For decades, big corporations have been known to turn some of their profits toward philanthropic work. Household names such as Rockefeller, Carnegie and more currently Gates and Soros are testament to that as are thousands of lesser known but no less worthwhile enterprises. That spirit has been evident among big retailers as well, with the Macys, Starbucks and Staples of the world leading the pack.
Now, even as worldwide economic troubles remain in the headlines, entrepreneurs on Main Street and in suburban downtowns are stepping up to take on charitable works and are getting their customers in on their causes as well.
It’s not so much a movement as it is a growing consciousness, says Nancy Schuring of Devon Fine Jewelers in Wyckoff. There is an increased awareness, she says. Because of adverse economic trends, people have realized what’s important and those who are in a position to act want to do something for others.
After a transformative trip to Madagascar in 2008, Schuring established the Devon Foundation which provides gemological scholarships to natives of mining nations. The excursion planned as a fun, business-related excursion – to the gem mining region provided all the impetus she needed. “It really was an eye opener,” Schuring says. The trip was not meant to be a fact-finding mission about living conditions on the island nation off the coast of southeast Africa, but there was no helping it. What Schuring found were hard working and warm people who are paid less than a dollar a day and who are supporting families on an average of $300 a year.
Because gem mining is so central to the economies of gem-rich nations, many of the native people work in the industry, but as Schuring witnessed, the degree to which they are taken advantage of is disturbing especially due to the enormous wealth foreign companies are reaping from gems mined in the workers homelands.
“People from foreign countries are paying a pittance for these valuable gems – the local miners don’t even know what they have,” says Schuring.
“They are offered a bowl of rice for a valuable gem.” In Madagascar, for instance, gems such as sapphires, garnets, zircons and amethysts are mined and are ultimately sold for many times the annual pay earned by local entrepreneurs.
It is not surprising that Schuring sees education as part of the answer. Before becoming the founder of Devon Fine Jewelry, she was a high school home economics teacher. At the point of her career change, she learned all she could by attending the Gemological Institute of America in Manhattan, among the world’s top-ranked authorities on the industry. While there are often gemological schools in gem-mining countries, more often than not, the students cannot afford to attend.
The Devon Foundation seeks to raise some $5,000 annually through *community fundraising events, as a means to support the gem school program. Schuring reports that clients who become aware of the program will sometimes write checks directly to the foundation.
The longer-range plan is that those who are educated will then use their knowledge to benefit their local regions and advance the quality of living for the people of those regions.
*Fundraisers include the Gems of the Dance and the Gem Roundtable where people gather to learn about gem cutting. The Devon Foundation 201.848.8489 thedevonfoundation.org
In a somewhat similar vein, British Home Emporium, the Madison-based furnishings importer, demonstrates a strong commitment to global charitable giving.
“In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti we contributed 10% of our sales to Love for Haiti.” says proprietor Nina Karamallis.
Then there is the ongoing work that British Home Emporium supports.
“We regularly support the Tahirih Justice Society which provides legal assistance for women seeking asylum and refuge from circumstances of severe injustice, physical and sexual abuse,” says Karamallis.
BHE also contributes to Slum Dwellers International, a worldwide organization which does grassroots work to assist with raising the standard of living in countries throughout the world by working with federations of local people to transform their communities and their lives.
Back on the home front, for the last 8 years Nina and her staff have participated in the Mansion in May. 2012 proceeds benefited the Morristown Medical Center.
Monkeybiz is a non-profit incomegenerating bead project founded in January 2000. Through creating sustainable employment, Monkeybiz focuses on women’s economic empowerment and health development in the most economically under-resourced areas of South Africa.
Each Monkeybiz artwork is unique and is signed by the artist, ensuring that individual artists receive recognition for their work. All of the profits from the sales of artworks are reinvested back into community services including soup kitchens, food parcels and a burial fund for artists and their families.