New Online Shop Sells Sustainable Products from the Developing World
Brenna Donoghue has always wanted to influence positive social change on a global basis and at one time felt the way to do so was through charitable organizations. A Canadian, Donoghue worked in the charity sector for a few years promoting economic growth and sustainable businesses in Africa, but found change was happening much too slowly for her and some of her colleagues. So, two years ago, they decided to shift to private enterprise, founding Ethical Ocean, an online retailer that sells only sustainable products manufactured by individuals or communities in the developing world.
"There are a lot of great products out there that support fair trade or sustainability and we wanted to create a marketplace that brought these products together and reflect the values of the people who made them," Donoghue said.A former Action Canada fellow and a member of Engineers Without Borders, Donoghue felt that the way to best help those people who create these products in the developing world was to employ the powers of private enterprise.
"I found that the charity area was driving change very slowly, and not necessarily with the critical thinking needed to affect lasting change," she said.
Launched in December 2010, Ethical Ocean's catalogue features more than 200 brands and 4,000 products, a number that's been whittled down as Donoghue and her colleagues hone in on the best quality of products to sell. Ethical Ocean goes beyond offering just fair-trade coffee and fair-trade chocolate - goods that Donoghue said have become mainstream. Their products are more and more focused on lifestyle, such as apparel and jewelry. One of Ethical Ocean's favourite companies is Oliberte, a Canadian shoemaker whose products are created in Ethiopia.
"They're actually building an economy there," Donoghue said, noting that Oliberte didn't just throw money at Africa, it made it a goal to lift up a part of it. "They're the first high-end shoe company whose products are 100 percent sourced and manufactured in Africa. They hire locals, they give them health benefits. They're a brand we absolutely love."
Donoghue firmly believes that charity isn't the solution in Africa. That view comes from not only observing the ineffectiveness of many NGOs and charity organizations, but also from seeing the immense amount of initiative in Africa that Ethical Ocean feels needs fostering.
"We really saw how entrepreneurial people were without a lot of resources. That entrepreneurial spirit is really what was so exciting," Donoghue said of her experience in Africa. "Finding ways to support that innovation is really the most exciting thing about what we do. We want to be part of something that still influences, something that matters to us."