Your job title:
Your organization name:
When was your organization founded?
In what city, town, or region are you located?St. Louis, MO, USA
In what city, town, or region is your organization headquartered?St. Louis, MO, USA
In which countries does your organization currently operate?
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
Compounding global crises have exposed deep health, racial, and gender inequalities, and a widening economic gap. As Covid-19 spread, businesses closed their offices and workers became familiar with working from home: something the global craft sector has been familiar with for generations.
This new reality revealed that cottage industry models are a productive and resilient approach that should inform international development, as well as community revitalization here at home. And, at a time when there is an urgent call to listen to BIPOC voices, these models may suggest a “new” way of work -- already perfected by Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities for centuries.
I am excited to apply for the Prize because, at this moment, we have a unique opportunity to understand the overlooked informal economy that is fueled by women’s labor. We will use this opportunity to expand our work to protect home-based laborers by building a movement for gender equity, racial justice, and proper compensation within the informal sector. This underrecognized workforce has limited visibility and voice, yet according to McKinsey Global Institute, $28T would be added to the global GDP if as many women as men participated in the formal economy.
Tell us about YOU:
My grandmother was from a lineage of quilters in the South and fought anti-Semitism to marry my grandfather creating a deep family culture of social justice but also making. My grandfather was an entrepreneur after the war so handcraft, small business, and equity are at the heart of my story.
I graduated with my MSW the same year that Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. While microfinance was intriguing, I wanted to explore market building as a debt-free approach to economic independence. Recognizing craft-based homework as a cornerstone of emerging economies, I conceived and founded Nest at 24.
In 2006, “artisan” was not the buzzword that it is today. Research & Markets estimates that the global handicrafts market is expected to be valued at $984.8 Billion by 2023, underscoring that consumer interest can be translated into economic stimulation. Yet, artisanal work has long been stereotyped as “niche,” resulting in it being ignored by philanthropy despite a steady interest in agriculture and a growing interest in supply chain development. There are 300M homeworkers globally, most of whom are women. I have committed my life to righting this staggering gender inequity.
Pitch your organization.
The artisan sector is one of the largest home-based industries globally. Estimates suggest that up to 60% of production--which may include sewing soles on shoes, adding pom-poms to hats, or sorting plastic waste--is subcontracted to home-based workers.
Much of this informal economy is cash-based and lacks regulation and fair labor policies. Without systems for implementing payments and safe working conditions, home-based workers are at risk of labor exploitation, and the lowest-paid members of the world’s workforce, earning, on average, $1.80/day.
As global demand for handicrafts grows, we are supporting an artisan economy that works almost entirely from home and has the transparency to make sure this work is safe. This means facilitating programs that focus on SME capacity building while shifting corporate policies and setting new global standards for sourcing practices. Nest provides comprehensive programming to ensure the interests of artisan homeworkers and makers around the world are being represented and protected. Today, Nest is working with 1,500 businesses, 270,000 workers across 116 countries, indirectly impacting 1.2M individuals. And, our network of industry partners boasts members like Target and Patagonia.
Describe what makes your work innovative.
Nest’s utilizes a sustainable business model that stimulates both supply and demand for responsibly-sourced handcrafted products. Nest’s approach to working directly with artisan and maker small businesses, as well as brands ensures localized impacts and systems-change solutions. Our grassroots programs empower local leadership in the US and around the world and arm artisan SMEs with resources to grow and prioritize the wellbeing of a predominantly female workforce. Nest’s works with brands concurrently to provide the market connections to ensure these SME partners can grow sustainably and ensure that the sector as a whole develops broadly reaching solutions for equitable scale.
For example, Nest works with an artisan business in Rwanda and Uganda. The 90% female-powered business has realized $489,000 in sales from two initial orders for handwoven baskets placed by major international brands one year following participation in Nest’s programming. These economic wins have a tremendous social impact on the artisans’ communities in countries where unemployment is estimated to fall somewhere between 80–96%. Following participation, 80% of these workers now use a bank account, 100% stated this income enabled their children to complete an education, and 94% have purchased health insurance.
How and why is your organization having an impact on humanity?
Through extensive work with home-based workers, Nest has acquired the knowledge, relationships, and credibility to be the industry expert global brands turn to for innovative solutions. Nest is championing a shift in thinking about cottage industry models as resilient approaches to supply chain development and economic opportunity. Nest’s programming is rooted in two key strategies to capitalize on this position:
The first is expanding a systems-change solution to support the global community of homeworkers. Nest’s Ethical Handcraft Program, a first-of-its-kind regulatory framework that uses a matrix of standards to determine fair wages, safe working environments, and representation for artisans, provides the benchmarks necessary for brands to overturn their antiquated “no homeworker” policies. As they do, they are creating jobs and economic opportunities for thousands of overlooked individuals within their supply chains.
