Business with a cause


(Photo by Miriam Smit)

Ten Thousand Villages, a store located in Uptown Waterloo, has proved to be successful in both providing the city with unique, homemade and environmentally sustainable products as well as supporting artisans in 29 developing countries.

“We are a non-profit organization and we have been around for 65 years,” expressed Stephanie Barth, manager of the store in Waterloo. “Our goal is to create long-term trading relationships with artisan groups in developing countries.”

While there are numerous locations across Canada, this store specifically thrives in Waterloo because of the local Mennonite population, according to Barth.

Barth explained that the store had originally started out in St. Jacob’s, but moved to Uptown Waterloo in 1996.

Barth also noted how the location in Waterloo has been particularly beneficial to the business.

“Uptown Waterloo just creates a really nice shopping area, [has a] good atmosphere [and is a] really fun environment and is supportive of free trade.”

All employees at Ten Thousand Villages are volunteers, except for the manager and assistant manager. The volunteers contribute their own time to the store simply because they are passionate about what the store represents or because they are students and need to complete specific volunteer hours.

Regardless, the majority of the staff doesn’t receive compensation for the work they put into the store, but are always happy to put in their time.

“We have very dedicated volunteers,” said Barth.

Barth explained the reasoning behind the volunteers.

“[Our goal] is to decrease as many costs as we can, so we can continue to invest and purchase more products [from the artisans].”

Nancy Froklage, a retired volunteer at Ten Thousand Villages Froklage explained that her reasoning for becoming a volunteer was because she carries a history with the Mennonites.

Froklage also believes that  there is a “sense of self-fulfillment” that accompanies this kind of volunteering.

Elizabeth Lougheed, a masters student at the University of Waterloo, finds that this type of volunteering not only contributes to her studies, as she is in development practice, but also educates her in the specific products that the stores receives from the developing countries.

Loughheed expressed that “it’s really a positive business experience because everyone who comes in is just happy to be here.”

While Ten Thousand Villages succeeds in Waterloo in part due to the consistent Mennonite population, there are, in total, 48 stores across Canada that allow foreign artisans to provide citizens with original products, such as jewelry and home decorations.

Ten Thousand Villages purchases from 29 different countries — Kenya, Libya and India are some examples.

Their artisans are “paid 100 per cent before their product even reaches the store,” as Barth explained.

The overwhelming goal of this company is to ensure that long-term relationships and security are maintained for the artisan groups and that they are confident in Ten Thousand Villages’ support.

None of the stores in Canada are specifically owned. Each store features a manager, assistant manager and volunteers, and the head offices are located in New Hamburg, Ontario.

Barth has been a part of Ten Thousand Villages for more than five years, starting her involvement off in New Hamburg and moving to Waterloo as manager in September.

“I love working here because it’s not about giving charity to people, it’s about helping them become sustainable on their own,” expressed Barth.

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