If you've ever traveled outside the United States and wandered through a local market bustling with activity and local artisans pitching their wares, you might have picked up a beautifully woven scarf, a colorful mask, or a sandstone elephant carving.
The talents of countless small-scale craftspeople around the world are abundant, but many have trouble growing their businesses because they lack resources and connections to large-scale, and perhaps more importantly, consistent buyers in higher-income countries.
But what if those connections could be made, with some financial resources and business consulting made available? Enter Rebecca van Bergen, part social entrepreneur, part fashionista. Van Bergen is founder and executive director of Nest, a nonprofit dedicated to helping artisans in developing countries grow their businesses.
"We only work with artisans who show leadership and show scalability," explained van Bergen. "We want them to grow their operations. We really want them to operate like a business."
Artisan businesses selected to work with Nest also need to meet one of three criteria: They must work to alleviate poverty by hiring economically disadvantaged individuals; be woman-owned or -operated; or seek to promote peace.
Since founding Nest in 2006 right out of graduate school at age 24, van Bergen and her colleagues have worked with more than 2,000 artisans in 10 countries. When an individual or artisan co-op is selected, Nest staff meet with them to learn about their operations and assess their needs. In some cases, loans are given to upgrade technology or infrastructure. Staff members also spend time educating and training the artisans about business skills, finance, budgeting, and marketing to Western consumers.