The second is expanding investments in BIPOC-led maker SMEs in the US. This is a complement to the global focus of the Ethical Handcraft Program. Through Makers United, Nest’s domestic initiative, we are building much-needed connections between makers and the business development resources they need to grow their businesses and sustain their livelihoods with a particular emphasis on BIPOC communities who have been underrepresented in past efforts.
Select the key characteristics of the community your organization is impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your organization address?
Which of the following categories best describes your work?
Economic Opportunity & Livelihoods
How many people does your organization directly serve at present? How many do you anticipate serving in one year?
Nest currently serves 279,024 individuals directly across 119 countries and we anticipate impacting over 300,000 individuals directly in the year ahead. Given the number of dependents who rely on the income from these individuals our work currently reaches 1.21M indirectly.
Globally, we see the handicrafts market continuing to expand and is expected to be valued at $984.8 billion by 2023, underscoring that consumer interest can be translated into economic stimulation. There are 300M homeworkers globally, most of whom are women. As we scale as an organization our intentions are to dramatically expand our reach to support more of the global handworkers represented within the sector
Describe your impact goals and how you plan to achieve them.
By addressing both supply and demand for ethical handcraft, Nest can improve wages, and well-being for workers, develop viability of small, artisanal SMEs, and bring value back to traditional craft techniques. Nest’s ultimate goal is to create system-wide change by facilitating gender-balanced opportunity for millions of women to fully participate in the global economy.
To respond to the current historical moment of economic hardship for small businesses, Nest is meeting the unprecedented need for targeted capacity building in the wake of the pandemic through rapid expansion of three of our core programs: our open access Artisan Guild Network, our intensive Artisan Accelerator program, and Makers United.
We recognize that as many around the world became home-based workers for the first time, there is a unique opportunity to build positive momentum -- and a message of resilience and power -- toward cottage industry production models both with consumers and the industry at large. To do this Nest will create a cross-sector coalition and public campaign to promote, pay, and protect hand and homeworkers: We believe that for systems change work to occur, a vibrant movement, built and led by women, to build collective movement and power towards sustainable investment and change.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and how do you plan to overcome them? How would winning the Elevate Prize help you to overcome these barriers?
Consumers are unaware of the subcontracting and home-based labor that exists in our current supply chains. Due to the lack of transparency, brands have historically been unable to embrace and elevate these women. Yet, the global pandemic has created new urgency for understanding and scaling cottage industry models which the artisan sector has developed over centuries.
One barrier that exists is deliberate and scaled strategies for educating consumers on cottage industry production and the role of handwork in our current and future supply chains. A second barrier is strategic philanthropy: bridge capital to further scale the Nest model and increase access to tools and resources for artisan entrepreneurs. This capital is critical to invest in the human resources needed to meet the demand for new initiatives and create system-wide change that revolutionizes work in one of the largest informal sectors in the global economy.
Finally, there is insufficient understanding and value placed on the creative economy including the income and flexibility it brings to women around the globe. This supplemental income can be critical for paying off debt and building up savings and became a lifeline during the pandemic when many were furloughed or lost their primary source of income.
How would you leverage the larger platform, audience, and brand recognition as an Elevate Prize winner to further advance your impact?
Artisanal work has long been stereotyped as “niche” and “non-scalable”, with little data existing on the sector it has been ignored by philanthropy and governments for decades. After reviewing the 990s from the top 50 institutional funders in the United States and where investments and research were being made, we found only .02% was being invested in the craft sector. This lack of investment uncovers a significant gender bias given that 300M homeworkers exist globally, most of whom are women engaged in craft production. Winning this prize would help send a strong signal in legitimizing philanthropic investments in this long-overlooked sector, and help bring attention to the role cottage industries models must play in the future of work conversations to ensure that supply chains -- and work as we know it -- evolves in ways that are truly inclusive putting gender and racial equity at the center. Nest would leverage the connections and partnerships of MIT Solve to further advance the movement-building we are working to create. Engaging multi-stakeholders towards embracing homework structures and dispersed supply chains.
What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?
At Nest, we believe diversity, equity, and inclusion are fundamental building blocks to be stronger, smarter, and more impactful. To us, diversity takes into account identified, lived religion/worship practices, military service status, able-bodiedness, language, educational pathways, and interdisciplinary expertise. To us, equity exists when individuals have equal opportunity to achieve success with support or services, to overcome structural barriers impacting individuals. To us, inclusion ensures all programs, organizational design, and leadership allow participants to equally voice perspectives and experiences, giving all points of view equal consideration for problem-solving, implementing solutions, creating programs or advancing Nest’s work and impact.
