There is a saying that “Give man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Rags2Riches (R2R) is a social enterprise established in the Philippines, whose objective is to help alleviate poverty, particularly in the areas of Payatas in Quezon City.
The group works with the women in Payatas’ poor communities and finds opportunities to provide them with sufficient income so they can get out of poverty and become productive contributors to society.
Just recently, R2R shared their group’s ongoing preparations to Frontpageph.com in relation to the opening of IKEA in the Philippines, where the group will be the global furniture brand’s sewing service partner in the country.
“We are currently in the initial stages of the training due to social distancing and limited mobility. However, we were already able to do some sewing training sessions for about 20 of our artisans,” said Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, President and Founding Partner of R2R.
For now, Ruiz said they were able to provide sewing training for curtains, pillow covers, and clothes through video calls, recorded videos, and on-the-job practice. “We still have many modules lined up that we are hoping to roll out in the same way and hopefully, when the vaccine rolls out, we can hold these training sessions on-site and live.”
Under the partnership, R2R will have a space inside the soon-to-open-IKEA store in Pasay City. What the artisans will do is to provide varied textile services for IKEA customers like adjusting the size of fabric-based materials such as curtains and personalizing fabric goods like towels and bedsheets.
Upskilling local artisans online
As they continue with their preparations as IKEA’s local sewing service partner, R2R remains focused on its purpose of lifting Filipino artisans out of poverty, especially during a global pandemic. “During a time when a lot of vulnerable people are becoming even more vulnerable, we are able to support our artisans with regular income and livelihoods,” said Fernandez-Ruiz.
Since last year, R2R has decentralized its operations. Most members of the R2R team continue to work from home and coordinate daily deliverables via mobile and online to continue to keep its team safe while keeping livelihood going. Team members who need to travel, on the other hand, were provided with bicycles to make them mobile, if needed. “We have mapped out how this will look like and we’ll be able to do this while practicing strict social distancing and disinfection for materials and products that will be passed on from one place to another,” said Fernandez-Ruiz.
According to Cynthia Cabrera, R2R’s Community Enterprise Manager and one of the first R2R artisans from Payatas, the training during the pandemic was challenging, especially with regard to connection, she said. This made it particularly challenging as they worked towards producing high quality products as they learned new sewing techniques. “Merong marunong magtahi pero wala pang quality.”
It is this pursuit of quality that continues to drive R2R, especially as it gears up to meet the global standards of a brand like IKEA. “A beautiful result of this was that the artisans feel more professional and strive for excellence more,” said Fernandez-Ruiz. “They want that trust and responsibility of a business partnership.”
And while globalization is Cabrera’s dream for the community artisans, IKEA was initially not a familiar brand for most of their artisans. “Ano yung IKEA,” she said. But after learning about the brand’s reputation, Cabrera shared that R2R’s community artisans were very overwhelmed with excitement and created an air of excitement among them for sewing. “Marami na ring naengganyo na magtrain sa sewing. Halos lahat na gusto mag-training sa IKEA,” she said.
Making a positive impact with IKEA
In a recent press briefing, IKEA shared that the similar values and philosophies are what makes the partnership work.
“Our partnership with Rags2Riches has always been more about than just sealing a deal, we are growing together towards a common goal of making everyday life better for the many,” added Georg Platzer, Market Development Manager for IKEA Philippines.
Coupled with its mission, the partnership with IKEA enables R2R to upskill its artisans and plan for a new livelihood-giving business model.
As the pandemic persists in 2021, R2R looks to continue making a positive impact in the community. “Last 2020, we found ways to innovate on our supply chain, training, sales, and marketing, and the way we coordinate with each other. This year is about improving on those innovations, creating new products that are sustainable and useful, and continuing our mission of creating livelihood opportunities for artisans,” said Fernandez-Ruiz.