Our guest, Tabea Oppliger was born in 1977 to Swiss parents and raised in Papua New Guinea, spending her first 16 years of life speaking mainly Pidgin English and English. Tabea then lived in Switzerland for 20 years for education and professional reasons where she also got married and gave birth to her three children. An unstoppable force to see justice and freedom for all, Tabea founded GlowbalAct, a charity seeking to eradicate modern day slavery. In 2014 Tabea and her family moved to Tel Aviv, Israel where they established a social business called KitePride as a solution for people formerly exploited in the sex industry and beyond. A cataylst for change, Tabea’s enthusiasm and charisma will inspire you to action.
Living Room Conversations: KitePride TLV with Tabea Oppliger
Rhea = Rhea Ong Yiu (Host)
Tabea = Tabea Oppliger (Guest)
RHEA: Hello! Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to everyone who is following us on the Living Room Conversation. We are now on episode 19 of the Living Room Conversations and maybe it’s your first time to join us in the show today. So what is the living room about? Well
this is our living room with LIVEsciences and basically in this living room we welcome thought leaders and anyone who has something to share with the world around the changes that we are experiencing and how we are coping with it. In this conversation today we have a very special guest and she comes from Israel and basically, she has quite a long history and the move to Israel and that would be part of the conversation we’re having so we’re going to share with you the history behind KitePride in Tel Aviv and the mission that they’re on and so without further ado, I would love to welcome Tabea Oppliger to join me here and let’s say hi and welcome Tabea. Welcome Tabea!
TABEA: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me. And I just love technology that
from Israel I can be part of this Living Room Conversation today and I’m excited to share what’s on my heart. Thank you so much!
RHEA: Yeah. Thanks so much for joining us Tabea! And yeah maybe just a little teeny bit about you to share with our guests. So you moved from Switzerland right to..? And maybe give us a little bit background. Who is Tabea? And where are you now?
TABEA: Yeah usually you just get like a one sentence answer from somebody but I have a little bit of a history as you said before I actually grew up in Papua New Guinea. As a Swiss from a Swiss parents so I’m Swiss and lived in Switzerland for 20 years and seven years ago we moved to Tel Aviv Israel with our whole family so yeah. So it’s really, really pretty international.
RHEA: Yeah and and when you moved to um Tel Aviv you had a mission in your heart right? And it was really right at the heart of when there when Israel was under attack right?
TABEA: Yeah. Yeah it was- I remember friends kind of telling us you know it’s okay you don’t have to go um there was the Gaza war was still going on in 2014 and we were on our way here and it was actually quite incredible pretty much on the flight just before we touched down in Tel Aviv, the pilot said that there had been a ceasefire and so that was our arrival. It was the day of the ceasefire and I remember it very well and yeah, we knew that we needed to come and start the mission, as you said that we really had on our heart. Which was to help build a solution for victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution, to leave the industry and actually have a chance and an opportunity to start another job. So that was the whole mission, idea, vision that we came with and we were determined to see it happen and make it happen.
RHEA: And you brought your whole family with you on this mission, right?
TABEA: Absolutely, yeah. We have three kids and there was no way they were staying behind and we always really included them in conversations of moving of moving country, we invited them in on conversations on how it might be very difficult to go to a local school in a completely different culture and language. We prepared them. We really as I said included them, invited them in on this journey and obviously they didn’t understand everything but I still remember the sassy answer of my son who just said ‘well what do they speak there?’ when we kind of said should we try maybe first put you in an international school and because they spoke English as well as German and and Hebrew being the completely foreign language for them and culture.
We kind of said yeah maybe we can start off with an international school and then continue to a local school and he said to me ‘well what do they speak there?’ and I said ‘Hebrew’ and then he said ‘well then of course we’ll go to a local school because how should I then make friends?’ And so it’s always good to have the bright nave hope of kids just saying we’ll just do what is difficult. And after three months they started to understand the language, and after about six months they were speaking and took a few more years for them to really call Israel home but they’re at home now after seven and a half years.
RHEA: Yeah. I mean children are amazing right? They’re sponges, wherever you put them in a nurturing environment they just flourish and learn super fast, and they adapt so well.
So tell us Tabea, what is KitePride and what do you do?
TABEA: So as I briefly mentioned before we really came with the idea of founding a social business as a solution for the part of reintegration into society of rescued victims of human trafficking. So while there are many shelters, safe houses, non-profit organizations helping people who are still in forced prostitution, or victims of human trafficking, while there are very many organizations along the way, there aren’t many opportunities for them to actually be reintegrated into society by giving them a job.
