The New Ibu Foundation

Five years ago, I began to walk into a vision of Ibu. What I wanted was a movement, women around the world clasping one another by the arm, disrupting poverty and shaking down prejudice that censored their incandescent imaginations and together rising into a new self-respect. All this by putting money in the hands of women for the fine skills they carry in their bones - and for which they have rarely been paid.

What I wanted is for the world to notice these remarkable women, how deeply creative and talented they are, how ambitious for their children's future, how willing to soar. To do that, I needed to create a vigorous market for their artful hands. So . . . Ibu.

The Ibu Movement has grown in five years to touch more than 50,000 women in over 50 countries and begun to change lives in all the ways I dared to hope. Along the way, three things happened.

Working with over 101 cooperatives on a daily basis, the Ibu Team learned that one group had no floor under their feet or another had no lights by which to stitch past sundown and another had no idea how to run a business. We wanted to do more.

A second thing happened. People said, quite plainly, if you had a non-profit, I would like to give you money to support this movement. Some were He-bus, men who saw the enormous value of supporting women artisans but weren't in the market for a dress. Some were women who felt a particular kinship for other entrepreneurs with such a potent drive to change their lives. It seemed daunting, this idea, and I tucked it away with other long-range plans.

And then, in a serendipitous moment, a third thing happened. I was offered the reigns of an existing 501c3 created 'to expand the markets of global artisans, particularly women'. The founder had been called into service in another area of work and for six years kept this non-profit alive in order to find the right person to receive it. I sat and listened to her story, her conviction, her work complete, and wondered what possible answer there could be to this astonishing offer . . . but yes, yes. So, it is not later. It is now.

At the same time, a remarkable woman stepped forward willing to craft the legal and financial structure of a non-profit, the whole of it, and that woman is Jane Quinn. Jane took her years of non-profit and corporate experience in Chicago and put it to amazing use to birth a new Ibu Foundation. For Jane, I am unendingly thankful.

We began to talk with artisan groups about their needs. When asked what her group needs most, every single leader responded emphatically: MORE WORK. So, Ibu and other businesses working with artisans, I continue to feel, are the thing most needed to make this movement successful.  

But when we dug further, we learned of the design help desperately needed to translate that work into a product you will buy. We learned of the equipment that would allow a group to grow and include many more women. We heard of workplaces needed, mobile phones for communication in rural areas, and programs to teach ancient skills to young women. Seven projects have been developed by artisans we know and trust; they are approved and ready to roll and waiting for funding to begin. The benefit, always and everywhere, is for the artisans building a new world for themselves and their daughters. And they are on the edge of that new world, looking, walking into that change. It helps to have friends around the world with them on that path.

Sometimes, life leads in ways we had not imagined, and persons appear when you need a hand. That's when I dare to use the word, destiny; there is something absolutely destined about this second leg in the Ibu Movement. It will propel women to thrive in their endeavors. It will shake the world's entrenched inequities and begin to shape change . . . one village at a time. And it is happening. Women are leading. Girls are looking to the sky.

I wanted you to understand this backstory before we move forward with this next big step in the Ibu Movement.  It is a destiny, I hope, not only for my life but for all of ours together. This vision of equity and beauty thriving in the world. This vision of a fair and bankable world for women. This thrilling edge where we find ourselves, looking far and very wide as walk into that new world.

With Anticipation,

Susan Hull Walker



Eric Mindling is a friend and photographer extraordinaire who has given us permission to use these striking images of artisans in Peru, India, and in Mexico, where his company, tradtionsmexico, leads travelers to the makers of hand crafted traditions. A gallery of his portraits will appear on our new Foundation website when it is unveiled on March 8. We are thankful to Eric for this collaboration and for his ever-inspiring work.