Gifts and Graces An Advocate of Filipino Empowerment and Fair Trade
Gifts and Graces Fair Trade Foundation, Inc.empowers craftspeople all over the Philippines by reselling their products, honing their skills and giving them the opportunity to start their own self-sustaining enterprises
Gifts and Graces Fair Trade Foundation, Inc. is a not-for-profit social enterprise advocating fair trade principles and the empowerment of various marginalized craftsmen around the Philippines. Back in 2009, founder Sandy Prieto-Romualdez wanted to help small livelihood groups around the Philippines by buying their handmade and unique products, but discovered it was hard to reach them, as they lived in various hard-to-access parts of the country. So she came up with the idea to bring these much-loved products together in one place, where they could be accessed by a wider market—and so, Gifts and Graces was born.
From brass sculptures and bells molded by the T’boli Tribe of South Cotabato to hand-painted canvas bags with buri weave bottoms from Sorsogon, each product tells a story of hope, empowerment, inspiration and care. Working hand in hand with their partner communities, Gifts and Graces has not only given craftspeople a means to establish and improve their livelihoods, they’ve also given them an opportunity to better their lives and earn for their families.
But they’re much more than just a reseller of products. As In-house Designer Marge Obligacion shares, “I remember Sandy told me about the sampaguita vendors—you buy from the little girl selling sampaguita because of pity, but you can’t be forever buying from her.”
She then adds that instead of just buying products from these hard-to-reach sectors, Sandy wanted to enable them to better sell these products themselves.
Gifts and Graces sets up communities in these sectors with the goal of refining their skills and teaching them to be better entrepreneurs. They offer product development and market access through a program they call Capability Enhancement Training, with the goal of helping these craftspeople become self-sustainable.
Empowering Underserved Craftsmen All Over the Country
According to Marge, not all of the craftsmen they empower would be considered “marginalized.” Rather, they are underserved—disadvantaged simply because they lack access to a market, lack the skills that come with good training, and lack means of communication like social media. Therefore, Gifts and Graces has made it their mission to supply these things.
It hasn’t always been easy. As Marge says, “Because they know that we advocate fair trade practices, some of the communities that we work with think that even if [their products are of] bad quality, we’re going to accept them. But really, part of building the social enterprise or helping them eventually build their own enterprises [means] the products should have good quality.”
Despite this challenge and the disadvantages their communities experience, there’s an underlying appeal to every product that buyers love.
“They’re a reflection of the Filipino culture,” shares Executive Director Vicky Jalandoni. “Not only are they [made with] a heritage skill, the materials are organic, environment-friendly [and upcycled].”
Recognizing Filipino culture as an important part of every piece, they put a face on all the products by indicating who made it, how it was made and why these craftspeople are special.
“We engage more than one community in [the creation of] our products, so when you get, say, a hundred orders, multiple communities right away are benefitting,” adds Marge.
Staying True to the Fair Trade Principles
At the same time, everything they do is guided by the fair trade principles they strongly believe in. While fair trade is a popular movement in places like Europe or the US, it’s not as common yet in the Philippines. However, Gifts and Graces is striving to promote it to all.
The Fair Trade Principles include:
- Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
- Transparency and accountability
- Fair trading practices
- Payment of a fair price
- Ensuring no child labor and forced labor
- Commitment to non-discrimination, gender equity and women’s economic empowerment, and freedom of association
- Ensuring good working conditions
- Providing capacity building
- Promoting Fair Trade
- Respect for the environment
By advocating fair trade, they are bringing equality and empowerment to those who need it most. This is what they keep in mind with every community they build, every skill they refine and every craftsperson they empower.
They’re also quick to suggest fair trade as an option many businesses in the country can try. As Vicky says, “Not everybody has a CSR, but if there’s a way to incorporate some of the principles of social responsibility, or even the principles of fair trade, in any of your business practices—that will definitely reap many benefits.”
Through the years, Gifts and Graces has seen how its work has inspired and empowered the communities they build. They’ve seen craftswomen in correctional facilities use the money for personal necessities and gifts to their families outside. They’ve met with tribes who are now stronger and healthier thanks to their help. And they’ve given less fortunate yet very skilled workers the chance to earn a living. Through it all, they keep in mind and heart their mission to help the country and its citizens, one community at a time.
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