So we just saw that gap and we saw Tel Aviv as a very innovative city, as a very nurturing environment to build a business, because Tel Aviv is really- the amount of startups here is unbelievable. And here the whole atmosphere and environment as I said before is very nurturing for new ideas and different ways of approaching life and while yes, there is critique in the sense of empowering critique, critique that helps you to actually just go for it and do it and mistakes it teaches and people are here to connect you with the right people and it’s not so much- it is a very competitive world but in a different sense. In a competitive world in a way of saying hey we want to succeed and we’ll help you succeed. So this this environment was really the base of us then founding a social business which we eventually called KitePride because it’s a fashion label. Manufacturing bags and accessories made from upcycled kitesurfing sails, yacht sails, parachutes, wetsuits and so we take all these broken material that still has- it’s still very good, very high quality, absolutely reusable. We take that and turn it into bags. All the while offering jobs to men and women exiting forced prostitution as I mentioned, survivors of human trafficking who are looking for a job. So KitePride is a business, it’s a workplace it’s a place where these people come to work to have something to write in their CV to then continue their journey of being reintegrated into society instead of just falling into- I wouldn’t say being a victim of a social security system, but at the same time if you just help them out but don’t actually empower them and give them tools to earn a new living and really have the chance to start a job, they kind of remain victims of a social system and they remain dependent on help all of the time. So we wanted to approach the side of really giving them a job, giving them an opportunity, giving them a salary from day one and empowering them to go on in their life of pursuing a life outside of the sex industry.
RHEA: Yeah. I love what you’re doing. And I love the fact that you saw this right when it was- like I think a lot of people would have needs to see this map in terms of reintegration into society right? Before I move on with my questions I just want to acknowledge that we do have audiences in Youtube and also in Facebook Live and I just want to invite you guys, if you’re watching and if you have any questions, please message us on the chat and we’ll try to get them answered as we go along with this conversation.
So yeah, so Tabea, yeah in terms of integration and in terms of helping people when it comes to jobs, not everyone gets qualified right? So do you offer- what do you offer? Training? How do you empower people who are shifting from one industry to another?
TABEA: Yeah. So actually the whole idea really started with me coming face to face with victims
who were in forced prostitution survivors of human trafficking who were already out. Who really were determined to start a new life, and were ready to start a job and what stops them from actually doing it and really going the whole way is that they have nothing to write in their CV. As I wrote, as I said they have a lot of debts, a lack of education, shame, PTSD. So all of these factors are very daunting for somebody to then actually start a job so we connect with shelters and non-profit organizations, safe houses, official human trafficking shelter here in Israel, we connected with them before we started this business just to see how can we even start the process of accepting these people, having intakes, what can we offer them, how will the job look like?
And that’s why we chose something that is where you can really work with your hands. Where you can you know we get these kites in, we cut them open, we look at them, it takes an eye to see which part can work for which bag. You need to trace the patterns on the kite pieces, you need to cut them out, you then put them back together in beautiful designs with very colorful patterns, and then you start to sew.
So there’s very, very many different levels within our workshop, very creative, that people can come into and just learn by doing and everyone is kind of put into a put into a department according to their skills when they start. Somebody might come in and just start by labeling bags right at the end somebody will come in and immediately understand how to look at a kite, how to cut a kite open, how to just put the patterns on. Somebody else will just really enjoy sewing and learn it within weeks and become one of our top seamstresses within a few weeks because they just love sewing. So we really try, and before people come first of all they have to be ready to really start a job and and work. They have to be free of drugs, alcohol. They have to be willing to get up in the morning and come to work consistently. Every person has a tailored and individual job contract according to their level and skills of also their past and we just work with everyone very very individually. Obviously we have a very limited intake because we pay them from day one and we’re still a very small workplace, we can’t offer jobs to hundreds of people. So right now we have 13 people with this past and but at the same time because we’re really learning by doing this is new ground for us all we’re pioneering something that doesn’t exist in the way that we’re doing it. So what we realized was again not everybody wants to learn to sew, or wants to design, or wants to be in production, or manufacturing something some of them might want to just kind of get grounded have have have a place to start with to say hey ‘actually I’d like to go back to studying’ or ‘I’d like to work in a shop just at the counter’ or whatever so we started another empowering course parallel to the social business that also happens within our facilities that we we offer educational programs for three months and get them ready to write a CV to present themselves to another workplace, we take them by the hand. So we have like two things parallel going.
