Business promotes justice through jewellery
Emma Woodcock, the wife of an Anglican priest on the Mornington Peninsula, sees God's hand over her work to provide artisans in developing countries with not just a decent income, but skills and training that will help them in the long term.
By Chris Shearer and Emma Halgren
November 17 2016
Grace and Able's vibrant jewellery for sale at a Melbourne market.
Emma Woodcock has always been a creative person. As the daughter of missionaries in the Philippines, she grew up without a TV or even a radio, instead relying on her imagination for entertainment. Designing and creating have become passions that have directed her through life, but it wasn’t until she returned to Australia after a number of years in the UK that this passion would combine with a truly inspirational idea: Grace and Able, a small business that sells jewellery handmade in developing countries for a fair price.
Grace and Able is more than just a business, though. In the parlance of the industry it’s what’s known as a social enterprise. Emma’s aim is to provide the entrepreneurs and artisans who make the jewellery in Uganda, Kenya and Sri Lanka with more than just a decent source of income. Through Grace and Able she provides business development training, focusing on capacity building, responsible financing and long-term partnerships.
Emma Woodcock with artisans in Uganda.
“I believe in business as a change agent,” she said. “I want to empower mainly women, but I work with some men as well as artisans... I want to empower the marginalised, the poor, through business.
“The money from the necklaces that I sell goes back into providing them income, providing them their materials, that sort of thing, and it’s all done through business so that they are given a hand-up not a hand-out.”
Instead of selling the vibrant wire and stone creations through traditional retail outlets, Emma has committed to a party plan model, where groups of women organise to hold Grace and Able sales at their homes. For Emma, a large part of the appeal of this model is the connection that can be made through storytelling.
“Storytelling is really important for me because it’s the oldest form of human communication and it’s the way we learn. So I wanted people to start connecting again,” she said. “I tell the stories and then the women try on the jewellery and ask their friends’ advice and ask me more about the women [who made the jewellery]... it connects women with women.”
It’s not always easy running the business and balancing her family life though. As the mother of two young children and wife of an Anglican priest on the Mornington Peninsula, she already has a lot on her plate. “I get the kids to bed and then I go for another several hours working,” she said. “My husband says I’m not allowed to take my phone into the bedroom anymore because it’s chiming all night with different messages.”
Despite the challenges, Emma says her faith has helped guide her vision for Grace and Able. “I just sort of see it as God’s hand over it,” she says. “I’ve just suddenly seen all these little connections and thought ‘oh, that’s the way God works’… it’s actually made the whole thing a lot less stressful. It’s not me pushing it, you know.”
Never one to rest on her laurels, Emma explained that she has big plans for Grace and Able. She’s currently considering expanding into Cambodia, as well as starting a crowdfunding campaign to build a production hub in Uganda. “What I really want to see as the future for Grace and Able is a centre happening where they come and work for me for three to four years and during that time they really get business development training, they get financial training” she says. “As you can imagine, they’ve all got their own dreams.”
In Australia, Emma’s next step is to recruit a small team of Grace and Able Ambassadors to help grow the brand here. She’s looking for entrepreneurs, storytellers, stylists or people who just believe in the power of business to change lives.
“I’m so tired of hearing that question ‘it’s such a big problem, what can I do? I’m over here in Australia’. Well, actually, this is what you can do – you can make wise decisions when you purchase.”