Enrique Rodríguez Aréchiga
Co-Founder & COO
Someone Somewhere
Startup Contributor

The Journey of a Social Entrepreneur

By Enrique Rodríguez Aréchiga | Thu, 09/03/2020 - 09:31

As a social entrepreneur, your dream is to transcend professional and personal boundaries and to leave a positive impact while walking the road of life. The goal of social entrepreneurs is to transform good ideas into social impact projects that can change your world in a positive way, through a financially sustainable business. For me, it is like traveling with a heavy backpack on my shoulders, one full of hopes and dreams.

Along this road you will find many people who will not understand why you do not leave that backpack behind. Many of them will pass you by because they walk lighter than you but in the final miles, you will likely reach them and find them again wandering, without direction, because the sun was too hot and the economic reward was not enough for them to keep ongoing. Instead, the backpack of a social entrepreneur may be heavy at the beginning but in the long term it will help you to persevere along the tough trails. You will carry water which will give you vitality, a compass to show you the track to your goal, and a pair of binoculars to look to the horizon, so you don't give up one mile before the oasis. This backpack contains our social purpose, one that gives us the meaning of our journey.

Our next goal in this journey with SOMEONE SOMEWHERE is to enter the US market and connect with millions of socially conscious individuals who want to consume responsibly and contribute toward a larger goal.

Someone Somewhere is a social business that works with artisanal communities by empowering women and integrating their work into a positive value chain so that they can preserve their cultural identity and break the poverty cycle in which they live. We design products to frame the artisanal masterpieces in functional appealing t-shirts, outerwear, bags, and accessories for adventurers.

The artisanal sector is the second-largest source of employment in the developing countries after agriculture. Just in México, where Someone Somewhere is based, there are more than 10 million artisans. But most of them, unfortunately, live in poverty . Why does being an artisan mean being poor? This is a paradigm we want to change. We believe in a world where the artisans have the liberty to enjoy the work they value, to make a living with dignity, and achieve their own goals and wellbeing.

The Beginning of our Social Business

We took our first step in our early twenties when we volunteered in rural communities in central Mexico. In those experiences we met a completely different reality from ours, one where indigenous people lived with many shortages and needs. While learning about the economic situation, the lack of education, the challenges of agriculture, and the health issues that plague these communities, we found out that most of the women have tried to make a living by embroidering traditional clothes. This generated a complementary income to the households, but not without several challenges:

  1. The women lacked access to quality supplies at reasonable prices due to all the commercial intermediates.
  2. In terms of products, all the women used to make the same type of fits, and colors, so all the artisans competed with each other for the few clients they could reach in their isolated communities.
  3. Whenever an artisan left her community to sell her products in a city or an expo, she had to deal with clients haggling down the price to 1 or 2 dollars, threatening her ability to make a profit.

When we discovered this context, we realized that the young women and children in these communities didn’t have the motivation to learn their mother's occupation, or to wear traditional clothes. Instead, they tended to deny their indigenous identity to avoid discrimination from modern society.

Based on these issues, we created a social business model to help to solve these challenges. The idea was to create functional products by integrating artisanal handcrafts with high-quality materials and to reach international markets that would value the products and pay fair prices. This work can help spread social benefits across the communities we work to serve. It can help support artisan families by offering them value as well as identity once again.

From the beginning, we understood that the impact we wanted to generate was not going to be through philanthropic aid which in many cases only perpetuates poverty. We knew that impact should not be made as an imposition from outside ideologies. We were aware that we need to work together with local artisans, to respect their own processes and cultural beliefs, as well as to acknowledge that women had many other activities at home.

From our work throughout all these years, we have created a social business model that works with organized artisanal groups and leverages a scalable production model that can be replicated in many other communities according to the demand. Currently, we work in Mexico with more than ten artisanal communities in Puebla, Oaxaca, the State of Mexico, Hidalgo, and Chiapas.

Our social business model includes:

  • Artisanal production integrated with contemporary apparel designs made by our inhouse team,
  • A supply chain with specialized manufactures and 3PLs,
  • Our own digital channels so we can share an authentic connection with our customers,
  • A data-driven strategy to be more efficient than one that relies on traditional channels,
  • And a robust e-commerce platform to complete the virtuous cycle.

We also tied social impact with business growth from day one. We didn't want to risk the temptation to place aside our social mission in times when the business would be in trouble. That is why our main value proposition and key differentiator is the artisanal element in each product. If someone suggests moving away from our impact strategy, the brand would be at risk of losing its DNA and the company would struggle in a competitive market. To the contrary, we constantly need to continuously increase our impact activities so that it strengthens our values, so that our customers can remain engaged and proud to wear our products every day. This is how we assure everything is aligned: our impact, our brand, our investors, and our team.

After some years of building the brand, creating the product lines, validating as well as rejecting tons of crazy ideas and hypotheses, we have taken a new step to move closer to our goal. We want to take advantage of technology and globalization by forging a positive connection between rural artisans and responsible adventurers who want to leave a positive footprint in our world.

Venturing in the US represents a great opportunity to access the largest market in the world and a new international platform we can use to reach other countries in the future. For us, it means getting in touch with a mature consumer and socially conscious millennials willing to move away from fast fashion and move toward ethical brands.

As a genuine social entrepreneur, I always look beyond the business. By increasing the demand for our products, and therefore increasing our income, we will be able to generate more fair work for artisans, expand our reach and collaborate with more communities in order to scale our impact programs to thousands of artisans in Mexico and other countries. We are aware that the economic issue is not the only one to be solved within artisan’s communities, and so we will extend our impact as we grow.

What happens within the families when the women start earning more money than their husbands? How do they spend the money they earn? Do they buy their first TV, or do they invest in their children's education? Do they leave their crops and start buying junk food? How do you promote wellbeing without imposing your ideas and their own decisions? How do you operate with efficient processes, while respecting their indigenous traditions? The economic benefits do not always generate wellbeing, and so we need to develop the right tools for monitoring and evaluating our work in each community to assure that we are generating the positive impact we are aiming to make . There is still a long path ahead on the social impact side, but becoming a Bcorp certified company was the first step forward in assuring our commitment to track and improve our social and environmental impact.

After a long journey, we are now reaching the top of a new lookout point , a new milestone. Launching the brand in the US is a new mountain that contains many unknown challenges in the months to come, but we are a well-prepared team looking forward to the climb. Our backpacks are full of dreams, positive energy, and the correct gear to overcome any obstacle in the trail. At SOMEONE SOMEWHERE we are convinced that this new chapter will expand our contribution to improving the wellbeing of the artisans and her communities, helping lift both out of poverty and into fair and healthy jobs and lives.

Join our journey at www.someonsomewhere.com