I discovered this inspiring enterprise by chance while visiting a fabulous EcoLiving Fair run by my local council. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to interview Anna Jolly, Volunteer Engagement Manager at Carpets for Communities, for Kindness by Design!
Q. What sparked the idea to form Carpets for Communities?
Our Founding Director, David Bacon, was volunteering in Bangkok back in 2004, and crossed the Thai/Cambodian border at Poipet (where CfC is based) every few months to renew his visa. Each time, he was shocked by the level of poverty in the region, and particularly disturbed by the numbers of children begging and participating in child labour activities. Ultimately, Dave felt he couldn’t leave without trying to help. After speaking with the community, he realized the best way to get the kids back into school was by ensuring their families had a stable, reliable income, so the kids no longer needed to beg/work to help support their families.
After testing a few different models and ideas, the idea for carpets was sparked based on the recyclable materials that could be sourced in bulk in the area (cotton t-shirt offcuts from a local garment factory and hessian rice bags).
Q. Can you tell us about your involvement with the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand? Why is this important to you?
Our registration with FTANZ is one of our fundamental organizational values, it is extremely important to us. We uphold FTANZ values firstly by providing a fair price for the participants in the project and safe working conditions. We ensure the wages our mothers receive is enough to sustain their families in the absence of any of their children participating in child labour activities. This is a vital component in achieving our ultimate goal of educating children.
We are also committed to environmentally sustainable production, and use 100% recycled materials (t-shirt off-cuts and rice bags).
Q. Which ethical designers are inspiring you right now?
We recently developed a partnership with the design school of RMIT University in Melbourne and were so inspired by their work. Check out their beautiful one of a kind fair trade cushions here!
Q. What makes your carpets a great choice for ethically-minded shoppers?
By purchasing you’re really creating a ripple effect in the Poipet community. All profits from sales go toward fair wages and also microloans which allow families in the community to set up their own microenterprise. These microenterprises allow the families to generate a stable income, meaning the children are no longer required to help support their families financially and can be returned to school.
We also direct profits from sales toward our Child Friendly Schools program where we work with school staff and the broader school community to ensure that once we get the children back into school, they receive a quality education in an engaging environment.
Q. Why did you decide to focus your efforts on women, and mothers in particular?
Women’s empowerment has proved to be a strong, and sustainable, solution to poverty time and time again, and the intergenerational impacts of working with mothers in particular are too impressive to ignore. When mothers bring the income into the household, 90% of that income is invested into healthcare and education for the entire family, meaning the kids’ wellbeing is lifted instantly. By comparison, when men are the key breadwinner, just 30-40% of the income is invested into these things. For both CfC and myself personally, we find it hard to argue for a more effective, and sustainable, poverty eradication solution than women’s empowerment.
Q. How can my readers become involved?
There are a number of ways! The easiest is of course to purchase a rug! Check them out online, as well as at weekend markets throughout Australia.
Being an entirely volunteer-run organization in Australia, we are always in need of more volunteers as well. There are a variety of volunteer opportunities, including market stall volunteers, fundraiser event volunteers, retail coordinators etc. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Q. What does the future hold for Carpets for Communities?
We are also creating a centralized work space for our mothers to work in, accompanied by a day care centre where their youngest children will be taken care of whilst they work. We will also be running a number of community projects out of the centre (for example, community English classes) so we can broaden our reach within the community.