Jacqueline Lee is an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving who is visiting our partners’ projects throughout Southeast Asia. Her “Postcard” from the visit in Indonesia:
On July 20, I was able to visit XS Project, an organization turning trash into quality products, creating jobs, and providing educational scholarships.
I arrived to the office and met staff doing everything from sorting and cleaning loads of trash, unused car seat covers, and old marketing banners, to working on product development, and sewing the products. I sat down with one of the sewers, and he explained he had been with XS since 2005. What brought him here? He said a friend was working at XS. He used to make seat covers for airplanes, but now he can make products from recycled products. At the time, the team was putting together very cool laptop cases created from a combination of seat covers and discarded marketing banners.
I then met the head of product design and the head of finance. The head of finance explained, XS is “not just cleaning the environment, but it is creating jobs for those who need it. XS is also providing education scholarships – it’s like 3-in-1.” The head of product design explained that he was first introduced to XS in college and thought it would be a great challenge to create products out of recycled material.
After meeting the staff and watching the process of turning recycled material into new goods, Retno and I went to visit the community where it all starts – the trash pickers. When we arrived the kids were so excited and everyone came out to say hi and play. Retno brought a box of pencils and crayons gathered from other schools, and the children all dove in to grab their handfuls. We stopped to speak with every family and to hear their current needs and issues. The families live on this land and work for a “lampak” which is the boss of that trash picker community.
I asked the kids what they studied and they all shouted out, "math, Bahasa (Indonesian), Ingrish (English), and Quran reading!" I then asked a few what they wanted to be when they grow up – and 2 young girls said a chef and teacher. Another young girl said a doctor. XS provides funding for the children’s schooling directly to the school and follows up with the school and teachers to see how their progress is. Retno encouraged the moms to tell their kids to go to class. In this community, the parents’ generation mostly did not attend school so this is a new opportunity for their children.
XSProject has always prided itself on its connection to local schools. First and foremost, are the relationships that we use to ensure that the trashpicker children we support are getting an education. But we also have links to international schools in Indonesia and Singapore that bring even more value to the poor communities with which we work.
This year, our relationship with the Jakarta International School (JIS) moved to a new level. The school ordered almost 1,500 laptop sleeves, for their “One Child, One Computer” program. The idea was so great that the Singapore American School decided to order iPad sleeves and specially designed laptop sleeves for their school.
When the students at these schools receive their XS products, they learn about the trash-picker communities that supply some of the waste material. Often they want to help. One way the international students have provided assistance is through their Boy Scout troop. In the past, a small team of scouts paid for the materials and built new carts for five trash pickers. This year, the Boy Scouts built a much needed bathroom and toilet for the community.
The engagement with schools builds a virtuous circle. XS benefits through increased sales. The trash picker communities benefit from both XS’ support as well as that from the international students. And the international students learn more about their community and the benefits of giving.
We did it!! Just before the close of 2011, XSProject received notice that the organization had been admitted to the WFTO Asia. WFTO Asia is a regional chapter of the World Fair Trade Organization, the global leader in certifying local producers as adherents to Fair Trade standards. The process of being accepted as a member is rigorous. XS spent months filling out paperwork to demonstrate the commitment of our business to our employees, customers, and the local community. Once our documents received initial approval, the WFTO Asia sent a staff member to our offices to conduct a site vist. The results of that process went back to the WFTO Asia board for review. From the time we started the process in March 2011 until we received notice of acceptance spanned almost 9 months!
Getting WFTO certification is a huge achievement for XS. Although we have always known that we provided an above average wage, took great care with everyone associated with our business, and showed a strong commitment to our local community, it was great to get confirmation from as recognized a body as the WFTO.
A little over two years ago, when I started working with XSProject, the organization was close to going out of business. The non-profit was being run primarily by volunteers, product sales were not covering expenses, and there were limited prospects for new revenue. The situation was dire.
Thanks to the contributions of GlobalGiving philanthropists and the dedication of the team on the ground in Indonesia, we have been able to turn the situation around. I am happy to say that today XSProject is run by a team of full-time, paid staff that are all Indonesians. Many of the staff come from the local communities. Our sales have increased substantially, which means more work for our sewers - most of whom rely on this income stream for the livelihoods of themselves and their families. The increased revenue means that XSProject is even closer to achieving its goal of full financial sustainability - even though we are not there yet. In addition, we streamlined the social programs that XSProject was involved in to focus exclusively on the education of trash picker children. This created overall efficiencies at the organization that resulted in a broader base of innovative products, and the removal of more waste from landfill. XSProject is in a very different position today, than it was 2 years ago.
As of January 1, 2012, another transition will occur. I will be stepping aside as the Executive Director, and Retno Hapsari, the Operations Manager in Indonesia, will move into a General Manager role. Going forward, she will be driving not only the day-to-day operations for XSProject, but the overall business. This is a great achievement for XSProject because never before has the organization been managed and run exclusively by the local team. Retno and I have been working closely together over the past year to prepare her for this role. She is a talented, dedicated professional and I have confidence that she will excel in her new position. I will continue to be available to her whenever she needs help or support, although I am sure that will diminish over time.
In mid-to-late January, we will also be releasing our Winter 2012 catalogues, which will introduce some new products along with our classics. Be sure to check it out in the Products section of our website (www.xstransformed.org). A few pictures are attached to whet your appetite.
We appreciate and thank you for your continued support. I look forward to great things for XSProject.
As you will see from the attached 2010 Annual Report, we had great hopes for XSProject this year. While it would be great to provide a very upbeat report that describes lots of growth and progress, the truth is that 2011 has been a difficult year for XSProject. The struggling global economy is making its impact known across the world. One of our favorite distributors in Greece has not been able to purchase as much product from XSProject as usual because their business is being hit hard by the financial crisis in that country. Consumers are not buying as much, which means retailers can not purchase as much. This puts pressure on the entire distribution chain and has a direct negative impact on enterprises like XSProject that manufacture goods. This scenario has been playing out around the world with a number of our distributors. As a result, XSProject is running slightly in the red this fiscal year.
The good news is that thanks to the support of our donors, we are weathering the storm. The grants that we have received through GlobalGiving enabled us to end 2010 with cash reserves that are helping us through these more difficult times and keeping us in business. We remain committed to our primary goals of supporting providing jobs and supporting trash picker families. As a result, even in the months when our sales are not able to fully cover our operational costs, we still put money aside for the continued education of 35 children. And when we need to cut corners, we do it in ways that keeps our staff and outsourced sewers working. We look forward to the day our sales volumes are growing again, so we can help even more kids and can return to hiring objectives.
We also remain committed to the goals that we mentioned in the Annual Report, such as building our distribution channels. Another piece of good news is that we have started to partner with a large distribution network in the United States. A first step in the process is refining our products so they appeal even more to US consumers. If we are successful in developing a set of products that are valued by a broad base of customers, our sales volumes will not only grow but will be more predictable and have fewer month-to-month fluctations.
It is our belief that the tide will turn, for all of those that are struggling in this economy. And, we believe that through the continued support of our GlobalGiving community, we will be able to continue to transform trash and change lives.
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