Tuesday, November 23, 2010


"There is no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up." (Bernard Meltzer)

At Elevita we have been reminded that reaching out to others is the best way to gain perspective on what is really important in life. Our work with those less privileged has made us even more poignantly aware of our bounty, and of the need to share. Truly we are blessed by serving, and we receive by giving.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Amazing India

We just returned from an incredible trip to India where we were able to visit with some of our artisans and discuss future projects.  We were even able to meet with the Maharaja of Jodhpur and discuss with His Highness some of our plans to help in the region.   The following day we were able to survey the site where we plan to build a hostel that will enable girls from rural villages to attend secondary school.  But perhaps the most moving element of the trip was our visit to a fledgling Women's Training and Empowerment Center in the village of Keru.  Several women there have undertaken a sewing and embroidery course, and we were able to get a "show and tell" of their first projects.  What impressive women!  We will continue to work with the Center to help these women develop marketable items that can supplement the meager incomes of their families.  Because a picture is truly worth a thousand words, I'll let you see the rest below:

One of our block printers, carefully printing a tablecloth:

Dyed cloth hanging in the sun to dry--beautiful!!

The ladies at the Women's Training and Empowerment Center in Keru:

 First Sale!  We purchased from this lovely lady some beautiful pillow covers she carefully stitched as part of her training:

It is the middle of the day, and these young girls should be in school.  Instead, they are obligated to stay home and help with the chores--probably because they are already betrothed.  It is for village girls like these that we wish to build a hostel so they can have the opportunity to finish out their childhood and receive a secondary education.  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Celebrating Experts

When we in the West think of people in poverty, we often picture the bloated
bellies of malnourished children and the tears of their helpless mothers, people inflicted
with starvation, disease and despair. We envision conflict and bloodshed, gun-toting
toddlers and their ruthless guerrilla leaders. We pity these people who must desperately
need our wisdom and money. Many think that because we live in a more “sophisticated”
and “developed” part of the world our ways must be superior to theirs. If this is true, we
ought to share our methods for success and resources with the poor to deliver them from
their own ignorance and suffering. It is our responsibility to lift them from their depths
of despair. Easterly calls this “the white man’s burden,” I think of it as being something
more akin to ethnocentrism.

The world has seen decades of unproductive aid, much of which has caused
more damage than good. This savior attitude is not an effective way to address poverty
alleviation and development. When we embrace a top-down stance on development, we
perpetuate a great lie, assuming that human beings are innately stupid. We negate the
dignity and personal worth of those we claim we are trying to help, teaching them that
they are incapable and doomed to fail without our input.

I believe it’s time for a new perspective. Rather than entering an environment
imposing all the “right” answers, I see development as a means of helping people to
recognize their own potential, building human capacity while encouraging community
solutions. Contrary to popular belief, people in poverty are generally not in poverty
because they choose to be, but rather because they lack the opportunities to pull
themselves out. Development should seek to open doors that have previously been shut,
embracing local solutions while building skills and self-reliance among community
members rather than dictating what should be done.

Helping to connect skilled artisans throughout the developing world, Elevita aims to do just that--provide opportunities for hardworking, talented people so that they can pull themselves out of poverty. Development work needs to be participatory and empowering in its nature. It should seek to nourish self-reliance, allowing people to come up with their own solutions. Supporting local businesses, Elevita aims to do the same thing by providing a market for gifted artisans so that they can accomplish their own goals. Elevita embraces the expertise of local people in their own development, recognizing that it is the people who know best their own dreams and desires, their strengths as well as their limits.

In the words of the great Dr. Yunus, “Each of us has much more hidden inside us
than we have had a chance to explore. Unless we create an environment that enables us
to discover the limits of our potential, we will never know what we have inside of us.”
Let us work together to create these environments of which Dr. Yunus speaks, to create
opportunities where all can learn what is really inside of them and discover their limitless

In Ghana, West Africa local experts batik beautiful fabrics

They start by first creating stamps out of sponges, often incorporating symbols such as Gye Nyame which means "Except God" or Sankofa which alludes to learning from the past

The sponge is then dipped into paraffin wax and pressed firmly onto the fabric, creating an intricate pattern
Next the fabric is dyed...
and then boiled to melt off the wax
Finally the fabric is hung to dry and the fabric is finished

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stepping Back And Taking Two New Views

As I have watched and participated in the start-up of Elevita, I have been struck by many realizations. Two of these realizations are as follows. One of Elevita's goals is to constructively address a basic problem: members of our species are not able to live out their lives because their time here on earth is cut short because of the poverty they experience. For me, there is a very profound disconnect inherent to this fact about our species. The disconnect is that almost anyone who has studied the issues related to poverty agrees that there is not a shortage of resources. There is enough food. There is enough medical care. The problem, and I realize that I am simplifying a very complex set of issues, is that we choose, as a species, to not work out the policy and distribution mechanisms that would make food and healthcare available to all.

