Llenay Ferretti of Ten Thousand Villages: “Every action has an impact”

Don’t let anybody stop you from believing in your vision for your own life: We are all individuals with individual gifts, but we are not conditioned to believe that is the case. Take the road less traveled, it’s not any harder and it’s much more fun. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making […]

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Don’t let anybody stop you from believing in your vision for your own life: We are all individuals with individual gifts, but we are not conditioned to believe that is the case. Take the road less traveled, it’s not any harder and it’s much more fun.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Llenay Ferretti of Ten Thousand Villages.

As the founder and CEO of Bhavana World Project, since 2007, Llenay Ferretti has worked to bridge the gap between fair trade artisans and U.S. companies to create successful and sustainable market access through partnerships within the public and private sectors. She has consulted on many international development projects including the USAID East Africa Trade Hub; focusing on business development and training programs for more than 200 SME’s in sub-Saharan Africa.

Llenay has also been working with Ten Thousand Villages for many years, as the Executive Director, a national board member, and now, as the organization’s Acting CEO. As a global maker-to-market movement, Ten Thousand Villages connects artisans in developing countries with conscious shoppers in the U.S. offering ethically sourced gifts, home wares and fashion accessories crafted by hand. Every product generates sustainable income — and impact — for 20,000 makers in 30 countries who earn a fair, living wage in safe working conditions.

Through her leadership at Ten Thousand Villages and Bhavana World Project, Llenay has more than twenty years of experience in international business development, product design, business management, and fair trade standards and certification.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to start on your career path?

I had been a fashion executive in New York City for about 10 years when I took a volunteer assignment in Uganda to work directly with women basket weavers there. From that moment on, I saw the power that having access to economic opportunities provides, particularly for women that are traditionally excluded from the global economy. That experience changed the course of my career, and I’ve been involved in the fair trade movement ever since.

Did you set out to start a movement? If so, what was your vision? If not, what did you imagine would be the impact of your work?

I wanted to become part of the growing global fair trade movement specifically to share my experience in brand, marketing and product development with marginalized women so they could achieve their own goals for their lives and invest in their families and communities.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was working with a group of Sudanese refugees in Uganda and they were trying to teach me some simple greetings in their language. No matter how hard I tried, all I got was laughs of delight. When they laughed at me, it made me feel welcome and included, not mocked. It taught me to be in the moment and to understand that learning a new a culture isn’t always what it looks like. A lot of that learning is done in very informal exchanges, and we need to be open and willing to be a little bit vulnerable to have that experience.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

One of the things that really sets Ten Thousand Villages apart is our long-term partnerships with artisan groups. Our average relationship is about 20 years, which means we can see first-hand the impact that fair trade makes. We’ve seen kids grow up and go to school, women take on leadership roles in their workplaces and communities, and environmental stewardship become a foundational part of decision making.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who has impacted this cause?

One thing I’ve learned along the way is that despite differences in culture, many women artisans that we work with at Ten Thousand Villages have very similar goals for themselves, their lives, and their families. When we create an inclusive economy where women can earn their own income and make their own choices, everybody has the opportunity to flourish and each woman has the chance to live out their own story. Meera Bhattarai, from one of our partner groups in Nepal, says it best, “When I started, the artisans I worked with never looked me straight in the eyes and would not utter a word, even when spoken to. Now, with confidence, she looks at my face, she can talk confidently, and is able to voice her rights. They have become dignified women.”

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We as individuals can help by becoming more conscious of how our consumption habits impact the world and start to make choices that put people and planet first. As a society in general, we need to be more aware of where things come from and how things are made, and demand that institutions take responsibility for their actions.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I believe that leadership is taking responsibility and setting an example through your actions, choices and words. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • Every action has an impact: Things I’ve said to people to encourage them in the past come back to me many times. It’s really gratifying to hear that I have impacted somebody else’s life. I’m surprised by how often a passing word of encouragement is remembered.
  • You don’t have to have it all figured out before you take the first step: I had no idea if I was qualified to take that volunteer position in Uganda, but I was more interested in any potential impact I could have than I was worried about failure. And I’m still friends with the women I met there to this day.
  • Everybody needs encouragement: No matter how much somebody wants to demonstrate that they have it all together, we all need to support each other. We’re all fragile and flawed.
  • As a woman, it’s going to be harder: The challenges that women face are real and documented. Pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make it any easer for women to be confident in their choices, careers, and communities.
  • Don’t let anybody stop you from believing in your vision for your own life: We are all individuals with individual gifts, but we are not conditioned to believe that is the case. Take the road less traveled, it’s not any harder and it’s much more fun.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

I have seen the fruits of this mindset throughout the global fair trade movement, and it’s what continues to keep me tied and committed to this work.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@tenthousandvillages on Instagram and Facebook, @Villages on twitter

Your work is making a massive positive impact on the planet, thank you so much!

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