The Mustard Seed Workshop - Empowering grassroot communities through sustainable economic development and globalization

The Mustard Seed Workshop - Empowering grassroot communities through sustainable economic development and globalization

Hong Kong S.A.R., China
Organization type: 
for profit
Budget: 
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

As a change agent, I am fighting systemic poverty by leveling the playing field by providing small grass root entities with the necessary business resources to globalize their product’s exposure. THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP, is a social enterprise, operating as an online retailer, serving 9 economically disadvantaged communities such as former sex workers, victims of human trafficking, HIV victims, and displaced refugees to help them showcase their handmade items to the global community. We empower impoverished communities through longterm sustainable economic development, by providing global solutions, offering high quality handmade gifts that are socially responsible, stunningly presented and exquisitely packaged. For more information on our work please visit www.TheMustardSeedWorkshop.com
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP is strategically located in Hong Kong, the heart of Asia and the gateway to China. Our economical, political, legal, logistical, telecommunication, infrastructure and human capital are all well in placed and stable. This allows for ease of business operation as all the necessary regulatory framework and economic infrastructure are in placed to facilitate effective business activity. HK is a very well connected city with individuals from around the world and a thriving economy and a stable government with liberal views on religion, education, business activities and enjoys relatively unrestricted freedom of speech as we are governed by the rule of law, though we are under China's rule.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We are actively challenging and disrupting the popular belief, that Socially responsible handicrafts are low in quality, poorly made & unattractively packaged. Our goal is to offer the global community socially aware products, that are well presented, innovative, marketable and competitive through a financially sustainable business model. Recognizing the universal limitations that many grassroot entities face, such as limited resources, high barriers of entry to the global consumer market, inability to globalize a product’s reach, saturated local markets, archaic technology, corrupt legal systems, and an overall lack of business experience, has significantly hindered many small social entities’ commitment to empower marginalized groups. Simply put - they are not well equipped to compete in the global economy. In the highly sophisticated and unapologetically competitive market of consumer goods, products/brands live and die by marketing, PR and commercially generated hype. Sadly, many grassroot entities just cant compete on those terms. THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP recognize the need to bridge the gap between grassroot communities and the global consumer, by providing an array of holistic business solution such as branding, packaging, labeling, marking, PR and distribution - under THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP own label. Ultimately, our job is to develop and secure international distribution channels for our partners and their products. Thus we are not teaching them how to fish, but rather assisting them in preparing, cooking & selling the fish they caught, as a means to survival.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP is a Social Enterprise in the form of an online retail shop. www.TheMustardSeedWorkshop.com Our mission is to partner with socially marginalized groups, in an aim to facilitate poverty alleviation and to break the poverty trap,through long term sustainable economic development, and gainful employment. Working alongside entities with handicraft workshops, our partners teaches their members how to fish by equipping them with a viable skill selt such as soap making or jewelry making. Our partners represent 9 communities, in 8 different countries, ranging from woman shelters, prostitute ministries, church groups, HIV survivors, landmine victims, impoverish farming communities, displaced refugees, former substance abusers, livelihood projects and various community programs.
About You
Organization:
The Mustard Seed Workshop
About You
First Name

Charlene

Last Name

Kotwall

About Your Organization
Organization Name

The Mustard Seed Workshop

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

Less than a year

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Innovation
What stage is your project in?

