Shea Parikh '16 and Gabe Dorit-Kendall '17 periodically load up their dorm rooms with hundreds of women's handbags. The bags aren't just fashion accessories–Parikh and Dorit-Kendall invest in artisan groups in Kenya and India who make the bags, and then sell them in and around Davidson. All of the profits are reinvested in the two countries to support the educational needs of children who have escaped, or are vulnerable to, human trafficking networks.
The philanthropic initiative began in the fall of 2013, when Parikh studied abroad with the Davidson in India program.
"We visited a town near Pondicherry to see the impact that micro-finance has in alleviating poverty. We met 10 women who had taken out a micro-finance loan to help support themselves and their families by making handbags," he recalled. "I spoke to some through a translator and learned they all wanted to grow their business beyond their village."
But Parikh recognized that the women didn't have the network, the money or the resources needed to grow a business. So he decided to take a chance and finance it himself.
"I thought that the business would do well at Davidson, so I put together a pilot order of 150 bags. I had no idea whether they were going to sell," Parikh said.
But they did sell. Parikh returned from abroad, and within four days, sales of the bags covered his initial investment.
"At that point, I realized not only was there a demand for these artisan goods, but we were also generating a significant revenue that could be used to tackle larger issues," he said.
For Parikh, the larger issue was child trafficking.
"The idea is to sponsor the educational needs of children escaping trafficking networks, which is an issue basically everyone can support," he explained.
On the same trip, Parikh and other students volunteered at a local school in Chennai, India, that works exclusively with children who have either escaped trafficking networks directly or who are extremely vulnerable to trafficking networks.
"Looking around the school's classrooms, these kids really had nothing to sit on besides the mud floor," Parikh noted. "In the monsoon season when water flows into the classroom, it doesn't create the most conducive learning environment. I realized that something simple could potentially have a big impact. So I decided we should take the profits we make from selling the women's self-help bags to provide these children with educational supplies."
With that mission in mind, he named the project "Earth's Kids."
"The acronym EK in Hindi means ‘one'," he explained. The Earth's Kids website reads "One Future, One Movement."
As the business grew, Parikh knew he needed help. That's how Gabe Dorit-Kendall got involved.
"I want to do nonprofit work," said Dorit-Kendall. "I reached out to Shea and we began working together. For the first semester, it was just Shea teaching me what to do. And then he went abroad again, so I took on more responsibility."
The two divide responsibilities for all aspects of the organization. Parikh works closely with the artisan groups and the partner school, coordinating with them to get the bags and transfer funds. Dorit-Kendall focuses on marketing, branding and expanding their connections in Davidson, such as selling at the Davidson Farmers Market and Davidson Arts Crawl. They also plan to expand and are preparing the e-commerce portion of their website, which will be ready in the coming months.
So far, the project has generated about $4,500 in profits. Parikh and Dorit-Kendall both find the work rewarding.
"We now have tangibly seen a difference," said Dorit-Kendall. "The group we work with in South India has been able to hire five new women just because they worked with us."
They also partnered with a group called Angy's Enterprise in Nairobi, Kenya, that Parikh met during an internship in the summer of 2015.
"On a random Saturday I went to the markets and saw this woman with really high quality bags. I started talking to her, heard her story, and put together an order of bags," he said.
The company employs at-risk females, mainly out of the Kibera Slum in Nairobi.
"One of the biggest issues at our partner school in Bangalore was kids wearing the same clothes every day to school. Regardless of cultural factors, that is going to affect a child's confidence in the classroom," Parikh said. "So we bought two sets of new uniforms for each of the 82 children. We wrote the check, and a couple of weeks later we got pictures of the kids in their uniforms. That was the moment it started to feel real. It was such a cool experience to see what we were able to do."
Parikh concluded, "We know that our efforts through Earth's Kids aren't going to solve the issue of human trafficking. In the grand scheme of things, we aren't even putting a dent in the issues. However, that isn't the point. If our efforts can make a transformational impact in one person's life, then those efforts become worthwhile. So far we've been able to do that for 82 children and 15 women, with hopes to continue growing."
Parikh is graduating in May, but intends to continue his involvement in the project. Dorit-Kendall will take over next year, ensuring that the project stays based in Davidson.