As a new initiative in 2013, every fortnight we will be featuring one of our own – an Ennovent Network member who is creating a strong positive impact within the communities they work. We aim to celebrate the achievements of these entrepreneurs and discover new opportunities for creating markets amongst low-income people in developing countries. Scroll to the end of the article to know how you can also have your social enterprise featured on Ennovent!
This month we are featuring Violeta Villacorta from ORG by vio®. We talked to her about her entrepreneurial journey and future plans:
Born in Peru, raised in the United States and educated at the United Nations International School in the bustling hub of New York, Violeta Villacorta has long been immersed in a richness of cultures and global awareness.
Although, she adopted an environmental consciousness early in her life, it was not enough for Villacorta to simply live a ‘green’ lifestyle by making environmentally friendly consumer choices.
As a result of her deep-rooted passion to positively impact the environment through her choices, Villacorta began working with indigenous Amazon communities under threat of being relocated and facing a loss of income by extractive industries.
It started in the year 2000 when Villacorta took a break from her work as a Senior Designer with Patagonia to work for Amazon Watch – an organization that works to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin.
The Amazon and its people had always been of interest to Villacorta for its blend of design, lush landscape and dynamic culture. With her passion for the region and her work with Amazon Watch, Villacorta connected with the Cofán, an indigenous people native to the Napo Province in northeast Ecuador and southern Colombia, in 2010.
Recognizing their need for sustainable sources of industry, Villacorta began working in partnership with the artisans of Asociación Sûku to promote their artistry of natural bead making.
Artisans pick kangopacho, chichao, sarandango and huayruro seeds and chambira leaves in the rainforests and string the seeds for later use in accessory making. The chambira leaves are stripped into strands of fiber that they twist on their legs to create twine used to string jewelry and knit into other accessories. The result is both beautiful and striking while retaining some of the Cofán culture.
To initiate support for the sustainable activities of the Cofán artisans Villacorta created an online funding campaign to build a creative workspace for the Asociación Sukû. The funds helped Asociación Sukû in the purchase of tools, supplies and materials, as well as the creation of new collections of exquisite Cofán accessories”, says Villacorta.
Following the success of her relationship with the Asociación Sukû and their newly blossoming sustainable jewelry industry, Villacorta connected with an indigenous community in Peru, the Awajùn, to initiate an accessory design partnership.
It was meeting these communities and seeing their high quality artistry that inspired Villacorta to found ORG by vio®, a brand that represents the different indigenous Amazon artisans they work with and caters to international eco-conscious consumers.
By creating high quality rainforest goods such as beaded necklaces and earrings, belts and purses, ORG offers an alternative to the conventional jewelry industry that relies on the mining industry, which is environmentally harmful as well as a violator of human rights. ORG is an umbrella for promoting Amazon culture, protecting the rainforest and selling handmade accessories.
“We work in partnership with artisans to develop traditional and designer collections made with rainforest materials as a source for a sustainable economy,” notes Villacorta. “Artisans are paid fair trade wages for their work, and our goal is to give 50% of profits back to the community to fund varied needs through projects that enhance their livelihood. The other 50% supports our work with artisans and communities we work with, while reaching out to new communities.”
Villacorta’s story does not end with her work in the Cofán and Awajùn communities. This year she will be working with a new community in Peru – the Yanesha. Not only that, Villacorta also plans on collaborating with partner, EcoTribal to feature products by another Peruvian community, the Ashaninka on their online store.
In just a few short years the company has grown from being a small startup to a team of dedicated people working with various artisans across the Amazon rainforests who create these beautiful products. Today, not only does ORG have a great following of direct consumers but their products are also available through select stores across the US and abroad.
As ORG expands, Villacorta aims to deepen the impact of the organization by continuing to create viable avenues for indigenous artisans to showcase their traditional artistry. Villacorta hopes to generate a sustainable economy for the communities with which they work while also protecting the rainforest.
Author Philip Pullman said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” At Ennovent, we bring to you our Entrepreneur Story Series – A series of tales about our entrepreneurs, their challenges and how they are beating the enemy – one social enterprise at a time.
If you are a member of the Ennovent Global Network and would like to have your social enterprise featured, write to us on [email protected] with the subject line “Get featured on Ennovent”.
To connect with Violeta, log on to the Ennovent Global Network
This article was originally featured on SocialEarth.org.