about exactly what I will be doing just yet. I know I will be working with the women there, and I so look forward to building relationships with them and learning more about this model of social entrepreneurship. Couldn’t be more thankful for this opportunity.
More to come soon!

Ciao for now,

Kristi

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