Report Shows that Americans are Better Prepared for Retirement

Over recent years, a lot of concerns have been raised with regards to how ill prepared many Americans seem to be when it comes to preparing themselves for retirement in terms of their finances. There have been worries that many Americans will find it difficult to cope financially and meet all of their essential costs when the times comes to retire because they have failed to make adequate provisions for their golden years.

However, a recent report has indicated that the climate appears to be changing for the better, with a rise in the number of Americans making provisions for their retirement years. A recent Fidelity report has shown that as a nation America appears to be better prepared for retirement than in previous years with figures showing that there are now more households that are prepared for retirement in terms of their finances than there were in 2013. The figures were based on analysis of research carried out in relation to funding for retirement and this involved a survey of 4,650 people.

As part of the study, respondents were asked questions relating to how easily they would be able to cover essential costs in retirements such as the cost of food, healthcare and accommodation. Each household was then issued with a score from Fidelity based on the answers provided. Households had to receive a score of 81 or over in order to indicate that they would be able to cover such basic expenses without any issues, and the number of households that achieved this score came in at 45 percent compared to 38 percent in 2013, which was the last time that this particular study was carried out.

Encouraging figures

The figures for this year’s report also showed that the number of households that needed to make changes to their plans for retirement in order to be able to meet the necessary essential costs fell from 43 percent in 2013 to 32 percent.

Officials have said that the figures and information from the latest Fidelity report are very encouraging and appear to show that Americans are becoming more savvy and organized when it comes to preparing themselves for their retirement. Many are now realizing the importance of saving towards their retirement and have become more aware of the problems that they could face if they fail to make the necessary provisions.

Majority of Manitoban Canada Bad Credit Loan Lenders are Unlicensed

When Manitoba consumers are seeking out short-term payday loans online, they are more likely to discover unlicensed lenders than licensed ones, says a new national study by a non-profit consumer organization.

According to Consumers Council of Canada, 12 online lenders in the province of Manitoba were investigated as part of the study and the researchers found that just two were licensed by the provincial government.

Despite maintaining some of the strictest bad credit loan rules in the country, the organization believes “you are not safer in provinces with more regulation.”

For instance, the Manitoba government instituted some of these rules on the payday loan industry:

  • The province has the lowest borrowing rate in Canada: $17 per $100 borrowed.
  • Licensed lenders are required to limit their borrowing to 30 percent of net pay.

Businesses are mandated to issue a notice to the customer at the point of borrowing, which highlights the high cost of borrowing, credit counselling information and the right to cancel the loan at anytime.

“Licensing has not made illegal lending go away,” said Ken Whitehurst, executive director of the Consumers Council of Canada. “Unlicensed lenders seem to request highly specific banking information. It’s very difficult to know who you are dealing with online.”

When measured from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island, the study noted that the province of Newfoundland had the smallest amount of regulation. This means a great number of consumers are faced with a growing number of unlicensed bad credit loan companies. Many of these companies utilize affiliates who build an online presence through websites to funnel “leads” to them. Swift Bad Credit Loans is not caught up in this scheme but it’s an example of a payday loan website.

Overall, study authors averred that close to all licensed lenders had followed the rules and abided by regulations. However, non-licensed enterprises offered very little compliance with the regulations, whether at the federal or provincial level.

Canadian Provinces & Cities Taking Action

Last month, the city of Hamilton garnered headlines after it was reported that several city councilors were looking to introduce legislation that would tighten rules regarding bad credit loan establishments.

If the proposed legislation is enacted then it would become the very first city in the province of Ontario to restrict and regulate payday loan stores at a municipal level.

Matthew Green, Ward 3 Councillor, asked city staff to assess the possibility of such action.

Green’s initiative came as Tom Cooper, director of Hamilton’s Roundtable for Poverty Reduction (HRPR), referred to this industry as “predatory lending,” adding these storefronts “prey on the most vulnerable in our society.”
Stan Keyes, president of the Hamilton-based Canadian Payday Loan Association, said, however, that sometimes a short-term, high-interest loan can be the “smartest solution” for somebody who has rent to pay or a utility bill to cover.

“Payday loans are less expensive than a series of overdrafts or defaulting on an auto loan,” stated Keyes. “They are a better deal than having the electricity or the heat or the telephone turned off, and as a consequence to later pay to have them turned on again.”

A Billion-Dollar Industry in Canada

Since the financial crisis, the payday loan industry has immensely grown.

As of 2014, it is estimated that there are approximately 1,350 payday loan stores across the country. The industry is worth about $2 billion, despite just three percent of families taking out a two-week loan in the past three years.

