After experiencing the limitations of trying to create positive social change in the public sector, Alana Hitchcock Weber, from the USA, decided to take matters into her own hands. In 2012, Alana co-founded Trade Monkey; an organisation which offers stable incomes to disadvantaged artisans in Thailand, while providing socially responsible goods to consumers around the world. Last month, Alana, 29, – along with her friends, 27-year-old Nicola Hill, from the UK, and Suwaphit Somjai, 30, from Thailand – was named as finalist in this year’s Project Inspire, a social innovation competition run by Singapore Committee for UN Women and MasterCard. Here, Alana talks about what inspires her work and how financial literacy empowers women.
What has been the highlight of Trade Monkey so far?
“Creating our amazing, passionate, volunteer-based team, and the work we do with our partner, Warm Heart Worldwide. Every day we meet people who are excited about our mission; to connect customers to trendy, quality handmade products while creating opportunities for stable incomes in developing communities. This enthusiasm fuels our efforts.”
How did your Project Inspire idea come about?
“After we learned about Project Inspire, we identified Warm Heart as the organisation we’d like to partner with. We brainstormed ideas with them; we wanted to find a game-changing project for their community in rural Phrao, which could also serve as a pilot for Trade Monkey’s Social Impact Program. Together, we identified the co-operative structure, making up-cycled products targeted at college students.”
When did you realise you wanted to work to improve the lives of women and girls?
“I was fortunate to meet a special person working on AIDS relief in Africa when I was a teenager. He introduced me to the social, gender, and economic complexities that exacerbate and sustain the AIDS epidemic, and particularly its impact on women. Since then, I’ve been interested in how education, empowerment, and opportunity for women can change the course of health, societal, and economic issues.”
What is the greatest struggle women in Thailand face today?
“Equality and economic opportunity are among the biggest issues facing women in Thailand. They are vulnerable to trafficking, forced marriage, exploitation, and domestic violence. These issues can never be resolved until women have non-exploitative economic opportunities, and the law and culture evolves to treat women equally, and enforce their rights.”
Why are entrepreneurship and financial literacy good ways to empower women?
“Without financial literacy, women don’t know how to save for the future. Entrepreneurship provides opportunities women wouldn’t otherwise have; to control their livelihoods, access their talent and potential, and provide stability in their incomes.”
Vote for Social Impact at Trade Monkey in the 2014 People’s Choice Award.
Watch Trade Monkey’s video entry.
Get to know all of our 2014 Project Inspire finalists.