Photography: Sarah Caroline Mueller

Proverbs 24:27 says, “Get your outside work done; make preparations in the field; then you can build your house.” When I founded my first global goods company back in 2014, I didn’t follow this guidance; I built the whole house, my global brand, without doing much fieldwork. Maybe it’s because I’m an interior designer by trade, so figuratively (and literally) building and decorating a home come more naturally to me than tilling a field. My intent for that company was to support artisans around the world, but because I didn’t put as much effort into the fieldwork as I did on “designing,” I quickly began to see holes in my business model that would make social impact and sustainability difficult in the long term.

Social Entrepreneur Advice on Working in the Field with Artisans
A farmer tills a field in Guatemala – the home of Lauren’s new business partner.

So, I decided to start tilling my field and asking questions about my business strategy and myself. Where was my plan weak and where was it strong? How could I do what I originally set out to do? How could I do good and not harm? What was my personal role? And on and on….

While a lot of my research and development during this time came through reading books, trolling the internet and listening to podcasts (sound familiar to you other entrepreneurs?), I knew that traveling was the most valuable work I could do. While purpose-driven entrepreneurs can have visions about how they wish to serve others, the best insights come from within the communities that we want to serve. So, as part of my fieldwork, I traveled to Guatemala to meet with a weaving cooperative that I hoped my new company would be a good partner for.

Social Entrepreneur Advice on Working in the Field with Artisans

As I was walking from my hotel in Quetzaltenango (“Xela” for short, and phonetically said like “Shay-la”) to my potential partner’s office, fear crept up. A little voice kept telling me that I was an outsider who couldn’t ever make a difference here. “How can you tell your partners and your customers that you want to help impoverished communities to rise, yet you are doing it from your comfortable life in the United States? If you really wanted to make a difference, then shouldn’t you uproot, move here and get your hands dirty?”

I felt like an outsider trying to till someone else’s field as I watched the weavers interact with one another. And then it hit me. Yes, I felt like an outsider, because I was one. Even if I sold everything I had, moved into their community, wore their traditional dress and worked beside them; even then, I would still be an outsider and someone who couldn’t truly ever be a part of their culture.

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Lauren McCaul Petersen - Social Entrepreneur Contributor Rank & File MagazineAbout Lauren

Lauren McCaul Petersen is an Interior Designer from Alabama, who has a serious passion for global textiles and mixing bold colors and patterns. When not running her social enterprise Travel Patterns, Lauren loves traveling, attempting to play tennis with her husband, Aaron, drinking margaritas, and trying to win the affection of their forever moody cat, Singha. Connect with Lauren on Instagram @shoptravelpatterns or send her an email.


Words: Lauren McCaul Petersen
Photography: Sarah Caroline Mueller

© All photos courtesy of Travel Patterns by Sarah Caroline Mueller.
This article is a copyright of Rank & File, Inc. in partnership with Lauren McCaul Petersen