By John Bush The Lima News, Ohio
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Trades of Hope" is a fair-trade certified company that partners with artisan groups in 16 countries to help impoverished women create better lives for themselves and their families.
When Bluffton resident Joanna Gratz decided to search the Internet for ways to help others, she had no idea it would lead to a life-changing mission that not only set the course for her own life, but for countless other women in the U.S. and abroad who are victims of sex trafficking, abuse and extreme poverty.
The stay-at-home mom is a compassionate entrepreneur with Trades of Hope, a fair-trade certified company that empowers women by providing them with sustainable business opportunities.
The organization partners with artisan groups in 16 countries to help these impoverished women create a better life for themselves and their families.
"Our artisans don't lack ability; they lack opportunity," Gratz said. "So Trades of Hope is giving them this opportunity to have their own businesses and be their own boss. It provides hope to these women, and when you have that, you feel like anything is possible."
With partnerships in the U.S. and countries such as India, Haiti, Cambodia and more, Trades of Hope allows women to create and sell items they make with their own two hands. While they predominately sell jewelry items, their inventory also includes home decor, scarves and handbags, as well as other items for men and women.
Compassionate entrepreneurs then sell their items at home parties, online or during community events. Artisans set their own prices and are paid 100 percent of what they ask for up-front.
"Their income is not dependant on what I do," Gratz said. "Really what I do is help spread the mission of Trades of Hope, share the products and share the artisans' stories."
Since the artisans set their own price points, most of them are able to make four to six times what they would normally take home if they sold the same items at local markets.
"In Haiti, for example, the typical average wage for a day would be anywhere from $1 to $3," Gratz said. "Our artisans never leave without making $15 a day."
Though $15 a day may not seem like much, it is life-changing money for Haitian women. To put this in perspective, Gratz asked people to imagine how much their lifestyle would improve if they made three times what they make today.
While the typical American may use that extra money to pay off debts or purchase a larger house, women in impoverished countries put the money toward basic necessities that many people take for granted.
"It allows them to do some things they only dreamed of, like sending their kids to school, purchasing the medications they need or even buying basic things like food," she said.
Given their circumstances, these women are also quite resourceful. Some items most people throw away, such as cereal boxes, are used to make bracelet beads.
"When you see the bracelet, you'd never guess that it was made from cereal boxes," Gratz said. "It's so gorgeous, and it's made from something most of us would discard into the trash. But they turn it into business opportunities."
What Gratz said she enjoys most about working with Trades of Hope is sharing each woman's story with people who otherwise may be unaware of the circumstances they face.
"I love knowing that each of the pieces we have has a personal story behind it," she said. "I feel like the piece represents that woman."
Gratz said it's also important to distinguish Trades of Hope from a charity.
"Charities are wonderful as a short-term solution, but providing sustainable business opportunities is something that can truly end their poverty," she said. "It's a long-term solution to a long-term problem."
It's also easier to track the success of women who partner with Trades of Hope, Gratz said. They report back to the organization, and compassionate entrepreneurs often visit the countries where they operate. Success stories from women in each country can be found on the artisan page of the Trades of Hope website, tradesofhope.com.
"We can see firsthand the difference we're making," she said. "I could tell you so many stories of how lives are changing. And as their lives are changing, they are becoming more respected in their communities. People are realizing these women have something to contribute, so it's just amazing to see."
Trades of Hope's success is also evident in the company's growth since it was founded nearly seven years ago. Gratz said the number of compassionate entrepreneurs has skyrocketed from 10 to 4,000 during that time. The number of countries it operates in has also grown, and the company plans to expand into Pakistan in the near future.
The ultimate goal, Gratz said, is to partner with artisans in even more countries and to open up schools in each of those areas.
"I don't see Trades of Hope going away; I only see it getting bigger," she said. "It's just in the infancy stages right now, and I think as the word gets out, it's going to spread like wildfire. "
As the company grows, Gratz plans to grow with it. She said the experience has been humbling, and "the biggest blessing in my life besides being a mom."
"I feel so fulfilled," she said. "This is an opportunity that I really feel blessed to be a part of. I have two little girls, so I want them to know the world is bigger than Bluffton.
There's people out there that need other people to help them and give them opportunities. So it's up to us to find our niche, and find where you're going to make a difference in the world.
"We are all called to do something, so this was my something. It was what I could do to make the world better place, and to use the gifts God has given me."
And to think, this all started with a simple Internet search and a desire to lend a helping hand to those who need it most.