Experts say that Canadian users of bad credit loan lenders are young with a bad credit rating, who prefer the convenience and can’t access other forms of credit from traditional financial institutions.

Instead of relying on a payday loan to cover expenses, financial experts highly recommend to start a budget and, most importantly, within your means.

“Don’t set yourself up for failure. Create a budget, understand when your money comes in and when your money needs to go out,” said Jeffrey Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada, Inc. “Live within your means.”

How Alibaba, PayPal Could Affect Ecommerce

Alibaba is considering a proposal to work with PayPal in a bid to expand and increase the amount of payment options available to its customers after the Chinese company recorded a record in the number of sales and revenue during its annual Single’s day promotion.

Alibaba stated that the company sold merchandise worth $7.5 billion within 19 hours of its promotion, breaking the record which was set up last year. The Chinese e-commerce company’s Vice Chairman revealed that the company has already had discussion with Apple Inc. regarding Apple Pay and a possible alliance and is also open to working with PayPal in the future as more and more people are shifting to online shopping with pre-sales on an all-time high.

This success has given even more confidence to China’s largest e-commerce operator as it looks to increase its accessibility to international merchants, which is a part of its global expansion plan to make Alibaba a direct rival of other e-commerce companies such as Amazon. Just 2 months ago, Alibaba had the most successful IPO in the history; the company’s financial affiliate has more than 180 online million customers in over a hundred countries; at the moment things are looking very positive for the investors and the company itself.

Alibaba’s recent success is “single’s day” or anti-valentine’s day, which has now surpassed Black Friday observed in the U.S. and become the world’s most lucrative online shopping day and the most profitable manufactured holiday ever. Even though the company introduces this day in a bid to boost sales by targeting people who are still single, the lucrative offers that are given to public are so tempting that singles aren’t the only one going after the offers; families have also started to shop online on this day to take advantage of generous discounts and promotional offers.

The increased popularity and the high amount of sales have forced Alibaba to consider an internationally reputed credit card company with strong footing to take care of its payments and sales with PayPal at the top of the list. Alibaba is looking to expand its operations all over the globe and with PayPal having a strong international footing the expansion can be quite easier.

Currently Alibaba is marketing itself in various countries including Singapore, Malaysia etc. through online advertisement, videos and social media. Even though Alibaba has its operations in the United States of America, it is facing strong competition from Amazon. Alibaba is of the view that with the help of PayPal, it can continue to impose itself in the fast growing Chinese e-commerce market and cover up its losses it continues to suffer in the United States of America. The market in china is expected to grow by 25% in the next few years from $390 billion in 2014 to around $800 billion in 2017. With more and more brands becoming dependent on holidays and online shopping, Alibaba’s partnership with PayPal might bring a boom for the Company.

How Student Loans Affect an Entrepreneurs Long Term Goals

For the past 15-years the student loan market has grown significantly as more US citizens are going to college and using federal borrowed money to do so. The dramatic rise in student loan debt is very much correlated to the higher tuition fees charged by both public and private institutions. Many analysts who have been following the rise in loan debt have seen that much of it is due to the increase in costs of tuition.

Many student loan companies are creating the problem, as all of the cost is being handed down to the borrower. Tremendously lax lending practices by loan corporations at high rates have essentially upped student tuition, which in turn has increased student debt. The cycle of continuous lending despite the likelihood that many of the loans have a high probability of not being paid back has been trending this way for almost 30-years, and is eventually expected to come to a head.

Here is the real issue and the main cause of the problem. The federal government has the come to the conclusion that everyone is entitled to go to college, and is more than willing to provide money so that kids who want to go can. Admirable, but not realistic as many personal loans for people with bad credit cannot be paid back. Moreover, the country now has a shortage of folks in the trade business, as many of the people who would have went into a trade instead applied for a government loan to go to school.

Education is golden and individuals should always be trying to improve their overall knowledge, but the idea that everyone is entitled to go to college is irrational. Federal loans are given out with tremendous ease (just like the housing market did for years), without any due diligence as to whether or not the student will be able to find work when they graduate, what field they will be working in, and if they can actually pay back both the interest and the principal of the loan.

Many in the financial world emphatically believe that it is the student loan institutions that are causing much of the bubble. Some have suggested that there needs to be a change in regulation and bankruptcy rules. Higher learning institutions must also feel the fallout from a default on student loans. Such lax regulation has allowed potential borrowers to easily receive funds for a student loan, which in turn has prompted many colleges to simply charge more for tuition, as they know that students can afford it with government assistance. Effectively, higher learning institutions are taking advantage of the lax lending practices of the federal government, squeezing as many dollars as they can out of an extremely generous program.

