TRADES OF HOPE – Third World Artisans + First World Compassion = Entrepreneurship. An interview with Veronica Lugo Martinez
Veronica is one of those Facebook friends I’ve really connected with over the years. She’s part of an amazing organization called Trades of Hope. I’ve followed her posts and have grown in my admiration for how Trades of Hope joins artisans in developing countries with entrepreneurs in the U.S. to create a thriving business that’s a win-win all around. Please read on to learn more about Trades of Hope and how you can get involved!
Veronica, please share a little about yourself, whatever you’d like to share.
My name is Veronica and I am so excited and grateful for the opportunity to share with you all today!
I am an artist (love creating multi-media pieces and singing at my church), enjoy getting deep with people, and I am working on being more disciplined. I am a homeschooling mama of 3 boys (9, 5, and 4 months) and wife to my high school sweetheart. We have had our share of challenges along the way, but have grown so much through the journey and are grateful. I have a heart to see people free – from oppression, lies about our identity, fear – all of it.
I love to encourage others to live passionately and engage in what make their hearts come alive!
How long have you been part of the Trades of Hope team? Were you one of the founders?
I was not one of the founders. Trades of Hope was started by two fabulous mother/daughter duos with the mission to empower women here in the U.S. to empower women around the world out of poverty.
I have been with Trades of Hope since May 2014 as one of the founding Compassionate Entrepreneurs.
Your business structure is creative and unusual – can you describe how Trades of Hope ‘works’ and can you say something about how your work supports women – both the artisans and the people who sell the products?
Trades of Hope takes the idea of social entrepreneurship and pairs it with the direct selling/home party model.
We give artisans 100% of their asking price for the items we carry and make sure that the artisans are making a fair living wage. Most of the artisans we partner with make 3-6 times what they would in their cultural context. We also have our Gifts of Hope program where 10% of net profits are donated to organizations that fit well with our mission. We have funded everything from water wells to schools.
We sell our products through “Compassionate Entrepreneurs” in the U.S. who earn an income as they partner with women around the world and sell their products online and through home parties. Right now there are over 3000 Compassionate Entrepreneurs around the country, which is a small number compared to some well-known direct sales brands. We are just getting started!
Compassionate Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to build teams and earn bonuses for managing that team. The income potential for Compassionate Entrepreneurs is unlimited. As Trades of Hope grows, the artisan groups we partner with grow and we are able to add more groups.
The beautiful thing about the direct sales model is that it has allowed for exponential growth. Last year, as a 5 year old company, we partnered with 28 artisan groups in 16 countries and surpassed six million dollars in sales!
I know from your Facebook posts how much you love Trades of Hope and the work you do – what do you love most about it?
There really is so much that I love about it, but at the core it gives me a chance to empower my family while doing something about some of the big global issues that always felt so overwhelming and out of reach. What can I, a regular everyday person, do about problems like human trafficking, orphan crisis, acid attacks, and poverty? My hands felt tied.
Then along came this opportunity to make a direct impact on all of these situations and more. Something I could do based out of my home, around the needs of my family, and make some of the best friends I have with other passionate women… all while earning an income. It’s like a dream come true.
What is your favorite heartwarming story from your work?
It’s almost impossible to choose, but in May 2015, I had the honor to travel with a team from Trades of Hope on a Vision Trip to meet our artisan partners in Costa Rica. I met several artisans, but Ileana and I really connected. Ileana and her husband are the leaders of this small group (around 10 artisans). Due to a bout with colon cancer, he was unable to work. The couple was desperate in a community where desperation can easily lead to drugs, prostitution, and violence. Long story short, they started an artisan group with the support of Trades of Hope, have several beautiful products in our catalog, and are empowering their family and other families in their community through sustainable work. They also run a youth program and are seen by many at-risk youth in the community as parental figures.
Ileana has stayed in my heart because of her passion for her community. She helped me to see that in a lot of areas women don’t have choices for work with dignity. There are places where the only work available is oppressive or abusive. She said the partnership we have has helped dig them out of the pit.