The second realization is that governments are less and less able to take the steps necessary to help our species alleviate the poverty that influences so many people. I am not going to speculate about why this is. While Elevita is a non-profit, it functions through markets. It buys from companies. It sells through market-based mechanisms.

My sense is that if our species is likely to ameliorate the influences of poverty in the next few generations, the main driver of this change will be that we accept that markets are the main driver of economic change and innovation. I congratulate Elevita for accepting this basic assumption and applaud the fabulous efforts of those who have helped build this entity and those who are supporting its development.

Monday, October 11, 2010

There Is A Need

I had the remarkable opportunity to spend a month in India this summer. Before I left, I prepared myself for what I thought I would see there. I have seen other developing countries and the poverty that is rampant there, so my immediate assumption was that India would be the same.

But nothing could have been more wrong. India has poverty, but at a scale that is very unimaginable before you see it. In 2003, the United Nations Human Development Report cited India as being the home for more hungry people than anywhere else in the world, and that is including if you connect all of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Quite frankly, it wasn't something I was ready for. To see the hungry faces of children, mothers, and father shook me to the core. It wasn't just devastating, it was something that needed addressing.

That is why I got involved with Elevita. While I was in India, I gave what I could to shaking hands attached to hungry mouths. But now that I am home I need somewhat to stay connected to that. To address a need that is so great, it can not go ignored in my life. Elevita provides an opportunity to take actions, that though small as parts, can make great changes as a whole.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Making a Difference One Starfish at a Time

I love the story of the boy and the starfish. It goes something like this:

A man walked a desolate beach one evening and saw a figure, far in the distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that a young boy kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the water. Time and again, he kept hurling things out into the ocean. As the man approached even closer, he noticed that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water. The man was puzzled. He approached the boy and asked, “What you are doing?"

"I'm throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it is low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. If I don't throw them back into the sea, they'll die up here from lack of oxygen."

"I understand," the man replied, "but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don't you realize this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast? Can't you see that you can't possibly make a difference?"

The boy smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, "Made a difference to that one!"

I like to think that in some way I can be like the boy in the story. I’m overwhelmed by the complex challenges of poverty and injustice in the world. But in my own small way, I hope I can make a difference where I can, one person at a time.

That is why I am involved with Elevita. This online market place helps women and children find a way out of poverty. Elevita artisans gain self reliance through their own hard work with an internet market for their craftsmanship, paying fair market wages for their work. In addition, all profits from the sale of their work are returned to the villages and communities of these artisans in the form of aid to supporting the building of schools, clean drinking wells, medical clinics, and other humanitarian projects. Elevita is run entirely by volunteers, thus ensuring that your purchase not only pays fair wages to the artisan but returns all profit to their communities.

So a gift purchased from Elevita makes a big difference in the lives of each of the artisans we support. It is as simple as throwing a starfish back into the sea. We can all help make a difference one starfish at a time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Summer of Discovery

Because part of our mission is to help artisans in developing countries find a greater world market for their products, here at Elevita we have spent the summer connecting with artisans we want to help. We have been impressed with the products we have discovered: breathtaking colors, comfortable cottons, luxurious silks, intricate prints, and incredible beads. But even more impressive than these products are the people who craft them. A few examples:

- The village women of Sandur who, after caring for their households and their children, spend the afternoons crafting fantastic beads from tree resin in order to help provide for their families

- The artisans of the Sheltered Workshop in Ghana, who persevere through their physical handicaps to produce jewelry of unparalleled quality

- The Barmer artisans, who work tirelessly to preserve the traditional Indian craft of block-printing, all while combating the difficulties of under-developed village life in the desert

Though each of our artisans has a different background with different skills, they all have one thing in common: they are grateful for the opportunity to find a greater market for their quality products so they can better provide for their families. Very soon we will launch our website, so the world can have access to these amazing products.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


For many years a group of us at Elevita have been contemplating ways that we might be able to make the world a little bit better place.  A number of us have been traveling the world and this Spring we settled on the idea that India would be a good place to take a stand.  We are enthralled by the vibrant culture, touched by the kindness of the people, and captivated by the fascinating history of the country.  But of course we are also deeply saddened by the rampant poverty -- homeless masses, downtrodden families, emaciated children.  What a contrast to our own comfortable lives!  We are all grieved to know that, in India, 5,000 children die of causes related to malnutrition every day.  But what can be done?

Slowly, the inspiration has come.  Many of these people, though impoverished, are trained in wonderful ethnic skills such as hand block-printing, weaving, embroidery, jewelry making, etc.  Yet so many of these artisans are dependent solely on tourists to come purchase their crafts!  Unfortunately, with the worldwide recession, tourism is down in India, which directly affects the livelihood of these families.  We asked ourselves:  What if we could help these artisans find a greater world market for their wares, and subsequently send all the profits back to India to support humanitarian projects?  The idea was born.