Student loans are by far the riskiest type of loan since there is no collateral pledged. Greater standards need to be implemented with stricter guidelines for approving student loans. One way to look at it is that all education is not equal, in the sense that a computer science major from MIT has a better chance of landing a job and repaying a loan compared to an art major from a community college.

The government needs to do more due diligence and try to figure out the loan applicants likelihood of graduation, ability to get a job and possible income. Students looking to borrower should be investigated to get an ideal of their creditworthiness, much like a bank does for every other loan. Student loan requirements need to be more stringent, as the days of easy money need to come to an official end.

Australia’s Organic Wineries

Tamburlaine – A range of reserve, gestalt, sparkling and dessert wines from The Hunter Valley and Orange regions of New South Wales. Australian Certified Organic.

Cape Jaffa – Mount Benson winery with a diverse range of award winning wines.

Captains Creek – “a small family owned vineyard producing premium handcrafted certified organic wines.” The adage of quality over quantity rings true in this vineyard with Captains Creek producing a small range of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.

Botobolar – Gold winning shiraz from Australia’s oldest established vineyard, as well as a variety of reds and low preservative white wines.

Glenara – Certified organic by the Organic Vignerons Association, since 1992 this vineyard produces a Riesling, Chardonnay, Carbernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Franc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz, Reisling Auslese and a 100% Merlot.

Grandview – Southern Tasmanian vineyard producing organic Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Gamay.

Grancari – Family owned and managed Australian Certified Organic vineyard in the McLaren Valley of South Australia. They boast and impressive list of accolades for a diverse range of wines.

Harris Organic Wines – The only Australian Certified Organic vineyard in Western Australia’s SwanValley. They produce reds, whites and natural preservative free dessert wines and post world wide.

Martins Hill – Carbon neutral vineyard located in Mudgee, New South Wales. They produce a small range of organically grown reds and whites as well as vintage port.

Prince Albert – Organic vineyard in Geelong, Victoria.

Robinvale -Vineyard located along the Murray Darling of Victoria. Certified by the Bio-Dynamic Research Institute as well as Australian Certified Organic. They produce a range of table, sparkling and fortified wines some low in preservatives as well as organic.

Rosnay– Premium quality hand-made wines produces from fruit grown organically in the Belubula River area of New South Wales.

Temple Bruer– Award winning wines from an Australian Certified Organic vineyard. They are particularly recognised for merlot, verdehlo and cabernet petit verdot.

Wildstone – From the Ferguson Valley South west of West Australia. Offering a range of Merlot, preservative-free Merlot, Cabernet Sauvingnon, Unwooded Chardonnay, Rose and Classic Red.

Wilkie – Sustainable vineyard in Adelaide Plains. Wilkie have grown and produced organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Merlot, Colombard and Verdelho.

Wright Robertson – Responsible but not always strictly organic this winery delivers a range subject to availability: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, a dessert wine ‘Minus Twelve’, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir

Kalleske – Located in South Australia’s Barossa Valley this vineyard produces highly rated certified organic produce grown organically and bio dynamically.

Macquariedale – Australian Certified Bio-Dynamic in the lower Hunter Valley producing a range of reds and whites: Unwooded chardonnay, Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and a Muscat Liqueur.

Pig in the House – Located in the Central Ranges of New South Wales. This vineyard delivers a selection of premium reds: Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz organically and sustainably.

Bholu: Contemporary Homewares Combining East and West

Soul Economy thoroughly enjoyed meeting with Jodie from Bholu recently. After living in India for a number of years, Jodie started Bholu – a fair trade and climate neutral company that combines contemporary western designs with traditional embroidery techniques by Gujarati women artisans to create a beautiful homewares and children’s range. In addition, part of the proceeds from Bholu projects go back to the community. Her passion and achievements are truly inspirational. To find out more, please read on…..

1. What gave you the idea to start the business?
Bholu was born after I had been living in India for a couple of years. I had gone to India on a scholarship to work as a set and costume designer for a traditional Indian dance company. I had been working there and had fell in love with the country and its people. After the devastating Jan 2001 earthquake which flattened most of Gujarat, I went to assist as an aid for a traditional village situated in the desert region of Kutchchh, in Western Gujarat, India, near the border of Pakistan. I worked with a NGO based at the Mahatma Ghandi Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and my job was to help build huts and traditionally decorate them.

I experienced amazing hospitality by these incredibly rural and poor traditional people. I became particularly close with the women, whose beautiful traditional embroidery is only really used for their own clothing. They are amazing women, they have bangles up to their armpits and do their embroidery with a child strapped to their back in low light. Their skill and art amazed me, and I thought immediately, I have to do something with this.

A few years later, I went back with my designs and gave the samples to different village women to see what would happen. I achieved some amazing results which excited me and started the possibility for production.

