Today IKIGUIDE has the huge privilege of interviewing Rachel, lady founder of matcha5. Matcha5 is a social enterprise dedicated to pretty accessories and their makers–talented artisans with beautiful souls, living in developing countries.
“Matcha” refers to the Japanese fine powder green tea, and symbolises a beautiful infusion of sustainability, health and happiness the Matcha5 team hopes to bring to the artisans. “5” symbolizes God’s Grace! What a beautiful name.
IKIGUIDE: Hello Rachel! Can you tell us a little more about matcha5?
RACHEL: Everything on our online marketplace is handmade and sold by disadvantaged artisans, curated for the stylish consumer in Asia. We connect the consumer directly to the disadvantaged artisan vendor, to allow higher margins to go back to them and their communities. We also provide training and assistance to ensure their sustainability in the long run in areas such as product photography, branding, international shipping consultancy, depending on the needs of each artisan vendor.
IKIGUIDE: What inspired this portal?
RACHEL: It all began in 2008 during a study trip to Tala, Philippines. We visited the region to generate ideas on how to better the lives of impoverished communities. At a dolls workshop in Tala, women who were relatives of lepers were making beautiful and unique reversible dolls for a living. The dolls were lovely but the women lacked regular income due to low demand of the dolls. Unemployment was a real issue to the people in that area. I remembered vividly what Mr Stanley Tan CEO of National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre shared about how sustainability – “teaching a person to fish rather than giving out a fish” is important and this really stuck with me.
When I graduated from university, I embarked on my career to acquire skill-sets and experiences which can bring me to my dream of helping lift poverty through sustainable businesses. I ventured into FMCG market research, business development and corporate strategy in the first 4 years of my career life. While analysing the state of the world and the underlying stories that play out on the big picture level, a part of me was searching for the places my personal strengths and passions could bring about an impact to the poor. Matcha5 became the intersection point for me which keeps me alive and allows me to contribute to society in a meaningful manner.
IKIGUIDE: What would you say are the differences between a social and for-profit founder?
RACHEL: I strongly believe that social enterprises should be for-profit, and matcha5 is for-profit as well. This is especially so for social enterprises in commerce, selling products and/or services. If I am, for example, building a school for children in third-world, then I would choose non-profit.
To me, balancing business profit and social impact is an art. From a strictly business point of view, if a corporation is not the most cost-effective, then it might be wiser to cease its operations. But the social impact is equally important to us. Many of our marginalised women handmake items in small co-operatives. We cannot compete with machine-made products. Also, some of them may not be the most efficient and skilled worker even after training.
For example, a young lady I know is disabled and slow in her hand movements and when trained to make mini clay trinkets, she is relatively much slower. But the satisfaction gleaming on her face when she completes one really touches one’s heart! The job allows her to raise her self-esteem, knowing that she can do something on her own. But in terms of efficiency, it is not going to be cost-effective for a business. I think it requires first and foremost compassion, but also integrity and wisdom.
Even within social enterprises, the definition of “social entrepreneurship” can be ambiguous. There are social enterprises who sell machine-made items (which have significantly lower costs) and donate a portion of their proceeds to charity. It is not definitely not wrong, just different way of doing good. To me, that is a good way of fund-raising!
IKIGUIDE: What are some of the most fulfilling things in running a social enterprise?
RACHEL: I’d been in FMCG retail for the past few years of my career. It has been fun using my previous experience and knowledge to work with disadvantaged vendors to improve and make their products more relevant and appealing to mass consumers. It motivates me whenever I interact with the disadvantaged artisans and see how they rise above tough circumstance with resilience, and how their hands are blessed with creativity and quality as well!
Working on this business has helped me in my personal journey to understand the beauty of ordeals in life. Each life story of the artisan behind the products keeps adding to my recently-found conviction that “beautiful people do not just happen”.
I live by the following quote:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” ― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
IKIGUIDE: How about some of the challenges you have encountered so far?
RACHEL: One main challenge is definitely the act of balancing business profits and social impact. Also, Asians in general still hold the perception that handmade products by disadvantaged artisans are ugly and hence would only purchase them once in a blue moon as “charitable act”. It is our desire to change that.
In addition, when I first started, I held a lot of false expectations that people who do good are good. I then realised some probably do things in nasty manners to account well to board members, some wants to quickly profit from it, while some others agree to do good to look good.
On the other hand, there are those whom you wish to help but don’t make it easy for you to help. Someone once shared rightly that it is a myth that “doing good and meaningful things makes one happier”. I have learnt that to think this is self-righteous.
IKIGUIDE: How do you envision matcha5 to be, in 5 years time?
RACHEL: It is my dream that we can be the most popular and stylish social-conscious platform in many Asia! We hope that people see these social-conscious items handmade by disadvantaged artisans as something they would covet to wear. Many people say that Asians are way less compassionate than people in the West, that they are indifferent to social issues away from home such as poverty in Cambodia.
I am trying out various ways in sharing the stories of these people faraway from the homes of consumers in a more relatable manner.
IKIGUIDE: On a parting note, would you like to share with our readers what keeps you going as an entrepreneur?
RACHEL: To be very honest, I have felt like giving up on many, many days! When I think about the comfortable paycheque I used to get, I wonder why I am torturing myself like that! *laughs*
On such days, it seems like my dreams and visions disappear just like -that-.
All my encounters in the past few months convinced me that truly this fallen world will never be perfect. Whenever I am baffled and disappointed, I am driven to desperation and do call out to my Saviour. Every time I feel like giving up, I am reminded of what Heidi Baker, a missionary in Africa, shares about “stopping for the one”.
There will never come a point in time where all poverty, diseases, evils like human trafficking be completely eradicated. But the beautiful and courageous warriors who face these tough circumstances do encourage me to tread forward. 🙂