“GOD, I want to make a difference. Show me how!”
Mim, a second year student at Coventry University, wrote these words in her diary in Spring 2013 after listening to Lal Rodinga Colney (leader of Restoration India Mission in Orissa) speak with passion about an orphanage he had founded in India.
“I felt I really wanted to do something, not just listen to what others did.” Mim says. “After listening to Colney, the desire to do something remained with me but I was busy with my studies. I did continue, though, to read articles about people who make a difference or have some innovative idea to help others and I found out companies who gave something back to their employees – I chose to buy goods from them if I possibly could.”
Roanne, too, described her ‘moment’ when she felt she must do something: “A few years ago I read a book called ‘Half the Sky’, (named after a Chinese proverb which says ‘women hold up half the sky’). It was one of the most thought-provoking, devastating books I have ever read. It’s the sort of book you can’t read and not be changed by. It speaks of the shocking gender inequality found in so many parts of the world and the traps of poverty, health issues connected to childbirth and slavery that women find themselves in. Without help, women find it difficult to break free from these traps.”
Mim continues: “As a Christian, I believe everyone is of equal value and worth and these issues shouldn’t be a trap for anyone. In Summer 2013 I had just finished my second year at uni, and was asking myself, ‘what next after I graduate?’ One evening, I invited some friends, Roanne and Thea, around to my house. We sat chatting about life and discovered we all had a similar passion – we wanted to somehow make a difference. We began throwing out ideas – some of them pie-in-the-sky dreams but, at the end of the evening, we asked one another, ‘Well, why not?’ Each of us went away with some research to do and we arranged a specific future time to talk about what we had found out.
“I wrote a business plan as part of one of my university modules, setting out our idea for a social enterprise to empower women in developing countries by selling their products in the UK; in it I outlined all profits must go to a social cause or back into a company.
“Roanne contacted Coventry and Warwick Co-op Agency who offered us advice. We found out about the necessary legalities and in Jan 2014 ‘Glass Half Full’ became a registered ltd company. We sent our designs and ideas for saleable products to Aarong, a well-known retail chain in Bangladesh, and began trading with our first customer a few months later, in September 2014.
Why glass half-full?
“It’s all about helping others see the glass as ‘half full’; believing that there is hope for change,” says Roanne.
Mim continued: “For me, the purpose of Glass Half Full is to empower women and so empower families and communities through them. In countries in the developing world, there’s lots of scope for men to do different things – but not often for women. I’m lucky to be born where I am; others are not so lucky. Often the women in these poorer countries have no right to education or to choose a partner and no choice to work. If I can, I want to give them opportunities. It has been documented that, when women are waged, they are often more likely than the men to spend the money on their children, their houses, the necessities of life, even investments. The women empowered in this way can be example for a future generation of young girls.”
Roanne says, “I believe that when you economically empower women, they become more ‘equal’ in terms of family and status in society; they are able to make choices about health, education and their children’s education. When we focus on women, the rest of society is raised and changed.”
“In November 2014,” says Mim, “I went out to Bangladesh to meet some of the women making products for us. I visited one of the ‘out-centres’, huts where women from the rural areas and villages come to work and are taught new skills. There is a nice community spirit as they sit round chatting, embroidering material (called kantha) and sewing articles such as table cloths, wall hangings and cushion covers to be sold. Aarong, provides the women with material so they haven’t got to pay up front for it themselves. The completed articles are then shipped and paid for fairly.”
Roanne, who has made many trips to Bangladesh, explains: “Bangladeshi women marry very young (often by the age of 15), often wed much older men and have children very quickly after they are married. Their chances of finding employment generally are small and the wages paid are very low – under two dollars a day. Though finding employment, their social status and position in the family is much improved.”
“We sell the Bangladeshi women’s products online, through other online websites and craft stalls,” says Mim. “The grand plan is to use the profit we make to enable projects to be self-sustaining and then move on to and support a new enterprise, e.g. a sewing school.”
Roanne spoke of recent encouragements. “Early in 2014, we made a presentation about Glass Half Full to a panel of experienced entrepreneurs and won an award of £1000 and free mentoring by one of the entrepreneurs. Coventry University Social Enterprise also recently gave us a grant which will keep us going for over a year.”
“My vision is just to do something and see where it goes!” says Mim. “Just start if you have a dream and see what happens. My faith opened my eyes to the injustice in the world and, to be true to my faith, I have to practically work it out. Developing Glass Half Full is a way I feel I can do it. As Christians we have responsibility to practically help others in need.”
• One in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
• The UN estimates that approximately 5000 women are murdered each year as a result of honour killing, but many women’s groups in the Middle East and SW Asia suspect the number is at least four times higher.
• Between 500,000 and 2 million people (the majority of them women and children) are trafficked annually into situations including prostitution, forced labour, slavery or servitude.
• In many parts of the world, girls are seen as less valuable than boys. There are an estimated 60 million girls ‘missing’ due to selective abortion of female foetuses and neglect of female children.
• Of 75 million children currently not in school, the majority are girls.
• There are 781 million illiterate adults over world. Two thirds are women.
• Around the world one woman dies from complications in childbirth every minute.
‘Half the Sky’ is written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It is shocking in its revelation of the extent of the suppression, oppression and abuse of women globally, it offers a persuasive call to empower women through education and micro-financing projects – among other things. The empowering of women in such ways, the writers tell us, is a sure way to better the prospects of societies generally that are struggling with poverty in the developing world. A new breed of ‘social entrepreneurs’ has/is arising to arrest the problem of gender inequality worldwide – described by Kristof as the ‘paramount moral challenge’ of this century.