The women laughed at the lack of sophistication of my designs and thought that their “Bholu” could do better! Bholu meaning a small child, often a term of endearment to a grandchild.

The name stuck and Bholu was born!

2. What was the plan for the business?
Bholu was never started as a money making venture. It was a way to collaborate my love of India and its people, my designs and a mighty fine challenge!

As it started to take off, I realised I had I something much greater than I had expected on my hands. I have very firm morals behind the business and keeping the traditional craft alive – the idea of fusing contemporary design but having it rendered by a traditional hand. The philosophy behind Bholu is very much about supporting the women and their craft with fair trade and the work allowing them to have financial support and independence.

We also have been running projects with slum children and encouraging them to draw and have fun rather than working. I feel it is very important to remember the humanitarian reasons of why I first started this business and not become too consumed with the “business” side of things and to let that happen organically.

3. How long has the business been running? Is it going as you expected?
We have been in stores for nearly 2 years, but the idea has been an embryo of an idea since 2001.

Bholu is growing at a rate I never expected. I started this as a small side project to my film design career and it has taken over. I still balance work in the film industry, but it is getting harder.

My partner and I sometimes refer to Bholu like a gorgeous but badly behaved child. We seem to be forever running after it and trying to rein everything in. We seem to get over one challenge then another opportunity hits us in the face. The product and the story sells itself, and I am pleasantly surprised by how many people are as interested and passionate about it also.

4. What were you doing before you started the business?
My background is as a set and costume designer for Film, TV, Theatre and Opera ( I graduated from NIDA in 1998 and have been working in the industry since then. This is what in fact took me to India, as I went on a cultural residency to work with a dance company there. This is when I discovered my love and passion for the country and its people. I still work in the industry, my last 2 films were “Romulus My Father” and “Candy”.

5. What do you enjoy most about the business?
I especially enjoy meeting the people that love our products and story. It’s wonderful discovering the connections with like-minded people that are drawn to Bholu and its philosophy.

Going back to India and seeing the faces of the women and children who make this all happen is incredibly fulfilling. My most cherished part is going back to India and handing over the money we raise from Bholu projects. It is so little to us, but means the world to them. For instance, in one recent project, we raised $3000. This is going to a school in a slum community. It will go towards the food that the children get when they go to school. It is a way of educating children, by offering a meal per child per schooling session. This encourages families to send their kids to school instead of work. This money we handed over will feed 200 children one meal a day for a year. It is such a blessing to be able to make a difference and see it go straight to the source of need.

As part of the design process, discovering new techniques and new fabrics and being inspired by the colours and the madness of India. It is most definitely the most frustrating and incredibly difficult country to business with but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

6. What have been your greatest challenges? Your greatest successes?
Working in India is a huge challenge. I think our cocktail of India, 3rd world country, import, export, currency fluctuation and language barriers are huge challenges. Daily I feel like we have our greatest challenges! My greatest success has been actually getting this company up and running! I feel like building our first school in India has been a huge success and all the time I do think how wonderful it is that we have created a company which is sustaining women in work, which was our initial aim.

7. What is your core product? Do you have other products as well?
Our core product has always been the homewares but just this year the kids products have really taken off and have almost become 50% of our business. We have found there is a huge market for quality kids products and people have really responded to the story of our kids products coming from the kids workshops we do in the slum communities.

8. What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about people, new places, and being out of my element. I love new challenges and collaborations in different cultures, languages and bringing what I can to a project.

9. Who inspires you?
There are so many amazing people out there doing incredible things, it is hard to pin point only a few. Daily I meet and read about people who bring me inspiration in so many different ways. One of the most inspiring people I have met is an Indian man called Jayesh Patel ( Jayeshbhai is the founder of the NGO Manav Sadhna in Ahmedababd, India at the Ghandi Ashram, which we support. I met him 8 years ago and I have forever been in awe of his incredible sense of compassion, selflessness and generosity. If I could have half of what he has in his little toe, I would be happy! My gorgeous partner Greig Fraser ( who is a cinematographer, has been a great source of inspiration for me. He has taught me about being open and confident and to share as much knowledge as you can with the people around you. He is big on sharing his trade secrets and encouraging young, up and coming professionals in his industry. He has been a big cheerleader of mine to encourage me to jump and fly and follow my dreams and enjoy taking risks. I am often inspired by other young people who are doing what they can to help global change and awareness. I recently found this inspiring group of people who are the souls behind a project called “Globaloness Project”.

