Photography: Sarah Caroline Mueller
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.
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.
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.
But my role was not to be their physical neighbor or to take their “tools” and try to manually till their field. They had that covered. My role was to till my own American field in partnership with them, by promoting and growing the brand so that we have new customers to sell their handmade items. Our gifts and resources look very different, and that is what makes the relationship successful as we solve problems together.
My fieldwork in Guatemala showed me that the most important element is not where I am physically rooted, but the intentions of my service as an outsider and how my social impact model reflects this in practice. In their book “When Helping Hurts”, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert say, “One of the many manifestations of holistic reconciliation is that people exercise dominion over their individual lives and communities, constantly seeking better ways to use their gifts and resources to solve problems and to create bounty in services to God and others.”
As I strive to continue being of service to my partners as we grow our social impact together, I will continue learning, reading, asking questions, re-evaluating my model and tilling my own field in partnership with others.
In the spirit of giving, Travel Patterns is offering a 10% discount to Rank & File readers on their future purchases. Once the products have launched, use the code TAKEHEART at checkout to receive your discount.
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.