RHEA: Yeah that’s really interesting and what inspires me is that when you said well we are a small business and we cannot hire everybody right? That’s what I heard and but what you’re doing is role modeling the possibilities, right? So you see the potential in people and you give them an opportunity to actually play to their strength and also work with the strength that they have right? And understanding the trauma, how are you able to kind of pull them together in this process? Because I can imagine it’s a little bit difficult for them to kind of shift into this gear.
TABEA: Absolutely. And that’s why we have a social worker who works in-house and who’s here to just catch all these moments of difficulty, maybe flashbacks that come up or moments of just not coping and we also work in very close contact with the shelters and the safe houses and
the different places that they referred to us. They’re all still in therapy outside of the workplace so KitePride is really a workplace. Like you need to understand that it’s not another rehabilitation center, it’s rehabilitation on the job, it happens very naturally and we’re here to kind
of we know where they’re coming from so we know there will be moments of difficulty that rise up or suddenly they don’t show up at work and our social worker will have to go after them and say ‘why didn’t you show up?’ and ‘what happened?’ and then you know work with them again outside the workplace. So we try and keep the workplace very professional a place where they really come to work. It’s not a place where they come for counseling, they can have it but that happens outside of the work hours so it really is a place that basically an apprenticeship, a training program. Something to get them ready and give them wings to fly.
RHEA: Yeah, what I’m picking up is that creating a sense of structure is so important in a transformation right? So allowing people to have kind of this is a safe zone for me to act accordingly and I know how to act around this space so I haven’t had any challenges the bear
around you know like people finding it difficult to kind of um maybe cope with changes within the workplace? Would you have anything of that sort?
TABEA: Definitely. So one of probably the hardest things is suddenly getting up in the morning and coming very regularly to work and performing according to goals that they’re given you know. Until this evening we need to have you cut all these pieces we need to have all this ready for production or just a very different type of regularity that they’re not used to. So most of them are used to working through the night. Obviously that was their past. They’re not used to people even treating them with dignity so they suddenly just like oh this person expects something from me but on my eye level like they’re meeting me at my at eye level and and what do I even do with all this kindness? And then suddenly there are also moments where they actually really take advantage of your kindness and realize these people know where I’m coming from. They’re going to excuse my behavior, they’re going to give me second chances and so they fall into victim mentality again. And then when the slightest thing that is uncomfortable they’ll say I don’t
feel well, I need to go home and at the beginning we did make the mistake of saying oh okay fine you need to go home until we realized we’re not helping them. And this is also the feedback that they give us. They’re very honest people. They’re very used to people just really giving them the drill and just telling them this is what you need to be doing but it’s a real balance between them kind of just receiving all of this kindness, all of this ‘we believe in you, can do this’ to again as I said almost taking advantage of it and they’re not performing and living up to their potential.
So it’s a very fine line of truly understanding all these aspects and being hard on them in a good way being- disciplining them if they need it not in a way where you know you say ‘you can’t come to work anymore’ this is but just drawing boundaries and saying this and communicating very, very clearly what we expect from them. It’s really, it’s very very much like a family. I’m a mother of three children and I always say if you love your children, you’ll discipline them, you’ll give them boundaries, you’ll make them do some stuff that they don’t enjoy doing because it’s just part of life. And so it’s really our business, is a family, and everyone who comes becomes a family member and as a mother you want to push them, you want to push them out of the nest at one point you want to see them do better and and so you’re willing to pour everything in them but you also need that willingness that they need to play the game too.
So these are oftentimes, it’s really a balancing act between the head and the heart. Like this is a business, you need to be performing. And then pushing them in this and then they feel too pushed and then it’s like wow but this person because one person who really calls in sick might actually really be sick and so to have the discernment of understanding what their needs truly are and at the same time making it very individual because not everyone who comes is at the same place in life. We have people who have been in prostitution for over 30 years and this is really their first job and others have had a job in the past somehow slid into prostitution wrong moment, wrong time, wrong people and then kind of bounce back and realize this is not what I wanted or chose for life and but then they might have had an education in the past but then they need to be brought back to the to that level of just saying hey now I can go back to that study or whatever I was doing so yeah it’s very individual.
RHEA: Yeah. I love that you treat it with such a heart for the human being right? Because it’s impossible to have a cookie-cutter approach to these types of challenges and I just want to bring you to some of the comments that we are receiving on the chat and Jenya says: I take my hat off to you and the work you’re doing.
And Damjan is also saying: Hi Tabea, thank you for sharing your story with such a noble cause many conventional organizations would be afraid to hire the people that you’re employing because of having a lot of prejudice and fears. So Damjan actually brings in a very interesting question, can you please share a few words on importance of trust in your organization? And how do you build and maintain that trust given the circumstances around you know what you’re dealing with? You’ve already shared some struggles, so maybe just the first question would be great.