10. What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue their passion?
Follow your dream, listen to people, talk to people, hear their stories, experience as much as you can and then pass on your knowledge and support to someone else who might need it. Embrace new opportunities and the hurdles when things don’t go to plan, it might just be the lesson you needed. Make mistakes, as many as you can, as early as you can, but remember not to make them twice. A small mistake at the beginning might prevent a bigger one later down the track. You are as only as good as the people around you. Find a good network of people with skills you can draw on, in the early days this is very important.

My biggest advice is to find and identify mentors. They may be people you simply admire from afar, or they may be an active mentor who can meet and use as a sounding board and for some external advice. Listen and talk to as many people as you can, take it all on board and then follow your instinct. The rest will follow.


Suite 110, Level 1, 59 Marlborough Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW 2010 Australia
* By appointment only
P: +61 (0)2 9698 0153
F: +61 (0)2 8560 0228

ECOdirect: Enviro Friendly Nappies and Baby Products

It was great to meet with Sinead from ECOdirect recently. Soul Economy was interested to find out more about why she started the business and how they are giving back. Not only do they offer an environmentally friendly disposable nappy they have also developed a range of all natural baby and family care products. ECOdirect support a number of environmental and children’s not-for-profits and, to add to this, the Good Environmental Choice Australia endorsed Moltex Eco Nappies with its Good Environmental Choice Award . Read on to find out more….

1. What gave you the idea to start the business? How long did you have the idea for?
I used Moltex Eco Nappies for my son, who had mild eczema, when we lived in Ireland and found they were much gentler on his skin because they don’t contain unnecessary chemicals. It was also fantastic to find a disposable nappy that was gentler on the environment for the same reason. When we moved back to Australia and I couldn’t source the nappies here I spoke to the manufacturers about importing them into the country.

I had the idea for about 6 months before I went to Germany.

2. Did you receive much support from family and friends and other people in the community in the beginning?
My business partner Sioned and I don’t have any of our family here but our friends were very enthusiastic and encouraging. We both had to fit the time needed to start the company, in with running our families – luckily we have very understanding and supportive husbands!

3. How long has the business been running?
3 years

4. What were you doing before you started the business?
I was a full-time mum.

5. What have been your greatest challenges? Your greatest successes?
I find the greatest challenge is still juggling work and home. Also gaining all the skills needed to run a business. It has been a bit of a learning hill!

6. What is your core product? Do you have other products as well?
Our core product is our Moltex Eco Nappies. They are made using a biodegradable backsheet and specially formulated maize-starch granules for absorption. Packaged in 100% biodegradable bags, Moltex Eco Nappies contain unbleached wood-pulp from sustainable forests and are 100% chlorine free, ideal for children with sensitive skin. The nappies are also free from TBT (tributyl tin – an environmental pollutant with a hormone-like effect), and contain a natural tea-leaf extract to control odour and yeast infections that often cause nappy rash.

We’ve also developed our own range of all natural baby and family care products called WotNot Naturals which includes 100% biodegradable nappy bags and an all natural baby wash and lotion. We will add 100% biodegradable baby wipes and an all natural sunscreen in early January.

7. Tell us about the Good Environmental Choice Awards?
On 12 July this year the Good Environmental Choice Australia endorsed Moltex Eco Nappies with its Good Environmental Choice Award.

Good Environmental Choice Australia manages the Australian Ecolabel Program and is a non-profit organisation with management representation from Australian industry, environmental organisations, scientific and technical professionals and a wide spectrum of stakeholders. It is the only environmental labelling program which indicates the environmental performance of a product from a whole product life perspective. For further information visit

8. Are there other people out there doing similar things?
There are other companies selling similar products but we differentiate ourselves through our customer service and our environmental and community initiatives.

We plant a tree through the not-for-profit environmental organization Trees For Life for every box of nappies sold, donate a % of nappy sales to Greening Australia as well as donate a % of sales of the WotNot baby care range to children’s charities and invite our customers to nominate possible recipients.

9. Is it difficult or easier to attract the right people to work for you?
We have hired our staff through ads in our local paper rather than an agency. We’ve been lucky as it hasn’t taken us long to hire the people we needed.

10. How have you gone about promoting the business? Of these, which have been the most effective?
We’ve used many forms of advertising including magazines, newspapers, flyer distribution, expos, markets and web directories. All of these have helped but most of our customers come from word of mouth – people spreading the word is the best promoter we’ve got.

11. What keeps you going? 
Total belief in our products, the thrill of learning so much running a company and the 3 people I love most.

A11/148 Old Pittwater Road, Brookvale NSW 2100 Australia
P: 1300 767 065 or +61 2 9939 1808
F: +61 (0)2 9939 1781

moral fibre: Organic, FairTrade Cotton Products

Soul Economy thoroughly enjoyed meeting Billie recently and finding out more about moral fibre. They create exceptional quality products of moral fibre, that is, organic and Fairtrade cotton, and make every effort to ensure that the environment and all of the people involved in their supply chain are treated with respect and dignity. They also give a significant % of profits to women’s issues. To find out more from Billie….

