October 7, 2010
Can you imagine Michael Jordan hitting the game winning shot and then asking the media not to say anything? Or Barak Obama winning the presidential election and refusing to talk about his victory? Or You discovering the cure for cancer, but not wanting anyone to know?
Well, that’s in essence what Macy’s Department Stores have done. Macy's is the top department store chain in the U.S., with more than 800 stores in 45 states and annual sales of more than $26 billion.
Two weeks ago I was a speaker at the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation’s Africa Policy Forum in Atlanta, Georgia. Macy’s was one of the sponsors and I had the chance to meet and talk with their representative, Ms. Iasha Rivers. She is their director of external affairs & corporate communications.
I asked Ms. Rivers why Macy’s is a sponsor of the Sullivan Foundation and she began to give me a very passionate response. She gave me the history of Macy’s “Rwanda Path to Peace” basket project. The project was begun in July 2005.
According to Macy’s, “The Rwanda Path to Peace project was established to create a viable, sustainable export business that provides economic stability and promotes an environment of peace that will positively influence Rwanda's future for its 8 million citizens. Its basic concept is that women helping each other can change the way Rwanda rebuilds its society, empowering women and sustaining economic development beyond traditional development assistance. The women receive one-third of the retail price of the baskets -- an unprecedented amount of income for individual rural households. The project has the potential to generate millions of dollars for the country, positively affecting the millions of Rwandans who normally live on less than $1 a day.”
Baskets woven by the women are exported to the US and sold exclusively at Macy’s Department Store. They are the number one export out of Rwanda under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
Macy’s was adamant that, “this may have been charitable, but it was not charity.” They continued, “baskets, woven from sisal and sweet grass, are inspected to verify they meet quality requirements and then paid for in cash on the spot.”
With the phenomenal success of the Rwanda Path to Peace basket project, Macy’s created Shop for a better World in 2008. This is a collection of artisans from Africa, Indonesia, and Cambodia who make one-of-a-kind crafts (all hand-made).
Shop for a Better World is a partnership between Macy's and Fair Winds Trading, which was founded by Willa Shalit, a social activist and entrepreneur.
Shop for a Better World is a vertically integrated operation; all steps of production take place in the origin country using only raw materials sourced from the region. The program employs a large population of women who live in the rural countryside, allowing them to maintain their current residence and avoid the often costly and disruptive process of relocating to cities in search of work.
Listening to Ms. Rivers share this story with me, I couldn’t hide my astonishment that such a storied company as Macy’s had undertaken such a project and I had no knowledge of it. I am a frequent traveler to Africa and consider myself one who follows the goings on in Africa. But, if people like me are unaware of what Macy’s is doing, how much more the general public?
Macy’s and their CEO, Terry Lundgren should be lauded and commended for finding a business approach to helping Africa. But, I am somewhat confused as to why Macy’s hasn’t built an advertising campaign around this partnership with the women of Rwanda. This is an advertising gold mine!
Having spent years of my life in “corporate America” before starting my own firm, I have a pretty good idea as to why Macy’s executives are hesitant to talk about their partnership with Rwanda. The short answer is that this story has a “racial” angle to it. Macy’s senior executives are probably all white and they are terrified at the prospects of being viewed as “using” this story to toot their own horn for profit.
Well, Macy’s made it perfectly clear that this was a “business” arrangement, not charity. What retail operation would not want to publicize a remarkable success story that is actually making a difference in the lives of people who have had a tragic past? Macy’s has found a profitable way of exporting the American dream to the continent of Africa. They should be asked to testify before Congress about how this partnership came about. I think Macy’s should have Ms. Rivers bring some of the women from Rwanda to the U.S. for a series of town hall meetings about how this arrangement with Macy’s has impacted their lives and their country. If Macy’s won’t tell the story, then I will. I will use all of my media outlets to tout this wonderful story that Macy’s has created.
So, to all of my readers world-wide, I want you to express your support for what Macy’s is doing directly to their CEO, Mr. Terry Lundgren. You can reach him at his corporate offices in Cincinnati, Ohio at: 513-579-7000. I couldn’t find a general email address for Macy’s, but if you email me your thoughts, I will forward them directly to Ms. Rivers
I don’t normally shop at Macy’s, but as a result of what they are doing on the continent, that will change effective this weekend. I will not only buy the baskets from Rwanda, but I will also do more of my regular retail shopping there. If Macy’s can support the continent, then I can support Macy’s and I encourage all of my readers to do the same. Please contact Mr. Lundgren if this is your sentiment because Macy’s has proven that AfriCan!
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C.-public relations/government affairs firm. He is also a contributing editor for ExcellStyle Magazine (www.excellstyle.com) & U.S. Africa Magazine (www.usafricaonline.com).