TABEA: Yes so that’s a really really good question because trust is one of their biggest issues. So they have never been able to trust anyone in their life so it really is as I said before that balancing act of being almost being too kind and then them kind of testing the boundaries saying how far can I go and will she fire me and will she let me go and but they actually promised me this job.
And so it takes such clear communication and talks again and again which is why we have a social worker in-house to really just be there to take care of these individual cases so it’s like a
case manager for every person that we employ with this background in the past but we also have regular workers in our business we have we have a designer we have a head seamstress not everybody who works within the company comes with this background so we have a very
good and a strong mix and at the same time, as a head designer you’re suddenly- you find yourself a social worker a little bit because you need to pick up on different things and then report it to the social worker who will then take care of it. So again the trust that we build up with
our people is really based on, with the background of forced prostitution and human trafficking is really taking very small steps and also inviting them in to say especially when we individualize the work contract saying so how much do you think you can work and then holding them accountable for it and saying you said you want to come in three times a week four hours a day and if and then kind of holding them up to that and really believing in them if they again, like before the example of them calling in sick not feeling well just really you know doing that phone call and saying ‘are you really sick are you just having a bad day? Because you know what we want you to come you committed to three days a week, four hours a day. When are you gonna do those four hours?’ and this, just even things, little small gestures that we take, gestures that we take completely for granted for them, that’s like ‘wow they see me, they seem to know what I’m going through and they still believe in me’ or then again giving them second chances. Yes they might mess up, yes you know suddenly they’ll be difficulties. I mean the lockdowns, the whole couple of years now, two years of Corona has been very difficult for our people. Because as soon as you take that ground away from them, of them being able to come to a workplace come to a place regularly see people, be in an environment that believes in them; if you take that ground away from them, which happened here in Israel, we had three major lockdowns
we had people fall back into drugs, alcohol.
And instead of excusing it we said ‘okay you messed up. But we need you to go into therapy and we want to see you in three months’ and then the social worker was on it. And said ‘after three months are you coming back? Why not? Did you go through your therapy?’ just having that again, just really- also building that trust again and saying ‘Hey you know what you made a mistake but we believe in you and you need to come back.’ and there are moments where we have had to let go of people because they need to want to. So a lot of people say you know you, how do you choose? And I always say they have to want to. You can’t force anyone to want to come and work. You can’t force anyone who says ‘What? This is too hard for me. I can’t do it.’
because it really is hard. It’s very different. It’s sometimes easier for them to just stay in their world of being drugged all day even though it sounds terrible, but they can numb everything out and just continue doing what they’re doing. Not that we ever want them to be in that and leave them there, but it’s just a moment where you just say we can’t be everything. So that’s the
the difference of us not being a shelter in a safe house. We really are that workplace.
RHEA: Yeah. Yeah, I love that. You make that clear from the get go right? And you create the right boundaries, you create the structures and like from what I’m hearing I could tell we could totally learn from the way you have your organizational structure and the boundaries that you have. In terms of how we also onboard new people in the companies, right? It’s your role modeling that sense of how do we shepherd new people into our organizations and how do we
raise them to become the leaders that they are right? When we hire we see potential and that’s also very inspiring yeah. I just want to take a pause, if there are any questions, comments from
our audience on the chat please go ahead and engage with us. Yeah we’re very much looking forward to your questions as well. And yeah, so Tabea, speaking of, you spoke in a TED talk and I was watching it and you talked about enabling baby birds to truly see them fly. What are the main principles or kind of the things that you go by in terms of enablement? What are the things that you keep in mind or at least practice day in, day out the type right?
TABEA: Well we always learn the most by really talking to our people that we employ and asking them questions. Also asking them where we failed them and I think that’s a conversation that you always need to have in a business in with anybody with any employee and also really inviting them in on the journey of their career and saying what do you want, where do you see
yourself? And again like giving them more responsibilities as time goes by and not keeping them in the same rut and just keeping them there.
Yes at the beginning you know, everybody kind of needs a stability a place to just be and they need it they they just want to love their monotonous work just coming in and cutting all day or whatever and then there’s a moment where we need to have a conversation with them again and say ‘look you’ve been cutting now for a couple of weeks you know, you can see that the seamstress that at the corner of your eye would you like would you like to sew a bag.’ and they’ll
be like ‘no, there’s no way I can do it.’ and then it’s just ‘okay, yes you can. You can try by just doing a straight line sewing a straight line.’
[Tabea’s phone rings]
Just that with my son. I’m in a call, okay?
