Our goal is to donate 25% of our profits each year to give back to the people who make our business possible.
We would love to be a Certified Fair Trade gem business. For the forseeable future, there is no such thing. “Fair Trade” and “Ethical Mining” are becoming buzzwords in the Jewelry industry. In the Gem industry this mostly involves large-scale operations where someone owns the mine or buys the whole output.
Most of the rough I see, though, doesn’t come from large mines like this. It is mined by individuals who pay a fee to dig to the mine owner or landowner, and then sell the stones they find either to the owner (who often has first right of refusal), or to a broker.
What then could we do to put more of the money we spent into the pockets of these people we never normally see? How could we improve their economic situation so they could earn more after we left?
Finally, Tom and I realized that the miners we'd met in Tanzania had already told us how to help. Their families were home. Their wives had small businesses and they wanted their children in school. If we focused on improving overall economic development for people in the gem mining regions we could not only help the people we touched directly, but indirectly influence our miners.
If a miner knows that his wife’s business in the market is doing well, and his children can stay in school because they aren’t walking 3 hours each day to get water, he can choose not to work in unsafe or abusive conditions. He can save up a few gems and take them to town for a better price instead of selling them to the first person with cash.
This isn’t charity. We are looking to give ‘seed money’ that supports economic growth in the gem producing communities. Although we can’t directly change the way mining works, we feel that it IS possible to get a larger share of the profits from gems back into the hands of the people in gem producing countries.
Below are some of organizations we support, and some of the small-scale grants we've made.
In 2013 we donated a portable Ultrasound machine and a medical laboratory microscope to Dr Ikem Onwude in Abuja, Nigeria.
Dr Onwude holds free clinics in churchs around Abuja on the weekends, and seeing impoverished and elderly women who have no other medical access. The new equipment allows him to do more accurate diagnosis than he could before.
We are working with Dr. Onwude and Dr. Kinglsey Ndoh to finance a medical safari to the mining regions for 2015.
Small Business Consulting
Tom and I travelled to Morogoro, TZ at the request of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the City of Kitchener ON. We donated our time and consulting skills to the Morogogo Mining Cooperative Society - running workshops, visiting local mining operations, and assessing the viability of building local gemological and cutting skills. Our report was used by FCM to determine how best to use the money allocated to Morogoro, and we continue to offer consulting support.
As of early 2014, the first class of gem cutters has finished training, and one of the luxury Safari hotels will be carrying Morogoro gems.
Grants to Business Cooperatives
Small business cooperatives are a staple of African commerce.
We look for small groups of women at the low end of the economic food chain. So far, we've made grants to two groups running businesses in Arusha, TZ. Both were composed of women, each running her own small business mostly selling vegetables in the markets or selling roast corn and other street food. The groups each had a common fund from which they drew money to buy supplies.
We opted to give grants, rather than loans so they did not have to worry about repayment. These micro grants gave them the capital to start new businesses as groups, rather than as individuals. These new, larger businesses will allow them more security and a better return on their investments and let them continue their individual efforts as well. For the first time these women could hire workers to run the common business for them so they could earn extra while continuing to run their own businesses.
Water and Sanitation
All over Africa, you see people carrying water. It's common in outlying villages to spend 3 hours a day walking to bring water to a family. We've worked with MSABI in Tanzania to donate borehole wells and latrines. This both provides a local source of safe water, and the sanitation required to keep the groundwater safe. Our plan is to donate at least one borehole well and one latrine a year.
This is the borehole well we donated in 2010. It was complete in May of 2011 and provides water for a small village in a mining region near Ifakara, TZ.
Our latest borehole well was completed in February 2012 near Idete, TZ and provides water for a small village of 250 people.
Scholarships and Education
Education is critical to reducing poverty in the developing world. It is also out of reach for many people. We've worked with several organizations to provide training in gemmology and gem cutting that will help keep more of the mineral wealth in the source country.
We also support SOS Children's Villages with donations for general education for orphans.
Here in Canada, we established a scholarship with the Vancouver Community College's Jewellery program. The Custom Cut Gems Award is given each year to the student who excels in stonesetting. The winner gets a gem to use in her or his work.