We are undertaking multiple steps to ensure a more inclusive leadership team and organizational design overall:
Created new hiring processes: rather than relying on interviews which can inequitably favor certain personalities that “interview well,” we use models that showcase work style, process, and creative thinking.
Nest invests in DEI training for the leadership team and the staff
Nest maintains and continues to develop a lateral leadership model that leans into expertise rather than hierarchy
Additionally, we see our stakeholders as leaders and hire locally (nationally and internationally) to the extent possible, ideally hiring maker entrepreneurs themselves interested in diversifying their career opportunities.
How are you and your team well-positioned to address the problem you are solving?
Nest has been a leader in the handworker space for 15 years by engaging stakeholders at every level, impacting makers and artisans on the ground in over 119 countries, influencing corporate policy shifts and uncovering unprecedented data on the sector.
Nest’s program and approach has been endorsed and adopted by prominent industry leaders, including Patagonia, Target, West Elm, PVH, Etsy and Amazon. Nest has 1500+ small and micro-businesses participating in our work, leading to beneficiary informed and data backed programming approaches. Philanthropic partners have included Bloomberg Philanthropies, OAK Foundation and Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth.
While I am well poised to lead the team and have achieved various accolades, critical to the success of Nest is that the organization is rooted in social work principles and human centered design. Our stakeholders co-create and lead our programs ensuring cultural nuances are understood and both intended and unintended consequences are quickly understood and lead to program evolution. We have a lateral leadership structure and our diverse staff of 20+ bring unique expertise.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
As the consumer demand for handcraft increased, brands were eager to source handmade products. However, the artisan workforce is home-based -- and there had been no effort towards expanding transparency beyond the factory, limiting the ability of retailers to source from these producers. Despite the overwhelming nature of creating a universally applicable methodology, Nest under Rebecca’s leadership convened retailers to co-create and launch the first ever set of Standards and corresponding educational and assessment tools, to bring transparency to this overlooked workforce.
These Standards launched in 2017 at the United Nations with a consumer seal which is now found in over 400 retail locations and on over 2,000 consumer products.
As the model developed something surprising was uncovered: an estimated 20-60% of garment manufacturing is subcontracted from factories to home-based workers. “No homeworker” policies have pushed this work underground with workers often earning 50% less than factory workers and lacking labor law protections. Rebecca pushed the organization to adopt the term “handwork” - expanding programmatic reach to the population of 300M homeworkers including waste pickers and working with corporate and retail partners to overturn outdated and gender-biased policies.
Have you been featured in any documentaries, television shows, or live speaking engagements? If so, please share links to any available content.
Rebecca on Weekend Today discussing Nest's work in Gee's Bend
Rebecca introduction to Nest for GLG: https://glginsights.com/videos/bringing-visibility-to-global-artisans/
Rebecca on PBS News Hour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmfBwvav8CI
United Nations Launch of Nest's Ethical Handcraft Program:
Rebecca and Nest with the CFDA, Livia Firth & Eco Age in Guatemala: https://cfda.com/news/revisiti...
If selected as an Elevate Prize winner, how will the funding help you achieve your goals?
In the wake of Covid-19, the future of work will include small workshops and homework in ways we once never thought possible. Amidst this moment, funding from the Elevate Prize will enable Nest to scale our work to ensure that all workers are protected and empowered through widespread recognition of their essential roles in the global economy.
Fueled by a belief in the opportunity that inclusive work has to advance businesses led by and employing women and BIPOC community members, Nest will leverage funding to build a movement championing handworkers around the globe. The confluence of advancing technology and the rise of homeworking present us with a unique opportunity to enable often-overlooked creative entrepreneurs—including those establishing their “side hustle”—to achieve economic resilience for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Funding will go towards Nest’s Inclusive Work Initiative which will serve as the launchpad for a public campaign to bring unprecedented visibility and investment into the informal economy globally.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
To advance the handcraft sector and economy requires collaboration with various players within the artisan ecosystem. To this end, Nest takes a multistakeholder approach to the partnership to ensure holistic and sustainable impact. Nest works funders invested in small business and entrepreneurship development (such as Bloomberg Philanthropies and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth), with major brands and retailers providing critical market access from handworkers (including Target, West Elm, Patagonia) corporate partners who provide critical industry insights and expertise to both Nest and our artisan network (including Amazon, Etsy, and Square), fellow NGO’s who leverage Nest’s unprecedented data or collaborate on programming interventions (such as the Centre for Child’s Rights and Business, the Urban Manufacturing Alliance and Ripple Effect) as well as local and regional governmental bodies committed to furthering the maker economy (globally including UNESCO, UN Global Partnerships and locally with the Austin Mayor’s Office and the Birmingham Business Alliance).
In which of the following areas do you and your organization most need support?
Rebecca van Bergen Founder and Executive Director , Nest