Operating for less than a year

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

During my time in grad school I experienced a very traumatic incident which marked and changed my life forever. I promised myself that if, and when I recovered, and was in a position to help others in need, that I would do so. I believe that God allowed it to happen, so that my heart may be soften, in order to feel the anguish, pain & suffering of those bounded by injustice. Through THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP, I’m able to be a voice to speak out on the behalf of those whom have been silenced. My work allows me the privilege to work with communities living in abject poverty and individuals whom have experienced horrific situations. My heart pours out for them, because I can relate to their pain first handedly. I have dedicated my life to serve the under privileged & those without a voice. I realize that I am extremely lucky to be alive today and to have the privilege to be in a position to speak out against injustice. Taking a step back & looking-in on my life now, nothing really matters to me anymore, not money, not fame, not recognition. I just want to follow my heart and to speak out on behalf of those without a voice and to help them tell their stories and to help them establish dignity through gainful employment. Seven years on….. I no long hold onto the pain I once felt, I feel free again, I’m ready to move on, and I’m ready to do something positive with my life experience. THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP is my personal testimony and response to shedding light on injustice,& other global issues that I feel are often ignored.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP is less then a year old, and experiencing a healthy growth phase in terms of sales and brand recognition. We have been receiving numerous features, editorials and interviews from the local media on our commitment to creating sustainable global economic development and transformation through our work with small grassroot partners. Publications that has covered us in the last 12 months include, Cosmopolitan HK, Marie Clair HK and Apple daily. We are scheduled to meet with the reporters of Hong Kong Economic Times later this month. Our website has been active for 6 months and has experienced a steady increase of customers. We have also experienced a number of large international companies interested in potentially carrying our socially responsible products. We are currently in talks with Cathay Pacific airlines for Q4 2011 Inflight sales, for some of our jewelry items, as well as Mandarin Oriental. We are also currently representing Youth Business Hong Kong and have secured a small loan which we will tap into soon. Our KPI or measure of success is by the number of entities and lives we impact and to create sustainable employment for, however having been in operation for less then a year thus it is difficult to quantity our success in such a short amount of time . Currently, we have approximately 350 direct recipients (number of members that are partners workshops are reaching out to.) We hope to be able to increase the number of grassroot entities and individuals that we work with in the future, as well as our sales revenue going forward.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

101-1,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

101- 1,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

Over the next 3 yrs we anticipate on continued efforts to carve out and explore our niche market, on marketing socially responsible products, as beautifully presented, stunningly packaged and breathtakingly made items. I have big dreams for THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP, because if we grow and gain recognition this will allow us a huge platform to speak out against injustice and to encourage socially responsible consumerism. Branching out internationally is also one of our top focus in order to diversify and manage our sales risk. We will inevitably explore strategic working relationships with different global brands with large distribution networks and global exposure such as hotels, airlines and global retail brands in order to secure distribution points which we currently lack.

Sustainability
What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

A slew of possible challenges and risk factors come to mind when identifying possible business & operational risk. Working with small grass root entities is very risky since they have such limited resources. Working with community projects women shelters, church ministries, prostitute ministries, poses huge operational risks first and foremost due to their d Laissez-faire culture. Internal issues such as are cash flow mismanagement, sluggish sales, a potential economic crisis, continued prolonged rental inflation (we currently don’t have a permanent office space to call our own and cant afford Hong Kong’s notorious rental), our partner workshops missing their product delivery dates ( we only keep small batches of inventory at any one time to lower our inventory cost & to increase our working capital), working with small grassroots entities poses a significant operational risk for us since they are highly vulnerable to even the slightest negative financial ripple as they run on a very tight ship and have little leeway for financial discrepancies and or cash flow issues. A large number of our partners operate in developing counties plagued by corruption and political instability poses a risk to our operations. To mitigate the long list of operational risks, most of which are external factors related directly to our grassroot partners we recognize the need to diversify our product collection, and increase the number of partners we work with as well as selecting partners that are geographically spread apart to better manage our operational risks.

Tell us about your partnerships

Our partners represents 8 different communities, in 10 countries, ranging from woman shelters, prostitute ministries, HIV survivors, landmine victims, displaced refugees, former substance abusers, livelihood projects and various other community programs. Our vision is to empower small grassroots entities commitment to empowering socially marginalized groups, by pulling communities out of systemic poverty through a sustainable skill set and gainful employment. Our partners equip their members with a sustainable and viable skillset, enabling them to offer communities to work towards sustainable economic development, through the production of small handmade items. Working alongside entities with handicraft workshops, our partners teaches their members how to fish by equipping them with a viable skill set such as soap making, candles making, bookbinding or making gift cards. We select our partners based on the depth and breadth of the transformational impact on their community, the number of members impacted, & the overall impact of job creation in the community. The level of resources & help that the entity is able to provide their members with, e,g do they provide help with accommodation, food, shelter, medical attention, education for their children, physical or physiological counseling if necessary. We will also base our partnership decision on the potential impact of our partnership on the local community. For a more in-depth look at our different partner workshop please visit our Partner Workshop page at http://themustardseedworkshop.com/index.php?main_page=page&id=19