So it’s really about seeing them and dropping any labels that you might have of a person thinking she can’t do more but really giving them the chance and then you know if they- if you really see that they’re struggling very much with the next step you might just take them another step back and say ‘okay take a break’ but it’s just with everything in life, not letting them stay comfortable. Always pushing them enough for them to to still be comfortable in the environment but have that goal. And that’s what again what we’re all here for in the work- the workplace is a very bustling place where everyone’s doing a lot of different things. It’s very much like a family
as I said before and and it’s about all of us having those eyes open seeing them on eye level and seeing ‘hey wow she was so good with that last time, let me you know, give her more and more responsibilities.’ and then realizing ‘okay if it’s too much, pulling it back.’ but our goal is not to have them stay at KitePride, as much as we love that. They learn to sew and and become experts in certain bags or accessories that they have to sew but we really want to give them the opportunity to continue their journey of just moving more and more into the full-on workplace out there where nobody knows where they’re coming from and again, we know where they’re coming from but we don’t label them. We don’t keep them there and so we really want to see them go out there and then succeed but it does take time.
We have had people, a lot of people ask us you know, ‘Do they stay for six months? Do you have a program they graduate from?’ No we don’t. Within KitePride, we don’t have a program they graduate from. We started, as I mentioned briefly before like a three month educational program that’s happening alongside which is not part of working in the business and that is something different to really get them ready to already go out there and find a job in another place. With that foundation of three months, intense education and getting them ready for moving out and then taking them by the hand, we have social workers who go with them for job interviews. And that way we can integrate more people because as I said, before we can only take and pay so many salaries within our small business. So again, it’s all about communication. It’s about speaking to them all the time, asking how they are, asking them if they’re bored, asking them if they’re ready to move on, move a step further without making them feel like we don’t want them anymore.
And some people really do need help and need that extra push and we had somebody who was with us for four whole years but she climbed the ladder within the business she started off doing just kites. Cutting these kites and and then in the end she ended up doing an accounting course and helping with our accounting within the business. So she climbed the ladder within the business and now she’s ready to completely leave and go and help her father’s business and do the accounting there which is amazing. And she needed those four years and she quit about a year ago and then she kind of came running back and said ‘I’m not ready yet’ and we’re like ‘Okay. Okay then we’ll give you that second chance.’
And so it’s very individual and I think it’s adaptable for any company to do the same thing and again we’re looking for jobs for these people who are in our empowerment course to go outside. So one small company alone can’t do it all. We need many more businesses to just even offer just one little job to somebody and then give them kind of like a mentor within the business. It doesn’t even take that much, it just takes somebody to believe in them.
It’s a bit like when you take a young kid let’s just call it an apprenticeship. When you know a 16 year old kid starts and starts his studies within a company he’ll just maybe be filing stuff at the beginning he’ll be doing whatever because he doesn’t know what to do yet and he has kind of like a mentor, somebody who’s coaching him through it so that’s something that they definitely need. They can’t be left alone. They do need that coach but I think every company can free up that little space and just drop that label of thinking this is the next prostitute might be your next best talent in the company so it just needs that belief in this person and yeah.
RHEA: Yeah. We’re all about creating opportunities and we love that you mentioned this so I
have a question before we move on to the questions about the chat which is also growing in number, I have a question related to this right how can you encourage companies that of course we have very high KPIs, we have strict things that we want to kind of deliver and to be able to create a space right? To reskill. To, you know, be a mentor to someone who is getting into learning new skills, what would be your advice to companies to kind of go in this direction?
TABEA: I think it’s really it boils down again to that family thinking. I think we just have to see people for who they are and we need to see them for as sons and daughters who are just
who are needing these mothers and fathers to believe in them in a very literal and figuratively speaking way.
Without being a mother, you can be a mother to somebody in the way because a mentor kind of brings you just to the level of knowledge that he knows. But a mother hopes that her child will outgrow her and I think this is the mindset that we need to have in businesses and we need to start seeing human beings again and not letting ourselves be led by profit and I mean nothing against profit. We want to be profitable. We want to make money to invest in more people but we really need to see the people and understand that the people will get us to the profit.
And it’s just- it’s really about seeing human beings because I also always say, whenever you know, in marketing and sales in our products you know, people might comment on the prices and I always say you know, if it’s cheap for you, somebody else is paying the price. And we need to see that as well like what are we investing in? Are we investing in some company that is
producing mass- like just doing mass production but their people are not paid fairly, they’re not treated well, the workplace is not according to the standards that they need to have and just because we want it cheap and we want to you know, we want to- so where do we even source things for our business? Where do we buy different things that we need to make the bags?