1. What gave you the idea to start the business?
Around 10 years ago I crawled out from under the “western world/mass media” rock that had shielded me from the atrocities that were being perpetrated upon women around the world. This was the first time that I had heard of “honour killings”.

Honour” killings of women can be defined as acts of murder in which “a woman is killed for her actual or perceived immoral behavior.” Such “immoral behaviour” may take the form of marital infidelity, refusing to submit to an arranged marriage, demanding a divorce, flirting with or receiving phone calls from men, failing to serve a meal on time, or – grotesquely — “allowing herself” to be raped. In the Turkish province of Sanliurfa, one young woman’s “throat was slit in the town square because a love ballad was dedicated to her over the radio.”

Those who kill for honour are almost never punished. In the rare instances that cases reach the courts, the killers are sentenced to just two or three years. A human-rights report published in March 1999 stated that “honour” killings took the lives of 888 women in the single province of Punjab in 1998. (Pelin Turgut, The Toronto Star, May 14, 1998).

I struggled to understand that this happened in our time, our world, and then I was totally horrified to discover the lack of response that our government gave to this. I have never been one to be content with having heated discussions over the dinner table about issues that concerned me — I am a believer that if you are aware of an injustice and you do not become part of the solution, you then become part of the problem. At that time I was a single mother with 2 young daughters, limited skills, knowledge and money and I realised that I needed more than just good intentions and a physical presence to be of any help so I mapped out a very strategic long-term plan to set about making myself useful.

Over the following 4 years I completed a Bachelor Degree in Social Science (focusing on psychology, sociology, gender studies, theology and law), while working a number of part-time jobs and having fun with my daughters. After finishing my Degree I worked for a number of government departments as a Community Development Officer in areas with significant social problems. My focus throughout this time was developing strategies to respond to Domestic Violence & Child Abuse.

While I was always very clear about what I wanted to use my life and skills to impact on — women’s issues, I was not really sure what path I would take, law reform, political soap box etc. Then I came across and read the wonderful Anita Roddick’s book Business as Unusual. It was one of those powerful moments where it feels that things are all falling into place. Her thesis focused on using business to bring about sustainable change made so much sense and her book is incredibly generous with how to do this.

Within one month of finishing the book, I had written a 50 page business plan and was convinced I was onto something and that I could make this happen. On the 12th August 2004 global sisters was born. Over the past 3 1/2 years I have worked tirelessly to get global sisters to the point of creating precious products of moral fibre through a wonderful supply chain that embraces our values, and to develop ourWILD (Women’s International Leadership Development) funding program.

We believe that for sustainable authentic change to happen it needs to come from within the community it is addressing and we know that there is no shortage of courageous women living in these communities who have the passion in their heart and the fire in their bellies to take up this role and that they are only lacking the education, support and money to move forward.

We give 10% of our profits to supporting these courageous women through our WILD funding. We strive to build long-term relationships with these women — our sisters – and commit to using every opportunity we have to raising awareness of their situations and channeling support to them.

While our primary intention for our business is responding to injustices against women we are also committed to ensuring that all involved in the creation of our precious products share our values and impacts positively on the people they work with and the community they live in.

Sewing the Seeds of Change

Our Organic Fairtrade cotton in India is provided by an organisation that works with 180 small scale farmers and is currently training 125 students in organic sustainable farming methods. When they buy cotton from the farmers, they pay an 8% premium. If there are no immediate buyers for the cotton, they store the cotton in their cotton bank at their cost until it is sold. They also arrange for the organic certification of the cotton on behalf of the individual farmers. They have developed natural farming methods and natural pesticides to control the pests. Farmers use chili, garlic and soap instead of expensive and harmful chemicals, saving the farmers up to 3000 rupees per acre.

At this organisation the women are paid the same as the men – a rarity – and given paid maternity leave. Farmers are paid a 30% premium above the price of conventional cotton, and they receive a pension, health insurance and good medical facilities. Collecting Organic cotton is done from farmers who are paid earlier for their cotton.

Weaving the Fabric of a Just Society

The collected organic cotton is further converted into fine tuned yarns, the yarn and fabrics are made entirely from unprocessed, naturally pigmented cotton fiber rich in natural color. The yarns are then meshed into gorgeous fabrics rich in quality and sustainability. The dyeing process that they perform is unique in its style, and the aroma of life is expressed through the light and grand shades in the fabrics that are obtained by low impact and non formaldehyde dyes.

