Reshape the Earth at Your Feet

This is a special collaboration between Ember co-founder James A. Pearson and our good friend Cody Small at Caava Design. James wrote the following words for our friends at Invisible Children. Cody was kind enough to incorporate them into the beautiful design below.

Have you ever walked up to the ocean, right where the waves are reaching up the sand, and just planted your feet? When a wave rushes back down the shore you can feel it trying to sweep you away. It tugs at your calves. It cuts grooves in the sand around your feet.

That wave is like history, and your life is a choice: either let yourself be swept away or take a stand. Being swept away is easy and fun, but eventually you will just disappear. Taking a stand is hard, but you will reshape the earth at your feet.

Reshape the Earth at Your Feet
Click the picture for the full-size, printable version.

Hope is Beautiful

Ember Arts - Hope is Beautiful

Hope is beautiful. Hope is courageous. Hope is what compels all of us to Dream.

We made this image for you. Use the click-thru link to download the full-size image.  Be reminded to be hopeful and courageous in your efforts to follow your dreams. Our dreams make the world a beautiful place.

The ‘Eighty Four’ Necklace, or Dreams as Development

Ember Arts Eighty Four Necklace

How do you help a poor country develop? Give them credit. Western-style education. More international trade.

This isn’t development, it’s duplication. When wealthy western donors envision a better Uganda or Haiti or Nicaragua, we see something that looks like America or Western Europe, just with a different ratio of skin-tones. It’s all we know.

Power imposes itself. The American lifestyle looks like paradise to most people. Can you imagine a small-plot farmer who wouldn’t like to trade his dirty, sun-baked, subsistence labor for the endless dance party he sees in American music videos? Or even the landcruiser-driving, bar-haunting life of the international development professional? It’s the best life he has ever seen.

I had a Ugandan friend in Gulu who worked with me for an American non-profit. When he got a promotion and a raise he invited me over to his apartment to show me his new satellite television, which flashed American action movies and music videos.

Development should not duplicate American prosperity. Development should fuel the unique prosperity of the people and place that seek to develop. This is a completely different process, and will have a very different outcome.

This sort of development takes a deep understanding of the culture, needs, and opportunities of a place, the sort of understanding usually found only in people who were born and raised there. When these people dream of a better home they aren’t envisioning a new America. They are dreaming of something totally unique, something that could only come from their people and their slice of earth.

Our partnership with the Ugandan women who make our jewelry is founded on them pursuing their dreams for their families and communities, rather than us pursuing our American version of a better Uganda.

Our new ‘Eighty Four’ necklace is symbolic of this commitment. Each of our 28 partners has shared 3 dreams they would like to accomplish. That’s 84 dreams in all. The necklace has 84 beads, one for each dream.

And we added one extra bead, a pure white one, to represent the dream of the woman who buys and wears the necklace, and how she is now connected to the women who made it.

Shop online by March 23 and 50% of your purchase will be donated to the non-profit Two Wings, in honor of Ember Hero Elena Bondar. Click here to shop.

Elena Bondar, Ember Hero

In Elena’s honor, we are donating 50% of our online sales for one month to her nonprofit program Two Wings. Click to shop our Spring Collection.Elena Bondar, Ember Hero

Elena Bondar downplays her big move. About six months ago she quit her comfortable job in San Diego and moved to Los Angeles, a city where she had never lived and knew almost no one, in order to chase her dream.

But she’s not trying to act or sing. Elena is building a program to launch survivors of sex trafficking towards their dream careers. She calls the program Two Wings. Sex trafficking, she told us, is not confined to the infamous red light districts of Thailand and India. It’s a frighteningly large and hidden criminal industry in America, too. And Los Angeles is one of its centers.

Elena was born in the Republic of Georgia in the former Soviet Union. Her family was persecuted by the communist regime because of their religion and they dreamed of escaping to America. Finally, in 1988, they got the chance.

“We packed one suitcase per person to journey to an unknown land,” she said. “I was five years old when we left our home and was not happy to leave the only life I knew.” Continue reading

Ember Featured by Darling Magazine

The good people at Darling Magazine published an article on Ember this weekend. Below is an excerpt. Read the rest on the Darling site.

When you hear “African refugee woman living in extreme poverty,” you probably don’t picture a woman who has big dreams for herself and her family. I certainly didn’t.

But for the last four years I’ve worked closely with a small group of Ugandan women who lived that story. My company Ember Arts partners with 28 Ugandan women to create beautiful handmade jewelry. All of these women fled their homes to save themselves and their families from a civil war. And all of them survived a depth of poverty that I didn’t even know existed until I left the US.

I’ve learned that not only do they have big dreams, they get after them.

Ugandan women working in the Acholi Quarters rock quarry.
Before partnering with Ember, the Ugandan women we partner with crushed rocks into gravel for $1 per day in this rock quarry.

When I first met the women who would become our partners I saw my relationship to them as a sort of math problem. Their needs exceeded their resources. If I could help them balance that equation, all would be well.

But then we started to become friends. I heard their stories. I got to know their kids. I started to hear their hopes and dreams for the future.

Agnes wanted to finish her education, Jackie wanted to start her own salon, Esther wanted to build a house in the same village that she once fled at the ends of rebel bayonets. All of them wanted to send their kids to good schools and see them achieve the sort of success that would transform their families and communities.