There is now HOPE in these artisans. There is uplifting community. There is a yearning to grow the work to empower so many more in their community. Ileana doesn’t want to stop with empowering herself. She wants to raise her community with her and I want to empower her to do that.
If someone wants to join the team at Trades of Hope, how would they go about doing that? And do you hire only women? and buy only from women?
Our artisan workforce is about 80% women, 20% men. The founding focus is women because of the widespread oppression of women in so many places.
We welcome anyone who would like to join us as a Compassionate Entrepreneur. While most CEs are women, we do have a handful of brothers in the family.
I would be honored to answer questions, send more information and videos, and help anyone feel confident in taking the step to try this business. It’s been life changing for me and so many others. Logistically to join, one would visit my website (www.mytradesofhope.com/vmarz) and click on Join. There is information about the starter kits, which contain everything needed to get started, and an agreement to fill out to make it official.
How do artisans go about selling to Trades of Hope – and how do artisans in out of the way places find you?
Right now we are bringing on established groups who have products we feel would sell well in the U.S. There have been many lessons learned about what sells well over the years and we want to ensure the long-term success of the artisans and Trades of Hope by finding products that women in the U.S. will buy. We have a Product Development team who keep an eye on upcoming trends and work with artisans to create products that will be desired.
Groups can apply by downloading the application on www.tradesofhope.com. Some qualifications include committing to fair trade principles, having someone on the ground who speaks English fluently, and be able to export the products in bulk.
In order for us to continue adding groups, we need more Compassionate Entrepreneurs spreading the word and creating the demand for more products. The correlation is direct. As we say, “My success is her success.”
Do you personally have a favorite product?
Oh, I have a several. One is our Eternal Seed Necklace, made in Costa Rica from soapberry seeds. I love it because it is a down-to-earth, everyday piece that makes for great conversation.
My favorite scarf is the Poppy Scarf which is hand crocheted by women who are survivors of acid attacks in Cambodia. Incredible stories of triumph and resilience.
Oh, I could go on forever!
-Bombolulu Earrings from Kenya, empowering women with mental disabilities.
-New Leaf Earrings empowering women in California who are finding freedom and healing after sexual exploitation.
-Sea Glass Necklace empowering women in Jordan who have been abandoned or widowed and are finding a new chance at life.
-Pure Love bracelet made from recycled cereal boxes and Haitian clay, keeping families together. Many of the artisans in this group were at risk of having to give their children up to orphanages because they couldn’t afford to care for them.
It is so hard to pick when the connection with the pieces is so rich. I know the names and stories of the artisans and how my work here is directly impacting them “there.” It takes what on the outside might look like a sales job and makes it a meaningful heart work I get to invite other into.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about Trades of Hope?
Another layer of empowerment I love is at our distribution center in Florida. The employees who pack our orders and pair the artisan info cards with the products are adults in the ARC program. The ARC program advocates for individuals who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities, giving them opportunities to participate as full members of the community. Hope and empowerment in every layer of the process!
If you’re sceptical about Trades of Hope, it’s OK. I was too. One of the first things I did when considering joining the team was Google, “Trades of Hope scam.” No lie. The more I get to know our leadership and am around as a leader, the stronger my confidence grows. Humble, passionate, and tenacious – just the kind of people I want to be around!
Whether it’s shopping, hosting a party, or joining as a Compassionate Entrepreneur, I hope you’ll join us in the empowerment cycle! Your voice is needed.
About the Author
Sara Corry, aka Abena Sara lives in the Eastern Region of Ghana, West Africa, close to the capital city, Accra. Tropical Africa is feeling like home now after nearly 30 years as a desert dweller! When not involved in business development, she can be found with camera in hand trying to photograph the beautiful native bird life. She writes a blog about daily life in Ghana, and is a contributor to a website devoted to wildlife conservation in Africa. She has a passion for travel and would jump on a plane to almost anywhere at a moment’s notice!