Our products are manufactured by a non-profit rehabilitation program in Southern India. The company is the first of its kind, it is run by Franciscan Sisters where young women are employed who are considered outcasts because they have disabilities or are considered unfit for marriage by their families. The organisation has a workforce of around 120 women who are given employment, training and support. Their employees are paid 50% above the standard wage, given free accommodation, water and electricity and help towards paying their dowries and a lump sum paid after five years of employment to start a home.

The Sisters care not only for the cotton but also for all of the women they work with. The Sisters’ latest project is the Cancer Institution that currently offers nursing courses. The Sisters take great pride in managing the production process with love and respect.

Our first shipment of precious moral fibre cargo is due to arrive in Australia late October and we are so excited and can’t wait to wrap the world in it.

2. How long did you have the idea for?
Started growing it in August 2004.

3. Did you receive much support from family and friends and other people in the community in the beginning?

Almost everyone has been supportive however some (who did not know me well) were sure that I was biting off more than I could chew. My husband and 2 daughters have been totally and consistently supportive and encouraging.

4. How long has the business been running?
Well running — hmmmm, what date would you put on this? I registered global sisters as a company in August 2004.

5. What were you doing before you started the business?
Raising my 2 wonderful daughters, studying, and Community Development work with a range of government departments.

6. What have been your greatest challenges?
For the first 3 years I had a full-time position with the Department of Housing and was working on global sisters every night and on weekends. Also, I have been on so many steep learning curves I have perpetual motion sickness. I have had to learn about developing a business plan, building websites, negotiating with International Government and Non Government Organistations, creating a brand, designing products, pattern-making, weaves and wefts of fabrics, manufacturing processes, freighting, tariffs and a myriad of very scary financial processes.

7. Your greatest successes?
Consistently attracting fabulous people (mainly women) who want to help me out and cheer me on.

8. What is your core product?
Organic, Fairtrade cotton bags – chairbags for school and conferences, basic bags for library, shopping and other fun stuff and small draw string bags for school reader books, makeup, lunch etc. Waiters aprons – 3 sizes in a gorgeous, chocolate brown or classic black.

9. Do you have other products as well?
We have some beautiful Organic Fairtrade cotton Tee shirts coming real soon and plan on continuing to grow our range to include bub and children’s gear.

10. Are there other people out there doing similar things?
No. While there are companies who work with organic cotton (most are not certified), there are no companies who offer certified Organic & Fairtrade and also give a significant % of profits to women’s issues.

11. Is it difficult or easier to attract the right people to work for you?
Well I can’t wait to have this dilemma, although I doubt I will as I get asked very regularly by pretty amazing women (and some exceptional men) if they can work with me.

12. How have you gone about promoting the business?
We have 2 websites which covers our WILD funding activities and which covers everything relating to our precious products. We will register on website networks (like the fabulous Soul Economy) that share our values and intentions.

13. Of these, which have been the most effective?
We have not started actively marketing yet so I can’t really respond to this yet….

14. What keeps you going?
I am passionate about using my life to make a positive, lasting impact on women’s issues. I seek out and treasure other wonderful women who share my vision. My husband and my daughters provide me with unrelenting support and encouragement.

global sisters & moral fibre:
PO Box 1231
Mullumbimby NSW 2482

The Enlightened Elephant: The Gift that Gives Twice

It was a pleasure for Soul Economy to speak to Michael recently and ask him some questions about The Enlightened Elephant. It is an Australian owned store and company, that is dedicated to importing and selling items that are made by community based groups and non-profit organisations. They are proud stockists of Monkeybiz beaded dolls and animals, Wire Women jewellery also from the townships of Capetown, BANG Bags from Bangladesh, and about to sell Kopanang Embroidery. “The gift that gives twice”. To find out more from Michael….

1. What gave you the idea to start the business? How long did you have the idea for?
I was already looking to start a business of my own as I had decided several years prior to change career, 00 to be precise, and start my own business and had bought the building, my shop and home, in anticipation, not certain what business. The idea of this particular business came from initially buying a doll in LA in June 04 and being so touched by the concept and seeing them again in New York a year later and heeding it as a sign to do something about it. And did, opening in Dec 05.

2. Did you receive much support from family and friends and other people in the community in the beginning?
My family was very emotionally supportive and positive towards my business. They all live interstate. I very much started my business on a wing and a prayer, a lot of faith and naivety but a lot of positive energy and willingness. I received a lot of assistance from friends here in Sydney as I ran the business on weekends and flew as an international flight attendant mid week. There were a lot of times when friends had to cover weekends for me and did so. The local community very much supported the business from the beginning and the media also have been very supportive and attentive.