This was more than just math.

Read the rest over at Darling Magazine.

Visionary vs. Vision


[photo from michael_tischer]

Not everyone is a visionary, but everyone has vision.

A visionary, in the usual sense, envisions something huge and impactful, something that is an astounding leap from anything that came before it. Making that vision real takes enormous focus and dedication, and often enormous sacrifices in other parts of life. I’m struck by a passage in “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” a book about visionary doctor Paul Farmer, that highlights his shortcomings as a husband and father. His wholehearted pursuit of a beautiful vision left him with little time for family.

Not everyone is going to have the capacity or desire to be a visionary. But everyone has vision.

Having vision on the usual scale looks a lot like setting goals. In fact, it looks exactly like that. You envision something you want to accomplish, and you set about doing it. Even something as simple as making dinner benefits from our vision.

The great challenge of having vision is achieving clarity. Seeing the details of something that has not yet happened is difficult. But I’ve learned that it’s an important challenge to attempt. Clarity of vision will enliven many parts of your life, from tonight’s dinner to the impact you’d like to have on the world.

In smaller tasks, like dinner, clarity is often achieved by creative and emotional labor, envisioning something a certain way and then committing yourself to that vision. But in larger goals, like your life’s impact, clarity is harder to come by.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to seek clarity in the larger picture is by trying things. Choose a pursuit that promotes your deeper values and dive into it wholeheartedly.

For the most part you’ll find that you were right, that this pursuit satisfies and enlivens you in many ways. But inevitably there will be parts of it that rankle you, little friction points where you can feel that this is not the end point of your journey. So learn from those, and then try your next, better idea.

Ironically, when we lack clarity, trying things doesn’t feel like an option. After all, we’re not clear on what things we want to try. But in my experience doing things is the best way to figure out what it is you want to do.

Over time, by process of elimination and refinement, you’re vision will become clearer, you will be more satisfied with your life, and your impact on the world will grow and become more personal. This process is the work of a lifetime. And I can hardly think of a better way to live.


Stella Safari, Ember Hero

In Stella’s honor we’re donating 50% of online sales for one month to Action Kivu, a group funding the visionary work of Amani Matabaro in Congo. Click here to shop.

Stella with Amani in Mumosho
Stella with Amani Matabaro and the women of the Mumosho Peace Market.

This July I took my first trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has not seen sustained peace for more than a century. I was lucky to travel with an amazing young woman by the name of Stella Safari, who was taking a different sort of first trip. This was her first time to Congo in 12 years, since fleeing war at the age of eight.

As she returned 12 years later, now a student at Dartmouth and a leader among her peers, she brought with her a mission: to inspire Congo’s youth to invest in their country, so that future generations can enjoy peace and prosperity in Congo.

Continue reading

Everything is a Hack


photo from Alex on flickr

When I was younger the world looked like a network of incontrovertible systems: the Education System, the Banking System, the Motor Vehicles System, the Restaurant System, even the Movie Rental System. It seemed like all you had to do was work these systems properly, and you would be rewarded with a happy and successful life.

So after graduating from college I expected that, having completed the Education System, I would quickly be plugged into some other lucrative System, like the Banking one.

But it didn’t happen. And even more disconcertingly, the closer I looked at these systems the less they looked like big, incontrovertible systems at all, and the more they looked like a bunch of people just figuring things out, hacking things together until they worked.

The systems, I realized, weren’t systems at all. They were just particularly successful hacks that many people came to rely on.

Everything is a hack. When this first dawned on me it made the world seem terribly complex and fragile. But then I saw the great opportunity of it. These systems aren’t incontrovertible laws of society, they’re just our best ideas so far, our most successful hacks.

So if I can come up with such a hack, I can build into the world the sorts of systems I’d like to see. We are not bound by the systems of today, but rather the world relies upon us to come up with the hacks that will create a better tomorrow.

[Cross-posted on Charles Lee's Blog]

Seven Billion Dreamers

Somewhere in the world today a baby is born and unknowingly pushes the population ticker to 7,000,000,000.

Seven billion people. Seven billion dreamers.

It is humanity’s unique blessing to envision things that never were and by our work to make them real. We are a species of dreamers.

And whether we are born in American suburbs or Ugandan villages we dream of the same things. We dream of finding love, finding a calling, finding success. We dream of good lives for our families. We dream of a world where more people, where all people, have the liberty and resources to pursue their dreams.

Our dreams unite us.

The Evolution of Good Ideas


artwork from Barabeke on flickr

Evolution works because it’s not afraid of its children dying. It’s constantly trying new ideas and new combinations of ideas, and a lot of them are really bad. For example, I have asthma and bad eyesight. Thanks evolution.

But evolution doesn’t care. And because its willing to throw so many failed ideas out into the world for testing, it comes up with a lot of good ones as well. Like the brain. Like those little hairs in your ears that keep you from falling over. Like the nuchal ligament on the base of your skull that keeps your head from flopping around when you run (just learned about that today).

Our own idea-making is an evolutionary process as well. But most of the time we hamstring it by holding back most of our ideas, waiting until we find one we’re almost certain will succeed. We’re afraid of our children dying, and maybe even more afraid of how it will reflect on us if they do.

But 2 billion years of R&D tells us that, when it comes to ideas, the more you try, the better. So release a few more into the world for testing. See what happens.