SPOTLIGHT: PRIYA HAJI, '93
Photo: Daniel Lorenze
By Jennifer Liu
Priya Haji wants to change the way you shop. She is co-founder and CEO of World of Good, a “fair-trade” giftware company. Through World of Good, you might consider a spun bamboo bowl made by local artisans of the Ha Tay province in Vietnam, or you could opt for a scarf called “fringe benefits,” hand-woven by a Guatemalan cooperative set up to empower women and support children’s education.
According to Haji, fair trade is a lot like the organic produce sold at Whole Foods Market, the Berkeley-based company’s biggest distributor. “It allows consumers to think about where the product comes from and choose an ethically sourced gift,” she says. “If you [are shopping for] something that will be meaningful for your mom, for example, you can choose to purchase a gift that will have a positive impact on someone else who’s a mother.”
At World of Good, artisans, many of whom are women, are ensured a fair wage by local standards, employment without discrimination, and a safe and clean working environment. Ten percent of profits are donated to the nonprofit World of Good: Development Organization, dedicated to building strategies to improve economic and social conditions for artisans and their families living on less than $4 a day.
A December Time magazine article hailed Haji and her co-founders as a “different breed of MBA”—the social entrepreneur—but World of Good was a natural next step for someone long preoccupied with social responsibility. In high school, Haji helped organize her physician father’s free health clinic in their Texas hometown. By the time she graduated from Stanford, she had co-founded Free At Last, an organization to help ex-convicts and drug addicts build new lives in East Palo Alto. When she arrived at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in 2001, she had logged seven years as the executive director of Free At Last, now a 60-person organization with a $2.5 million annual budget.
Drawing on her conviction that the market could be harnessed to generate good and on her yearlong observations of artisan communities in Asia and South America, Haji formed World of Good in 2004 and secured more than 200 distributors nationwide in its first year.
Haji is quick to point out that the company can’t do good works on its own. World of Good: Development Organization held an international conference in April to work on a fair-trade pricing calculator, and it relies on recommendations to find new artisan organizations or retail partners. “It’s when people go into stores and say to the owners, ‘Hey, you’re selling bamboo baskets. You should really consider selling fair-trade bamboo baskets.’ That’s how this kind of thing spreads,” Haji says. “What we’re trying to do is create a message any store can follow.”
— JENNIFER LIU, ’08
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