While reflecting on an unpredictable 2016, I realized that the most powerful lesson I learned landed just one week ago, and six weeks after an election that illuminated the great divide we are experiencing both nationally and globally.
As a Founder of Threads Worldwide, a female-led social enterprise that creates life-changing work for women around the world, I am constantly seeking out opportunities to expand our influence. Threads connects women in the United States with artisans in developing countries, and provides a symbiotic system for all to earn income while improving the lives of their families and enriching their communities. Herein lies our proverbial means to an end, our goal of empowerment on a global scale by helping women realize a greater purpose—while creating and sharing beautiful products.
This is no small task, nor is it an inexpensive one—and after five years of steady growth, we are at a pivotal point. We need an influx of capital to keep our mission alive and our women in business. With this task at heart, I recently submitted an application for the SheEO Radical Generosity Initiative, a revolutionary start up founded by Vicki Saunders, with a vision to invest a billion dollars in female entrepreneurs every year. I was awestruck by Vicki’s message and drive, and I shared her passion. The ventures chosen by her Initiative are supported by a vast community of conscientious women who lend their coaching and expertise, leverage their networks, and offer no-interest loans up to $100K. I left convinced that SheEO would be our rocket platform, that this partnership would be our answer.
All of the questions were inspiring in their own right, but one in particular prompted me to describe a time I had experienced radical generosity. It struck a chord. I wrote candidly about my second daughter, my miracle baby, born so premature that her survival was doubtful. I shared about the outpouring of love I experienced from loved ones and strangers alike. I reminisced about family flying across the country, friends showing up with food and wine, and strangers sending well wishes, prayers, and gift cards. I wrote about the women in India who made pilgrimages to holy shrines, and groups of women in California who held energy séances on my daughter’s behalf.
This is the kind of energy that drives our Threads community; it is what feeds our global sisterhood.
I wrote about the strength I feel every single day because of my Partners, domestic and abroad, and poured my heart out. I have never felt better about anything I’ve submitted in my life.
Last week, I found out that we were not chosen as a top 25 qualifier. This was not an outcome I’d considered. Despite my comprehensive submission, which addressed all the ways our company is unique, what makes me unique as a leader, and why they should choose to invest in us, I believed that our cause spoke for itself, that it would easily translate into action. Anyone could see this. I’d believed, to my core, that we would be chosen.
So I was angry—angry at my inability to communicate the value of our mission and community. I knew that we could build a bridge across race, gender, economic disparity, religion, and all the factors that stand to divide us—and that we could break down walls.
I fell asleep disheartened and disillusioned, only to wake up at 2am to read updates on the mass killings in Aleppo. Headlines that used phrases like “complete meltdown of humanity,” “children among hundreds killed,” and “women in Aleppo choose suicide over rape.” I felt disgusted and foolish, and cried for my own humble disappointment, the terror in Aleppo, and my shaken idealism.
I cried myself empty, for everything that was lost, and that we are still losing. I purged it all, and let it hurt.
That’s when the relief set it. And with it—a profound insight. I thought about a conversation I’d had with Mary Nadon Scott, one of our Threads Fair Trade Partners from Vermont. Wheelchair bound due to a rare, inherited disease called Friedreich’s ataxia, Mary is the most beautiful soul in the world. Just last week, we had talked about failure, and about every disappointment as an opportunity to learn, to change, to evolve. I remembered the Gilbert K. Chesterton quote I shared with her, “One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” I thought about Taryn Schroeder, a friend and leading Threads Fair Trade Partner, who urged me to detach from specific outcomes, and focus instead on my ultimate purpose. I thought about how grateful I was to work with a staff where I could start a budgeting meeting in tears and be listened to with love and concern. I shared my disappointment later that day with all of the women who make up our Threads Fair Trade Partner community and the responses all told me in different ways that I was worthy, that I was special, that I was loved and safe and held.
So I’ve emerged from the valley to a beautiful view. THIS is actually the answer—the feeling, sharing, vulnerability, community, love, perseverance, and sisterhood. It’s a view that can span the globe with one word, one acknowledgment, one rejection acceptance at a time. United, we are bigger than adversity. It’s not about one sale, one investor, or one program. It’s not about one cause, one candidate or one party.
It’s about all of us showing up, sharing our vision with others, and working together to make our collective dream of a peaceful, compassionate, and fair world—limitless with possibility—a reality.
Founder Kara with Threads Fair Trade Partners and Wakami Artisan Partners in Guatemala this fall