Trade Forum Features

Full circle exchange empowering women through trade

14 January 2013
ITC News
Full Circle Exchange is a social enterprise dedicated to lifting women out of poverty by helping them grasp sustainable economic opportunities. The aim is to create jobs and improve income through access to education, job skills and global markets. The reality is a diversity of innovative projects resulting from last year’s Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum in Chongqing, China and this year’s exhibition and forum in Mexico City in November.
Over the past year, Full Circle Exchange has helped 15 women-owned companies enter the United States marketplace by acting as an enterprise aggregator and distributor to major retailers including Walmart and Macy's. At Walmart, it has been acknowledged as a contributor to the company's initiative on women's economic empowerment.

Cafetalera Lomas al Río in Costa Rica, a member of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (ICWA), sold coffee to Full Circle Exchange, which, in turn, secured distribution of the coffee via Walmart’s e-commerce platform and has set up a retail trial of the coffee across 200 stores. Full Circle Exchange plans to expand its activities with ICWA members over the coming year and expects to source more coffee from the network. At the Chongqing event, Full Circle Exchange also met Ethiopia’s Salem’s Design, which markets authentic Ethiopian jewellery, home accessories and gifts. A follow-up trip to Ethiopia resulted in Full Circle Exchange setting up multiple distribution points for Salem’s product lines.

This year, Kenya’s Katchy Kollection signed a memorandum of understanding with Full Circle Exchange and attended the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum in Mexico City with a view to planning a strategy to extend its reach into the United States market. Katchy Kollection, a women-owned small- to medium-sized enterprise that designs and produces beautiful artisan goods, has a core ethos of Jiamini, the Swahili equivalent of 'believe in yourself', and pursues the concept of self belief in both its values and guiding principles of creativity, integrity, professionalism and customer service.

During its trip to Africa, Full Circle Exchange also developed a partnership with Gayaha Links, and the partnership is now working with Walmart and Macy’s. Gayaha Links is a Rwandan handicraft company based on the principle of economic empowerment for women through fair trade. It believes women's economic empowerment provides the foundation for the achievement of sustainable peace and development in Rwanda. Chief Executive Officer Joy Ndungutse is a talented artist and has become a renowned businesswoman, leading a company that is not only innovative, but also focuses on skills training to produce high-quality, intricate handcrafts that can compete favorably in international markets.

In Chongqing, Full Circle Exchange also met Elizabeth Vazquez, the Chief Executive Officer of WEConnect International. The meeting led Full Circle Exchange to become a corporate member of WEConnect and to join the organization in a trade mission to Peru. After an introduction by WEConnect, Full Circle Exchange visited the production facility of Fidenza Disegno to see the quality and craftsmanship of its jewellery and meet the women employed by the company. As a result of time spent with Chief Operating Officer Milagros Johansson, Full Circle Exchange and Fidenza Disegno created a collaborative brand called Isabella Lazarte for Full Circle Exchange. This has been launched on and was presented to multiple buyers by Johansson at this year's Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum in Mexico City. Full Circle Exchange anticipates bringing an additional four to six Peruvian women-owned companies to market in 2013.

Arguing that global development work has only focused on areas of social impact within education, healthcare and finance, Full Circle Exchange identifies a gap in trade access to the United States mass market as a missing link in the strategy. The need is for a platform that builds on the work of the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum and can support strategic business partnerships as they seek access to international markets.