Social Enterprise Helps Rwandan Women Craft a Better FuturePrinter Friendly Version
In 2008, after four years as a commercial litigation associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in New York, Benjamin Stone ’04 (seated, lower right) took a 50 percent pay cut. And he couldn’t be happier. Stone left Orrick to become senior vice president and general counsel of Indego Africa, a New York–based nonprofit founded by his college roommate, Matthew Mitro (kneeling, left), and—in an unusual form of pro bono—Orrick agreed to pay Stone’s salary, an arrangement that continues to this day.
Indego Africa helps female survivors of the genocide in Rwanda by hiring the women to make handicrafts; selling their colorful baskets, yoga bags, laptop sleeves, and wine coasters online and in U.S. stores; then putting the profits toward training the women to run a business on their own. “These handicrafts are an engine to get at much longer-term sustainability,” says Stone.
In addition to being guaranteed a fair wage, the 250 artisans working for Indego can take classes in financial management, entrepreneurship, and computer literacy. “There are no handouts,” says Stone. “The women have earned all the training they’ve gotten, and it leads to a different sense of ownership and a pride in what they’re doing.” Indego is, in effect, two enterprises in one: a retailer and a business school. “I don’t think that those two components independent of each other would have as much long-term social impact,” says Stone. Eventually the group hopes to expand into neighboring countries. “Our end goal,” he says, “is to change the conversation about what fair trade can do for people.”
Indego’s distinctive form of social entrepreneurship is already attracting attention. Harvard Business School Professor Kathleen McGinn is deeply interested in Mitro and Stone’s unusual business model, which concentrated on building an infrastructure before raising funds. Her case study of Indego will be published this fall.
As a lawyer, entrepreneur, and amateur photographer, Stone has found his calling: “I get to draw on all my passions and focus them onto one objective, which is to work with these women and make a difference.”
All of 2010 Alumni Almanac