Theresa VanderMeer is one of the founders of Work Shelter. Theresa describes herself as an american professional interested in development economics, what it means to be human, and the endless list of troubles in this world that need improving. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, a former Amnesty International intern and a social entrepreneur. She deeply identifies with the statement, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
Her organization, WORK+SHELTER creates safe spaces across India where women in need can come to live and work.
W+S encourages self-reliance amongst its female stakeholders while promoting hands-on training and capacity building. At W+S women are taught to use the skills they have or develop new ones, and contribute to the success of the organization by effectively filling their role within the larger production process. Apparel and accessories produced by the women are then sold to overseas markets.
Why Women? Why India? According to the World Bank, India is home to nearly 1/3 of the global poor. In some Indian states, as much as 70% of the population suffer deficits in health, education, and living standards (HDR 2011). Further, women compromise 70% of the world’s poor (ILO). WORK+SHELTER is working to change that. WORK+SHELTER focuses on women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation.
Fundamentally, the organization provides women in India with fair-trade work and, should they need it, a safe place to live with their dependents. Each shelter has a physical location where activities are centralized. At our pilot, W+S New Delhi, women are entered into our paid training program where we teach them the skills to create high-quality products for the export market. The only entry prerequisite work shelter has is demonstrated economic need. When the woman completes training and begins to produce for the export market, Work Shelter increases her pay. The women are paid whether or not the products sells.
Beyond work and shelter, Work Shelter regularly confers with the women to ensure their other key needs are met. For example, at W+S New Delhi leaders are currently assisting one stakeholder to find medical support for her kidney problems. work Shelter also actively supports the women to ensure children in their family are in school. They are aware of each woman’s unique challenges and actively work with them to overcome them together.