3. How long has the business been running?
Started Dec 2, 2005.

4. What were you doing before you started the business?
International flight attendant with QANTAS for 20 years.

5. What have been your greatest challenges? Your greatest successes? 
Greatest challenges: Having faith that a small ethical giftware business will succeed in the village of Erskineville and starting to import and retail without any prior experience whatsoever on my own.

Greatest success: Defeating my doubt and opening Dec 2, 2005 and being prepared to have faith in the continued success of the business and leave flying to run the store full time and look at expanding the business through the web and a chain of stores nationally.

6. What is your core product? Do you have other products as well?
Monkeybiz beaded dolls and animals. Yes, I have Wire Women jewellery also from the townships of Capetown, BANG Bags from Bangladesh, and about to sell Kopanang Embroidery.

7. Are there other people out there doing similar things?
Yes quite a few. The Fair Trade Association members are all very similar.

8. Is it difficult or easier to attract the right people to work for you?
Yes, I have had a lot of people offer to help or work for me as they love the ethos of the business and what it does for them and others.

9. How have you gone about promoting the business? Of these, which have been the most effective?
I have had a lot of media attention with the media coming to me. Sydney Morning Herald Domain, Daily Telegraph Business section, local rags, Craft magazines, CH10 TV interview, Marie Claire, Better Homes and Gardens and soon to be in the Sydney Magazine.

10. What keeps you going? 
I love what I do. I love how it helps the women and enables them to empower themselves and create change. I love the effect it has on my customers and inspires and lifts them and how the dolls and animals reach out and touch people. I love how my soul feels at the end of each day and my desire is to make the business as big as possible in order to help create as much goodness and enoughness as I can for as many people as possible. That is my dream.

The Enlightened Elephant:
Michael Gutte
+ 61 (0)422 018 472

Fair Trade Coffee Company: Enjoy a Fairtrade Coffee in Glebe

Soul Economy had the great pleasure of speaking to Roger O’Halloran recently and learn more about the Fair Trade Coffee Company. They offer coffee and tea free from exploitation, so you can be sure that every bean of the coffee and tea leaf is certified fair trade. The cafe offers a comfortable, relaxing environment in which to enjoy specialty Fairtrade coffee and delicious meals and snacks. Located close to Glebe markets, University of Sydney and Broadway shopping complex they offer a great meeting place with a real sense of community. To find out more from Roger…..

1. What gave you the idea to start the business? How long did you have the idea for? 
Palms Australia has done similar work since 1961 i.e. recruit, prepare send and support volunteers who work for two to three years at the request of communities seeking to sustainably reduce poverty through skill exchange. When we were looking at raising greater awareness and income for our work we decided that a cafe would be a good way of putting our ethic and values on the street.

Of course any income must not be produced off the back of exploited labour so The Fair Trade Coffee Company was a natural. We have previously of course had a fair trade artefacts business (New Guinea Arts 1971-2001) so the concept is not new to us. The specific idea of The Fair Trade Coffee Company was in development since 2004.

2. Did you receive much support from family and friends and other people in the community in the beginning? 
Yes, Palms Australia has a great little network of volunteers right around Australia including committees and a board and full-time volunteers in our office. Many of the Palms community in Sydney gave great assistance at all levels of activity and still do.

3. How long has the business been running? 
The cafe has been open for just 12 months.

4. What were you doing before you started the business? 
I am the Executive Director of Palms Australia. A brief outline of Palms work is mentioned above and you can look at to get an idea of all I and my colleagues have been doing and still do.

5. What have been your greatest challenges? Your greatest successes? 
The early months of any small business I think can be scary while money is being poured in. From what I can gather when employing new staff we are probably the only cafe where employees receive award wage and conditions, including penalty rates on Saturdays and Public Holidays, and superannuation. I can understand business giving into the temptation of paying cash wages to avoid tax and lower labour costs. Not going that way was a challenge, especially when there were no profits.

6. What is your core product? Do you have other products as well? 
Certified Fair Trade Coffee and Tea and anything else imported. We also have great meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

7. Are there other people out there doing similar things? 
Yes, partially. I am not sure any are as exclusively fair trade as we are. Also I do not know of any other cafe that is set up to give all profits to overseas aid and development.

8. Is it difficult or easier to attract the right people to work for you? 
The ethic makes it easier.

9. How have you gone about promoting the business? Of these, which have been the most effective?
Providing great service and a great product is self promoting. Word of mouth can be slow, but is the best sales driver.

10. What keeps you going? 
The ethic and values, vision and mission of Palms Australia. Go to our web site. I think you will see all you need there, but feel free to ask for more if you need it.

Fair Trade Coffee Company:
33 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, NSW 2037 Australia
P: + 61 (0)2 9660 0621