WHO IS THERESA CARRINGTON?
“What I didn’t know or realize is that that farm [I grew up in] was uniquely equipping me to understand what it’s like to live below the poverty line, to have an opportunity presented, and what can become of your life when you make the most of that opportunity.”
Would you be willing to give up everything you have, and go into debt, to help some of the most impoverished people in the world? Would your answer change if I told you that you had to jump off that cliff without knowing exactly how you’d go about helping those people?
This is exactly what my guest for the 120th episode of the Terms of Reference Podcast did when she founded the Blessing Basket Project – an organization inspired by the small acts of kindness shown to her when life didn’t work out as expected in 2002. Now, years later, Theresa Carrington and the Blessing Basket project has not only helped thousands of women, but created a system for identifying, supporting and ensuring that women entrepreneurs break out of poverty, into prosperity.
Theresa is my kind of entrepreneur – she jumped head first into solving the problem she identified without knowing anything about the business of helping those in need. She’s brought along some of the voices of the people she’s helped and works with as extra inspiration for the show.
You can connect with Theresa here:
IN TOR 120 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Theresa’s powerful origins, inextricably linked to poverty, but also to taking advantage of the opportunities and support people give.
- About BBP’s strict quality assurance on their alumni, from the selection process to the long term, accompanying their failures, and pioneering “prosperity wages,” considerably higher than average
- The flak she met, the level of commitment Theresa endured, and the outstanding success and impact BBP had in a sustainable way out of poverty for BBP’s hundreds of artisans.
- The Artisan In You technology, built from the ground up, that provides accountability and human interaction between North American buyers and the artisan whose lives they changed.
- Theresa’s future of “sensible scaling” and how awareness of good ideas is the most important thing.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Blessing Baskets Project
- Washington University in St. Louis
- What Went Wrong?
- UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC)
- Libby Powell, In Our Radar
- Poverty, line of
- Prosperity wage
- Entrepreneurship, failure
- St. Louis, MO
- Kampala, Uganda
- Khulna, Bangladesh
- Papua New Guinea
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Blessing Baskets Project Founder
(Voices of BBP country directors from Uganda and Bangladesh).
The voices we heard were from “real heroes.” BBP country directors make sure entrepreneurs are successful in their work.
BBP works through an artisan development model. It carefully chooses entrepreneurs and “graduates them from poverty.”
Artisans must launch three businesses during their cycle with BBP.
“Prosperity wage” model allows them to take care of their families with their businesses.
I have a feeling that we’re not in Missouri anymore
“We’re uniquely equipped to accomplish something in life.”
Theresa is adopted, born below the poverty line on a Kansas farm. “Why?”
She left as young as she could, living on her own since 16 years old.
“What I didn’t know or realize is that that farm was uniquely equipping me to understand what it’s like to live below the poverty line, to have an opportunity presented, and what can become of your life when you make the most of that opportunity.”
Theresa had a soft spot for farming and country life.
BPP was born out of tragedy. 1999, was raising two young children, “then life fell apart.”
She felt she could not go on. At home, she found a basket full of letter. “I need to give back to them.” She called it the “blessing basket.”
“I knew I could not pay them back. But I could pay it forward.”
BPP is Theresa’s way of paying forward.
BPP works in 7 countries.
They located a group of people, they filter them through a “selector” (patent pending).
They earn the “prosperity wage” significantly high, along with training and technology.
“We check up on those people as they go through their journey out of poverty.”
BPP has an online store and retail locations all over U.S. and Canada.
Over USD 2MM in sales accrued in the past year.
20% of the revenue comes from grants.
Baskets and other items go from $10 to above $150.
What makes Theresa different
“We put the artisan first. We make sure artisans earn as much as possible.”
Heavily criticized model. “We put money right in their hands, and give a lot.”
Theresa can tell the exact time the artisans go above poverty. “It takes three businesses. The first one will fail.”
BBP makes sure they stay with the entrepreneur through their bankruptcies. “We know what happens in their families.”
BBP incorporates the emotional life, both in the shame of failure and in the dreaming.
Entrepreneurship is unbound. “As long as resources are channeled into their lives.”
We take people out, no apologies
BBP works with about 3,500 artisans at a time.
Annually, about 500 enter. Some, not a lot, leave. Careful screening, low turnover (3%).
People stay in BBP for an average of 8 years. “2010 was our first graduation class, with 25 people.”
Sometimes people leave because they are ready by themselves. “Self-exiters.”
People willing to go through and receive a graduation. “Graduated out.”
Churning depends on the country. “It’s a number I don’t pay a lot of attention to.” Ghana has been probably worst offender, with 200 kicked out over 13 years.
Kick out criteria involves product quality, reliability and three strikes. “If your product is faulty, it’s because you are not trying hard enough. And if you don’t try hard enough it’s because you don’t need it hard enough.”
Unruly behavior is considered, but no cases have occurred.
A monthly container ships from the country.
Slots are precious. “We give a pathway out of poverty, but exit is earned.”
This is not a handout. It is about accountability.
“This is not forever. This is no gravy train.”
Getting close to the 3-5 year mark, the entrepreneur is evaluated.
(Voice clip: basket weaver girls at school).
People building houses. “It was a raw moment.” They were sturdy, made of bricks.
“That was when I saw we were onto something.”
Zinc rooves are a tell of BBP’s presence.
A 14 year old, illiterate wife in Bangladesh could not have children. Victim of spouse abuse. She left him. With BBP, she went from making USD 1 per basket with a middleman to USD 12.
“She’s now finishing her brick house.”
She has goats and a rice plantation to her own name, an ordeal for a Bangladeshi woman.
She was with BBP for only 3 years.
‘What does it feel to know you’ll never go hungry again’
BBP has created a sustainable exit strategy from poverty.
They developed an “Artisan In You” technology.
Theresa wanted a way to connect an American buyer with the maker, the person whose life they are changing.
There was a “product representation problem.” Theresa thought: “people deserve to know the story of the people they are raising out of poverty.”
The artisan face goes in the item. Buyers can log into a platform where they can find updates and sign up for alerts on the artisan. They can even communicate and trade correspondence, which BBP translates.
AIY was built from the ground up.
A model, a market, a platform. What else?
In the next 5 years, awareness. “Sharing what we know.” Promoting good ideas, models is worthwhile by itself.
Paying into society what artisans and BBP have done and learned.
“We want to see our model rolled out in impoverished communities in the United States.”
Working with Washington University in St. Louis.
“Many countries and artisans on our waiting list.” Some sensible scaling is due “but not for the sake of growing.”
“I launched this organization on credit cards. I literally sold everything I owned.” Jewels, furniture. She held garage auctions.
She had “everything on the line” at work.
“I don’t recommend this to anyone. It ravaged me financially.”
“I was firmly convinced if I was going to enter into aid, a place I knew nothing about, I had to do it better than anyone else by giving everything I had.”
“As I was not formally trained on all the rules, on poverty eradication, I broke all of the rules.”
“I’m still trying to repair my life financially from those days, 13 years ago.”
UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC).
UNAOC & BMW’s Intercultural Innovation Award winners, past and present.
Theresa is a “ferocious online news reader.”
Libby Powell [TOR 116] fan.
Ghana’s What Went Wrong?
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