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BSA event brings fair trade to campus

Posted on 04.10.2013

Handbags crafted by Tsunami survivors in Thailand, jewelry created by mentally and physically challenged artisans in Kenya and scarves produced by a cooperative of underprivileged women in Indonesia—these were among the goods for sale at a recent fundraising event at the University of Indianapolis.
The event, “Make Your Shopping Make a Difference,” was hosted by the UIndy Black Student Association in partnership with The Village Experience, a local company that aids artisans in underdeveloped countries. Representatives from BSA and TVE transformed a few tables in the Schwitzer Student Center into a miniature shopping venue during lunchtime on March 28.
BSA Treasurer and coordinator of the event DyNishia Miller said that BSA once again welcomed the opportunity to partner with TVE for the second year in a row because the values of both BSA and TVE are strongly aligned.

(From left)  BSA leaders Deondra Billingsley and Krystin Johnson show off handcrafted gifts at a fundraising event with The Village Experience. Photos by Annisa Nunn.

(From left) BSA leaders Deondra Billingsley and Krystin Johnson show off handcrafted gifts at a fundraising event with The Village Experience. Photos by Annisa Nunn.

“One of BSA’s values is to embrace culture. This is embracing culture. It’s bringing awareness to what TVE does, to underdeveloped countries,” Miller said. “And it’s exciting to have this on campus. There is a lot more interest in this than I ever thought there was going to be.”
In addition to the fundraising opportunity,  Miller noted that BSA appreciates supporting a local company like TVE. In fact, a co-founder of the business, Kelly Campbell, is a UIndy alumna.
The “Make Your Shopping Make a Difference” event was set up so students could purchase handcrafted goods made by individuals in countries across the globe, including Thailand, India, Kenya, Indonesia, South Africa and Peru. Prices ranged from $5 to $65.
As a company, TVE invests funds in needy communities abroad through projects in which artisans produce goods to be sold in the United States. TVE provides the planning, materials and support needed to craft the goods, while the artisan groups set the prices and provide the labor. Then, when the products are sold, TVE reinvests the profits in the same communities, thus creating more sustainable employment.
According to TVE Operations Manager Robin Elmerick, the process of investment, production and profit creates a continuous cycle that benefits the individual communities in need.
“We are able to support different, kind of marginalized, at-risk groups in developing countries. And the more products we sell, obviously, the more money that’s going into those communities, the more jobs we’re creating overseas within those communities,” Elmerick said.
According to its website, TVE is a “socially pro-active business dedicated to uplifting impoverished communities in the developing world through efforts in international trade and tourism.”  The company has three main spheres of mission: socially responsible tourism, fair trade and international development.
Elmerick said that the BSA fundraiser partnership best represents TVE’s fair trade mission and explained that consumers should be conscious of the working conditions in which the goods they purchase are created.
“It’s just important to understand where your money is going … A lot of times, especially in developing countries, those workers are really exploited,”  Elmerick said. “Their working conditions aren’t safe, their wages are ridiculous, and the more you continue to fuel that method, that way of buying and purchasing, that’s not ever going to stop.”
Elmerick said that TVE is a unique company because it strives to achieve “high-end,  fashionable fair trade,” which is a rare concept in today’s free trade movement. TVE recently launched its own line,  entitled the “Opportunity Collection,” which features the goods crafted in Thailand and Kenya. Another similar line will come next month, according to Elmerick.
“Next month, we are launching a group out of  India that is all women who were sex trafficked and escaped and rescued out of that,” Elmerick said.
Miller said that she enjoys this yearly fundraiser because it benefits multiple groups and individuals, including BSA and TVE, but especially the underprivileged individuals that  TVE supports through its mission.
“So, to know that just by buying this necklace, buying this bracelet, buying this bag, that I’m helping someone or an entire town, country, city … develop economically and become better in the future—it makes me feel better,” Miller said.
Fifteen percent of the proceeds from the fundraising event went to the UIndy BSA as part of the fundraising initiative. According to Miller, these funds will go toward the BSA budget for next year and will help support the various academic and social events the organization brings to campus.
All other proceeds will be funneled back into TVE’s cycle of investing in the communities and artisans that produce the handcrafted goods. A portion of the proceeds also will benefit The Village Cooperative, TVE’s partner nonprofit organization that provides microfinance grants and starts sustainable income generation projects in developing countries across the globe.
Students who missed the event still have opportunities to support The Village Experience at its Broad Ripple area retail store of the same name, located at 6055 North College Ave., or on the company’s website, The website also provides more information about TVE’s projects and the upcoming socially responsible tourism trips the company is leading, which are open to the public.


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