Therese Clarence Fernandez-Ruiz: Sustainable livelihood from scrap

Therese Clarence Fernandez-Ruiz, co-founder and president of Rags2Riches, Inc. Photo by: Personal collection

Therese Clarence Fernandez-Ruiz had one goal in mind when she co-founded Rags2Riches in 2007: To help poor women earn a decent living through turning waste such as scrap fabric into high-value products.

The social enterprise “was created to provide these artisans with fair access to the market and the formal economy, as well as with additional skills-based, financial and health training so that they can maximize their career potential and take steps towards long-term financial and personal well-being,” according to its website.

For her work at Rags2Riches, regarded as one of the most successful and pioneering social enterprises in the Philippines and Asia, Fernandez-Ruiz has earned accolades, including one of the five inaugural Rolex Young Laureates in 2010 and the youngest recipient in the history of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service for 2010. Today, she is one the most influential development leaders aged 40 and under in Manila.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives and journalists.

We spoke with Fernandez-Ruiz on how her organization was able to forge sustainable relationships with its artisan and industry partners.

Before Rags2Riches, mothers in Payatas who tried to eke out a living by weaving fabric scraps lost money to middlemen. How were you able to gain the trust of these mothers?

We are very fortunate to have a group of kindhearted and competent co-founders who started Rags2Riches. One of our co-founders is a Jesuit priest, Fr. Xavier Alpasa. He was already in Payatas for his apostolate when Rags2Riches started. Through his presence and guidance we, the founders, were able to come together and introduce ourselves to the community of mothers.

It took a while before we were able to gain the trust of the communities. It is a work in progress. I must say that trust is something we build with them every day. We build this through creating avenues for dialogue, involving the communities in our decision-making, and most importantly, not leaving when the going gets tough.

How did you convince the country’s top fashion designers to form sustainable partnerships with Rags2Riches? How do these partnerships work?

We tell great stories of problems and opportunities. When we first met with Rajo Laurel, we shared with him the situation of our community members. Together we were able to build the solutions.

Aside from sharing stories, we also make sure that we uphold the highest quality standards possible so that our partner designers can confidently co-brand with us. Our partner designers either partner with us on a pro bono basis or with a modest royalty they can donate to their chosen causes or keep. We are strong believers in exchange of values and win-win partnerships.

What innovative types of partnerships are you eager to push in the coming years?

International expansion, partnership with international designers, and partnership with indigenous communities.

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in Manila.

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