Obviously we have the material coming from the donated kites and yacht sails and all of that, but there are labels, and straps, and buckles and things that we need to order. And we need to think; where are we ordering it? To really you know, live up to the standards that we have of having it come from maybe even a local source, or from somewhere where we know that this
company lives up to standards that we want to follow through with, all the way. And so I think
companies really need to start thinking again and seeing people and not just dollars.
RHEA: I love that. Seeing people and dollars because I think this is also you know as organizations are evolving nowadays the talk about a more human type of leadership is much needed in the workplace today. And I love that you mentioned this. We have one question from Patricia, she’s like this is brilliant and much needed and I know that Patricia comes from the Philippines so she’s asking would you consider implementing the same model in other countries that have yeah a problem with prostitution?
TABEA: Yes, absolutely! It is our dream to inspire other businesses and again not necessarily to start this fashion label of course. We’d love to see KitePride become a brand and a fashion label that goes global and viral and everybody wants our bags, but at the same time it’s really about inspiring young entrepreneurs and other businesses to just again, like as I said create this one little job opening for somebody connecting with maybe one of these safe houses shelters and and just saying you know, what we would like to offer even if it starts off with being a cleaning job, or a filing job or a whatever job to this person is. And in a restaurant, helping in the kitchen
and just giving this person dignity and an opportunity to actually come to a workplace and seen and met at eye level because the problem of all these people in forced prostitution and human
trafficking victims, they have one, they have one cry which is what this one what I kept hearing when I met these people was we don’t need pity, we need jobs.
So we don’t need to feel sorry for them, we need to empower them. We need to give them an alternative because they all need money. Why did they end up in that because they were desperate for money and they had no education or whatever and they were taken advantage of in a very vulnerable state so it’s really about inspiring other businesses to be and really to tell them ‘you can do it, you actually can.’ you don’t need all the know-how, you don’t need a social worker in-house. If you just create one job for one person you, yes, you do need a counselor. You do need a buddy to really take them and take them by the hand and if you can you know, if you can free up that time in within your company and take this person by the hand, because they really do need that, I don’t want to make it sound like it’s just easy and you just employ them and they’re like any other regular employee.
But just inspire people to do that and then obviously yes, we would also love to see other KitePride centers around the world. We’re just working hard on opening a place in Holland, in
in Amsterdam. So we have a team there who’s starting up and what we also really want to do is
have- if people want to start up a KitePride location, it really needs to be connected with the community there. So as I said before, it’s the resources that we have and the material we have is kitesurfing sails, yacht sails. So any place by the ocean where there’s a community of kite
surfers who you know, you have old and broken kites and then they become part of that project too. Because they’re donating their kites and then it all starts and grows organically. So yes
it is our goal to also build up different KitePride centers everywhere but very slowly, we always say we would rather grow organically than just you know, suddenly have all these KitePride places popping up and not being able to deal with all- not the overload but just yeah, with so many centers that we can’t handle. Because again, we want to be sustainable and we want to build it sustainably.
RHEA: Very nice, Tabea. A question from Monica and she also made a comment: what an important person being seen giving the respect that everybody deserves and build up the self-confidence of the person’s right? It’s very beautiful. She’s saying, is there anything given the support system that you have established and giving it given where you are right now with KitePride. What would you wish for? Is there anything that you would wish for that KitePride can help the employees further in their journey?
TABEA: I think what is always a topic and I mean I just said it before it’s not about the dollars, it’s about the people. But at the same time you do need the dollars to help the people. So being a business, working and choosing to work with the people that we work with, we are still not break even so we have to fundraise a lot to make things happen. Upcycling and recycling is very expensive it would be much cheaper to just buy cheap material and just get starting you know sewing and just do some bags and mass production all of these things. Which is why a lot of my speeches are really about educating businesses. I tapped into it a little bit before of really just rethinking and just changing the mindset to let’s start thinking more about less is more and and and really about where do we source things? Or where do we buy things? Do we just continue to buy everything off you know, just thinking of fashion, fast fashion, Shane, I’m like there’s a no-go for me. I do not buy off Shane and because I know that their employees are treated and not treated according to the standards that we want to be holding up and so I think one of the biggest challenges that we face at KitePride is almost having to justify the prices of our bags and I always say you’re not just buying a bag, you’re carrying a story. And you’re carrying history. Or even carrying the history of the kite. The kite that was flown somewhere in the Mediterranean or on some island and somebody you know, hard-earned money bought himself a kite went on an adventure, broke it and he donated it. And we made it, turned it into a bag but at the same time, we empowered people. We pay you know, salaries that people can live off and so it’s really about finding enough people to actually buy our bags, finding enough businesses to get on board the vision of saying ‘hey I’m gonna order my company gifts or gifts for clients from your business’ because it carries a story and we always say, even in marketing and sales it’s very difficult to convey the message in a way that we don’t keep talking about the people and almost re-victimizing them.
