Manifest your dreams
Can you tell us about you and the inspiration behind the work you do for the women of Cambodia?
After I retired from my first career, I decided to move to Cambodia, spending the first two years or more working for a nonprofit organization, developing empowerment programs for women living in the poorest areas of the capital city, Phnom Penh. It was there that I really saw the tremendous toll poverty takes on a woman and what a vicious trap generational poverty is. At the time my responsibilities included developing empowerment programs for women in fair-trade garment centers, so I had a chance to see firsthand how jobs and fair wages gave these women the economic power to escape the cycle of generational poverty: They blossomed with pride of workmanship and growing self-esteem. It was amazing to see that a simple fair-wage job could empower women to end generational poverty for their children and generations to come.
The women of Cambodia are amazing, loving, resilient, generous, and lighthearted. In Phnom Penh I witnessed women receive training and fair-wage jobs for the first time, and saw how their lives transformed from struggle and hopelessness to lives full of promise and opportunity, from sadness and despair to joy and excitement, from surviving day to day to thriving. These are mothers who once lived desperate lives and could not provide for their children. Due to their impoverished conditions, they most likely kept their kids out of school, so the kids could scavenge or beg on the streets to earn a dollar or two — or they were forced to put their young daughters to work in dreadfully overcrowded factories because the family needed money for food.
Now, these same women have economic freedom and the ability to take care of their children and make sure their kids go to school. Now they have a pride of workmanship and a sense of their own value as a team member. With this new self-confidence, self-esteem, and economic power they are now inspirational role models for their children, and their lives and the lives of their children and families are changed forever. How can I not be inspired by them?
What has been one of your greatest accomplishments?
Launching Net Effects Traders has been, without question, the best thing I have ever done. I saw the charitable deeds that nonprofits were doing, but I was inspired by the power of "trade instead of aid." I knew I wanted to contribute to creating more and more training and fair-wage job opportunities. So, I completed my contract with the nonprofit and launched Net Effects Traders, a fair-trade company creating eco-friendly, zero-waste bags and totes. I had the good fortune to partner with Yek Hong Tang and her company, Peace Handicrafts, to be our design and production team. We share a commitment to transforming the lives of the women of Cambodia. For more than a decade, Yek Hong has provided training to the hearing impaired, to polio and landmine survivors, and to mothers who were scavengers or trash pickers, transforming them into talented artisans, managers, and production staff.
The most rewarding part of my work is the very personal relationships I have with our team members and how thrilled I am when they tell their story of how their life has been turned around by their job. Each one has a history of living in poverty, of being discounted by their families, of having physical challenges that kept them trapped, and now they have a story of transformation and possibility.
Are there women in your life who have had a significant impact on you and how?
There have been so many women who have had a significant impact on me along the way, from dearest friends and family to internationally known women business and thought leaders, women throughout history who broke new ground and fought seemingly impossible odds, to the young women risk takers of today who are already forging new futures. In my experience, women in business are creative, collaborative, and are all about community. So I always fall back on this tribe, this sisterhood, this gaggle of gals who are always there to support me and remind me that I am having the time of my life, doing what I love and following my passion. I am inspired daily by women around the globe who create, strive, and thrive in all aspects of their lives. Their passion, vision, commitment, and impact remind me anything is possible.
What does it mean to you to tell your story?
I think the best part of telling my story is that I get to share the stories of the fabulous women who work on our design and production team in Cambodia. I like to think these personal stories forge a meaningful connection between women across the globe, that it is more than an introduction to another worthy cause.
I also want people to know how simple and easy it is to make a difference and for them to know the power of conscious consumers. I like to think my story would spur women to think more consciously about what an impact they can make just by how they spend their shopping dollars and begin to look for brands that have great products and are also doing good in the world. I believe as Western shoppers we can make such a difference in the world simply by becoming more conscious, thoughtful consumers. Women have the power to change the future. Businesses, industries, and governments will follow consumer demands and their spending dollars. It's up to us to lead the way.
What advice would you give to women or girls starting, or in the midst of, their own journey through life?
My words of advice? Trust yourself. If you have a vision or a dream, trust that you can manifest that dream. Know yourself. Know your strengths and your limitations. Don't be bashful or timid about what you do well. Build and encourage a team of people who share your passion but have complementary skills. Act with confidence and have fun.
Ardice is the Founder and Director of Net Effects Traders. She has had a successful career as an executive producer and creative consultant for companies such as Apple, LucasArts, and McGraw-Hill. Upon retiring she moved to Cambodia, where she spent two years serving as the Leadership Development Manager for a major nonprofit organization. Through her work she saw the life-changing impact of training and jobs. Ardice became an advocate of the concept of "trade instead of aid" and launched Net Effects Traders to help provide training and fair-wage jobs to disenfranchised Cambodians. Ardice is the recipient of the U.S. President's Call to Service Award and the President's Lifetime Achievement Award for Service. Follow @neteffectstraders
Words: Ardice Farrow