Thursday, July 3, 2008

Build a Nest with Rebecca Kousky

Nest was born of my desire to combine my passions: social activism, entrepreneurship and the female artistic tradition. I’ve always had an artistic sensibility and a love of fashion and design, but during development work in rural Mexico and India, I became interested in the lives of the women there. Upon returning, I received my Master’s Degree in Social Work from Washington University, where I concentrated on women’s issues, international social work and the use of microcredit to encourage female entrepreneurship. I started Nest right after graduation.

I have had extensive experience working with women both internationally and in the U.S., but two experiences in particular shaped my vision for Nest. In 2002, I worked with Mayan Indian women in Chiapas, Mexico, on agricultural techniques to help them increase yields from small farms, thereby becoming more financially independent. In 2004, I traveled to Delhi, India, to volunteer at an NGO which provided education and training to children and adults afflicted with polio. Through these experiences and others, I was able to see firsthand the plight of women in developing countries who face hardships complicated by lower levels of education, lower social status and talents and abilities that do not always translate into productive employment. I observed that when women are given the opportunity to create their own businesses and earn a steady income, families are strengthened and communities are stabilized.

I knew our idea had taken off when we gave our first loan! The press we’ve had is wonderful, and certainly personally gratifying, but far more important to me is knowing the impact we have had on women. Even if we had changed just one life for the better, that would have been success enough for me. Now, though, in less than 2 years, we have given opportunity to over 100 women.

Our first loan recipient was a woman named Meral Tuncer, who lives in Izmit, Turkey. She received a Nest microfinance loan to grow her jewelry business. She needed additional capital to purchase higher quality stones and beads that could be made into higher quality jewelry of the type that would appeal to a more upscale clientele at the bazaar.

Our facilitator in Turkey is Nest designer, Rose Deniz. Rose once told me, and it made me cry, “when we told Meral how much she was going to make from the earring order, she was so happy. (C)ombine that with the loan, in one week she’s making more than she might make in a month. You can imagine her excitement! Thanks does not express it enough.”

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