So I wish we could just be KitePride and not have to focus on almost justifying our prices or why you know, why we might have only these bags and people are like ‘But I want this bag. But this
guy has this bag and it’s cheaper’ and I’m like ‘Why do we even have to have that conversation?’ just buy the bag. Carry a story. Be part of making history and empowering a life.
So if we could you know, if we would be successful without having to constantly tell the story why we do it and again like justify it, we could help many, much more people and also when we started off with KitePride, it was very hard to find an investor and we realized we will not find an investor we had to find donors because it was more of a cause to donate to than a business promising profits.
So we don’t have an investor, we just have donors and people who believe in us. And I always say people who buy a bag with us immediately becomes a sponsor. So it really is- that’s kind of the challenge we face.
RHEA: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you Tabea. and I think this really opens up thinking for many of us like okay how can we support a social enterprise like yours? To kind of allow more lives to flourish right? And to be able to pivot from their past life into a more whole human being as we call it. Marianna has a question for you and this is a little personal so she’s asking how is your family involved in the work that you’re doing? What have you noticed about your children learning through this?
TABEA: I think the biggest thing they’ve learned is really to drop any label. To see the person and that’s one of the things that we always tell them you know, we always say because they you know, they see our struggles they see how we have to fundraise they see us working a lot and they might you know, not always be able to see the good in it yet and the profit and whatever and also according to their age, we see how much we can communicate to them, who we work with, but now they’re all 16, 14 and 11. So they know our people. They know them as a family, as well they see the difference of when they first came to start work with us and how they either leave or how they are just flourishing within the company and so it’s really about never shielding them from like we even tell them some some crazy stories and we we always try to make them aware of the fact that they’re very privileged that it’s not that they shouldn’t take things for granted.
If they can just go to school live in a protected home and we take them with on we have like fun days that we do with our employees within the company and we usually take our kids with
to these fun days so that they can experience them and so I think the greatest lesson they’ve learned in life is really that you know you should never label a person and that every person who acts a certain way comes with a very heavy history. And so I think that’s been an eye opener for them and something I’ve always made a point to teach them plus also as I said before I mentioned briefly my daughter is not allowed to buy trendy things off Shane or whatever different. Portals where I know that this is just cheap where I know somebody else is paying the price so they might receive a no for certain things because I just explained to them how people are treated in these companies and so that’s something that I hope they will continue and just really learn for life.
RHEA: Very nice. Yeah so Marianna says thank you and she loves what people said. It’s very inspiring. Tabea, I think I know you and Matt for quite a while now and I’ve been following your story. I’ve been looking on the sidelines and cheering you on and you have grown to become a
leading voice in this space of modern day slavery and human trafficking. What propelled you in this direction? Maybe just to share a little bit of the back story with our audience.
TABEA: Yeah I always say to own and to really eradicate injustice, you need to own it. Even if it’s not your story. Even if it’s not your past. Because you know many people say well how did you even get in touch with fighting human trafficking, forced prostitution you know do you know anyone personally? Or were you abused as a child? Or just because usually people get very passionate and active for something because they’ve had a history with it and I did not have a history of any of that what I did have is and what I really had to do is, as I said before, you have to own it. And I think once you start to know things, you can’t look the other way.
And I chose to look. I chose to see more. I chose to dig deeper and the more I looked at these statistics and numbers, the more I saw people. And then I actually went in to face these people
and to find out why you are in it? Is it really what this documentary or this movie is saying? You
chose to be there, it promised you great money, you’re only doing it for a certain while you’re treated very well.
You know, I’m just the type of person who then wants to know these things not everybody will do that but in any thing you’ll find your place and become part of a story so it’s really about just owning it and I always say you know, I’m the face of KitePride and I talk about it, and I talk about what we’re doing to eliminate it, but it’s my team who’s making it happen. Whose faces you’ll never see. And this is the faithful designer who shows up every day and designs bags and works with the people, the faithful seamstress who teaches these girls how to sew, the person who comes in the volunteer, who cooks lunch for our people and make sure they have a healthy warm meal. You know, so it’s really everyone can find their place in this whole story and so even being active in this topic, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be you know, on the front line fighting it. It might be that again that you just join a team and join the business of actually doing what you do well.
