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Opportunity International had loans out to over 675,000 poor clients at the end of 2004. 98 per cent of all repayments in the year were made on time or within 30 days, and it is estimated that more than 1.2 million jobs were created or sustained from these loans, which were provided at market interest rates.
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Insanity, Entrepreneurship and A World Of Good
Priya Haji
United StatesGALLERYCONVERSATION
It is clear to me that my gift is the ability to bring people together. I can envision something that doesn’t exist, and gather the people and the resources to make it happen - -to build a bridge between what is and what could be.

This process of creating, of starting a business, feels very close to the creative process that artists describe when they’re painting or constructing a piece of art. There’s a point at which the project begins to gain momentum, and it pulls me forward until I feel that, even though I have a creative role to play, it’s no longer necessarily a generative one because what I’ve created has taken on a momentum and a life all on its own. This visionary quality may be the property of artists, the insane, and entrepreneurs—and who knows, maybe I’m a little bit of each.

In keeping with my entrepreneurial spirit, I co-founded - and now run - a company called World of Good. World of Good works with artisan cooperatives, NGOs and nonprofits in developing countries to bring beautiful handcrafted goods to the US market. Our aim is to promote fair trade in communities that have traditionally been subject to economic exploitation. We also reinvest a portion of our profits into projects that aid in the development of these same communities.

World of Good got started because I knew I wanted to work on an idea for a company that would have a positive social impact, but be inherently market driven in its structure. There is always, in the non profit world, this bifurcation of energy. Production and excitement have to run in two directions at once – towards the donors and towards the beneficiaries. My goal was to build something that was socially conscious but that played in one direction, so that we could generate our revenue and our good simultaneously.

Not only is there this cohesive focus of energy, but the World of Good model is challenging the way that business is done. If we provide real, concrete aid which helps the artisans that we work with help themselves, that is an undeniably powerful thing. But there’s the potential there for even greater power if it sparks a change in the way that the entire industry functions, so that other companies who sell handmade goods will start paying better wages and ensuring better working conditions. World of Good has created a whole system - just like with Fair Trade coffee and tea, where there is a clear set of certification methods – we have a concrete system for determining a fair price for labor from country to country. We’ve also made this system, the Fair Trade Pricing Calculator, available online, and we’re working on establishing Fair Trade standards for handmade goods. We want to stimulate the change in behavior of other companies through competition; that’s the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do.

The majority of our consumers are women, and when they purchase from World of Good, they’re really supporting other women. Seventy to eighty percent of the people making these crafts are women, and these women are frequently the sole provider in their homes. In buying Fair Trade, American women are linked and connected to a global network of women in a really powerful way, through repetitive, everyday acts. And women in particular are really behind this movement of how to make consumerism more conscious, not only in terms of consumer products but also in a number of other industries.

What’s been most surprising to me throughout this whole process is the number of people with whom the idea behind World of Good resonates with right away. So many people have said to me “You took the idea right out of my head.” And while I think that World of Good makes intuitive sense, the truth is that I never really thought I would go into business - I was actually planning on going to medical school. I was a pre med student in college, and I began helping my dad to start a free medical clinic. It was during that process that I realized I had an ability to organize and put things together. Still, I come from a family of physicians and for the longest time I had assumed that I would be one too. My father’s clinic really took off – in fact, it’s still thriving – and so is my commitment to social activism.

In 1992, I was a senior at Stanford University and living in East Palo Alto when drug turf wars led to the murder of 42 people in the City of East Palo Alto. The media called it "the murder capital of the U.S., and there was a tremendous, glaring need in the community for a program that could create positive, long-lasting change. There were no treatment programs and absolutely no access to alternate sentencing. Basically incarceration was being prescribed as a unilateral solution, as it has been in so many Latino and African American communities in the U.S.

So with the help of a former convict and the use of a payphone I started a non-profit called Free at Last, which ultimately brought great things to the community: mobile health clinics, affordable housing, economic development and counseling to thousands of people. I know my parents thought I was crazy – I think it’s very common to the immigrant experience that parents don’t really know what to make of their children when they deviate from the path of traditional over achiever and become non-traditional over achievers – but from Free at Last I went to business school. I wanted the opportunity to think freely - and I really needed a vacation. Besides, I wanted to study some of the things that I had learned by doing, and I wanted to understand the for-profit world of ideas - how you harness the power of the market in order to create something. World of Good is the result of that ‘vacation,’ and of the power of the market, too.
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Sasanna Yee (United States)
Hi Priya,
I loved reading your inspirational story. I definitely relate to the fact that immigrant parents think it is crazy for their children to take non-traditional paths. But that is how the world progresses. We just have to keep it going in the right direction. I believe in the direction you are going. Keep up the amazing work!
Sasanna Yee (United States)
Hi Priya,
I loved reading your inspirational story. I definitely relate to the fact that immigrant parents think it is crazy for their children to take non-traditional paths. But that is how the world progresses. We just have to keep it going in the right direction. I believe in the direction you are going. Keep up the amazing work!
Sasanna Yee (United States)
Hi Priya,
I loved reading your inspirational story. I definitely relate to the fact that immigrant parents think it is crazy for their children to take non-traditional paths. But that is how the world progresses. We just have to keep it going in the right direction. I believe in the direction you are going. Keep up the amazing work!
Sasanna Yee (United States)
Hi Priya,
I loved reading your inspirational story. I definitely relate to the fact that immigrant parents think it is crazy for their children to take non-traditional paths. But that is how the world progresses. We just have to keep it going in the right direction. I believe in the direction you are going. Keep up the amazing work!
Sasanna Yee (United States)
Hi Priya,
I loved reading your inspirational story. I definitely relate to the fact that immigrant parents think it is crazy for their children to take non-traditional paths. But that is how the world progresses. We just have to keep it going in the right direction. I believe in the direction you are going. Keep up the amazing work!
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