By Stef Tschida
Trigger Warning: This story contains references to sexual assault and rape and may be triggering to some readers. In the U.S., support for sexual assault victims is available through the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Call 1-800-656-4673 or live chat here.
When Joy McBrien faced a problem when she was growing up, her mother, who was a first-grade schoolteacher, often encouraged, “A problem is a problem to solve. What’s your plan?” The kinds of obstacles Joy faced at the time were disagreements with friends or alleviating boredom during summer vacation. Whatever it was, dissecting the problem, considering possible solutions, and devising a plan to tackle it always seemed to work. She never imagined that someday she might need to use that approach to navigate the most traumatic experience of her life—being raped by a coworker at age 18.
Overcoming the confusion and shame of sexual assault seemed insurmountable. She experienced depression and anxiety. She felt powerless, like a part of her identity had been lost. She desperately craved a community or someone who might understand what she was going through, and yet she was too ashamed to tell anyone. All the while, her mom’s mantra played on repeat in her head. She wondered how she could solve this problem.
Then one day, Joy felt compelled to do something about it. She began educating herself on violence against women. She learned statistics that alarmed her: One out of every three women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. She also discovered that, at the time, Peru had the highest rates of reported domestic violence in the world. She read about a social worker named Anita who worked with women in Peru and was building a women’s shelter to help them get out of abusive situations. Though Joy was taking business courses in college at the time, she felt driven to go to Chimbote, one of the poorest cities in Peru, to meet Anita and to work on the shelter. She created her own study abroad experience and convinced her professor to approve it as an independent study project.
The experience was life changing for Joy. She lived with Anita and became close friends with the residents of the shelter. She realized just how privileged and abundant her own life had been. She was inspired by the women’s stories of survival and resilience. She discovered what empowering them looked like and the impact of lifting up women. She learned that when women have jobs, they invest in their education, their families and their communities—between 80 and 90 cents of every dollar is invested back. And when women have a sustainable income, they leave abusive situations. She saw that barriers to work needed to be removed and one of the best solutions is for women to work from home. She became obsessed with figuring out how to help women in underdeveloped countries make money without being exploited, which could help address the domestic violence problem and many other problems as well.
Her experience helping to build the women’s shelter in Peru over the next three summers, and what she learned through that process, led Joy to launch Fair Anita in 2015. A social enterprise named for the woman who inspired her entrepreneurial journey, Fair Anita offers fair-trade, trendy and affordable women’s jewelry and accessories made by talented artisans. Joy and her team now work with more than 8,000 women from 16 developing countries. They provide women access to new markets, which increases their earning potential. They also offer a community of support and guidance, helping women feel safe, valued and respected. Products are sold online and at more than 600 retailers. And 30 to 60 percent of each purchase funds programs that support female empowerment.
At the close of 2019, Fair Anita achieved a monumental goal—$1 million has been sent to artisan partners around the world since the company launched in 2015. For Joy, that means the organization is having the kind of impact she hoped for and making a big difference in the lives of women all over the world. It also means she has created a sustainable business model that will continue to thrive, impact generations of women for years to come, and solve the problem that led her on her own journey of entrepreneurship and, ultimately, healing. As Joy puts it, “When we invest in one another, we’re healing ourselves too.”
To learn more about Joy’s business, visit FairAnita.com.
Photo: Fair Anita
About the author: Stef Tschida is a former corporate communicator and lifelong storyteller. Stef’s WHY became clear when she worked at her daily campus newspaper. She realized she didn’t want to ask tough questions as a reporter—she wanted to help organizations answer those tough questions. She’s been doing that work ever since.