So my defining moment of really owning it was again when I really started to look at it and started to go into the red light district that, at that time it was Zurich. And I joined a team that was going out to seek these people to find out, you know what do they need. Who was still in
prostitution. And it was then I met a woman who I was actually- I had my daughter with me,
not that I went into a brothel with her, but I was walking down the streets to an event that this street work team was teaching about and it was just telling people about the whole problem within the district of Zurich. And so I was still nursing my daughter and I had her with me to this- and attended this event. And it was very close to the red light district so I had to walk through it to go there. And it was then that a woman eyed me and saw my daughter in my little wrap and she came straight towards me and she just asked in very broken German if she could kiss my girl.
And I could tell she was really not the type of person that you would like to have you know, you you don’t want close up, she really- her whole breath was heavy with alcohol. Her whole lips were just smeared with lipstick and she was dressed in a way that you know, you just saw she is
full on in prostitution.
And my head said no but my heart immediately said yes and I just let her close and she showered my daughter with kisses and she didn’t just leave a mark on my daughter’s cheek, she really left a mark on my heart because she said ‘you know I have three children of my own,
and I do not know where they are.’
And this was what was promised to me and so she told me a whole story and this is one of those ‘own your moment’ type you just can’t, as a mother, anyway, you can’t look the other way. And so this up and close and personal moment just led me to the next step. And the next step and I always say I didn’t have all the answers and I had no clue then that this was what I was going to go into. But it’s just by being obedient in the small steps and constantly walking through open doors and and seeing you know, can I go down this path, and what will I find out here? And what will I find out here?
And then just doing it not with force but just by talking about it with the right people I had a team that then said let’s you know, build a non-profit and let’s take this to the next step which then eventually led to the social business.
RHEA: Wow. That was inspiring. And also it kind of tugged at my heart because this is reality right? We encounter people every day and it really, as you said, how do we see people? How do we see people at work? What do we see people in our lives? In our neighborhood right? And how we interact with that encounter is so important and it can change a life right? So thank you so much for this insight, Tabea. And as I open for the last question to our participants on Youtube and Facebook, yeah please go ahead and shoot. One final question while I leave Tabea with yeah space to- any final words? From you Tabea? Maybe one question that’s coming up for me is as an individual and someone who has heard your story and also our audience who has heard your struggle today, how can we support or how can we take a next step, let’s say?
RHEA: Yeah I think what my biggest goal always is, is not to overwhelm people. And that’s why I keep trying to say you know, not everybody will be at the front line doing something. It’s really just seeing what you do best and just doing that you know and keeping eyes and ears and hearts open to see needs. To see people and then just meet that need and it might be something just very casual, a neighbor whatever it starts very small. It just started with me going again joining the street work team and just facing these people but you know, somebody else was taking care of my kids during that time and she was part of me going out into the brothels and speaking to people and finding out what their needs were and she was part of it even though she you know looking from the outside people might say looks more insignificant, but
without her taking care of my children I could not have gone and done that.
So it’s always super, super important for me for people not to be overwhelmed or say I can’t build a business and I can’t do that well I can’t either. I was actually just sharing the vision, and I
had the passion and other people are making it happen I have a whole team doing what I see
and it just takes the pioneer to see it. It takes the pioneer to speak the vision out it takes the pioneer to lead it takes the pioneer to make mistakes and also own those mistakes base them
and then you know, redirect but it takes other people to just do their part well. It takes a graphic designer to do a great job with our website it takes a salesperson who just knows how to sell
to sell our bags. And so it’s really about just doing what you do and know to do well and that’s that’s always the biggest message I have. Just see what you have. You know your gifts and if you don’t know them, then ask your best friend to point them out to you. And then just do that well. And it’s really really important for me. That any cause is noble if it’s about people.
RHEA: Thank you so much Tabea. And thank you for this very inspiring hour. I took a lot today and I need to sit and reflect a little bit of what you have shared and how we can actually take learning from this conversation into our day-to-day work with our clients right? Because every
organization deserves this type of inspiration so yeah thank you so much Tabea for this.
And yeah before we close I just would like to invite you all to join us in our next conversation and Ken is going to show we have a conversation with Itziar about Vertical Growth it will happen on the 16th of February and of course if you haven’t already Tabea is also joining us at the Teal around the world. It will run from March 3rd to 4th and if you need a discount or if you feel like I really struggle to afford the tickets please do reach out and we’ll make it happen for you so we’re very excited to have you join us in both of these events and again Tabea, thank you and we look
forward to see you soon at Teal Around The World. Thank you so much for this afternoon.
TABEA: Thank you so much!
RHEA: Thank you!
End of Transcript