Explain your selections

THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP as of this current moment been funded by 100% personal funds and savings as well as fund from family members and friend who believe in our cause. In Nov 2010 we won a small local business competition by Youth Business Hong Kong, and have been offered a small loan of US$10,000 which will be dispatched shortly. Unfortunately, this is quite a small loan amount for us as it will be used to purchase raw materials to fulfill a large anticipated order in the fall and with little left over for the next fiscal year. Thus we are looking to secure an additional funding option for our long term strategic development, as we are currently working out of a tiny, tiny, 15 meter Sq Foot warehouse space on loan to us from a relative. Due to financial constraint we have been very frugal in our spending and don’t even have the means for a marketing budget. Our marketing as of now has been heavily reliant on word of mouth and free media publications such as articles and media coverage on us form interested and likeminded parties. Though our paid marketing efforts have been slim to non, if we win this competition it will allow us to rent a proper office/warehouse space to work out of and allow us a physical location where potential customers can visit to view our products. We also plan to spend a portion of the money on planned marketing, PR and marking solutions which have proven to be highly effective in driving sales for THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

Over the next 3 years our focus is on establishing key strategic partnerships such as with Cathay Pacific and other entities with global distribution points, such as Mandarin Oriental. We currently have an E commerce website which we operate out of (http://themustardseedworkshop.com/) and will be revamping it to deliver a more informative and educational site with full eCommerce capabilities later this fall. Our FB page is also going to undergo a transformation later this year, as we partner with a cutting edge FB application developer (onoko) to create new and exciting apps for our users as well as full Ecommerce capabilities on our FB page.
But our main focus over the next 3 years is to develop our international presence and to grow our brand into an internationally recognizable name that is instantly identifiable with high end quality handmade products produced by communities in need. Brand development & packaging solutions is one of the main key driving factors of the success of our company, since it disrupts consumer’s traditional view of socially responsible products. Socially responsible consumerism is still relatively new in Asia, and has unfortunately been so poorly served by low quality products, the potential upside for is huge. THE MUSTARD SEED WORKSHOP is not an change agent merely trying to outsmart our competitors or out do our peer, we are essentially creating a whole new market in the global economy that has been completely overlooked until now, & we are here to provide the perfect solution so socially aware consumers the world over.

Challenges
Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Underemployment

SECONDARY

Restricted access to new markets

TERTIARY

Lack of access to information and networks

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

The Mustard Seed Workshop is disruptive in its approach to creating employment opportunities for the worlds poor. We challenging the common belief, that socially responsible products are low in quality and unattractive. Our products is setting the bar in terms of design and quality in the SE world. The disruptive nature of our approach forces global consumers to take a second look at socially responsible products, and so far we have very happy customers. The unexpected surprise catches people off guard & our sales has benefitted from this innovative move. We set an extremely high bar and customers are pleasantly surprised namely by our packaging, customer service and overall design. This directly translates into an increase in sales & am increase in employment opportunities for the poor.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

Grown geographic reach: Global

SECONDARY

Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices

TERTIARY

Leveraged technology

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

We are currently planning our global retail & wholesale strategy for 2011 Christmas and 2012 as a whole. We are in talks with Cathay Pacific airlines (CX) for Inflight sales of our jewelry. CX flew 24 million passengers last yr. partnering with them is a purely strategic alliance in order to gain global distribution & brand exposure on a relatively low cost basis. Mandarin Oriental whom we are also currently in talks with, is our next strategic alliance, with a strong international presence serving mainly international travels and corporate clients, they are also serve as a great platform for global exposure providing us with a global distribution platform similar to that of CX. Increase distribution channels and increase brand exposure equates to hgih sales & job creating for the poor.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Technology providers, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

Technlogy drivs our business. It creates employment for impoverished commuonities through increase global exposure of our products and thus increases sales. Our website has Ecommerce capabilities and we heavily utilize Social media such as FB & Twitter to effectively, communicate &update our developments. Social media allows us to effectively reach a large audience on a zero budget. I have also been able to share photos & thoughts on different partner workshop visits eg my recent trip to Nepal. This fall Onoko, a social media application based company, will launch a 2.0 version of our website with added features to create a more informative, educational and interactive website. They will also develop FB apps for us & will oversee the development of Ecommerce capabilities on our FB page.