Phil Smith - Founder & Social Entrepreneur, One World Projects, Inc.
One World Projects was founded by Phil Smith, an environmental activist concerned about the rapid rates of rainforest destruction in the Amazon and other parts of the world. It was 1992, a time when Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, 7th Generation Catalog and the Band Sting were popularizing the idea that companies could also take part in environmental efforts, namely by marketing sustainable forest products and creating financial incentives for locals to better manage their natural resources.
Smith, a former computer programmer, launched One World Projects with The Forest Catalog, a printed booklet that included a handful of sustainable rainforest items, including Tagua nut jewelry and Tagua animal figurines. But shortly after the first version was printed and mailed to customers, Smith had a change of heart. It seemed strange to produce a paper catalog, especially when the company’s mission was to protect rainforests. How many trees were being destroyed for every tree that was saved? He also realized the young company could increase its impact by selling not just at the retail level, but to other retailers, thus sharing its message with a much greater number of people. As such, The Forest Catalog became www.oneworldprojects.com and began to fulfill orders for both retail and wholesale customers from its fulfillment center in Batavia, New York.
Yet as the company began to grow, meeting new artisans and developing its product line, Smith saw OWP wasn’t having a huge impact in preserving forest habitats. There was just no way for this little online company from upstate New York to compete with the interests of oil, timber, mining and cattle companies. However, the company’s services did benefit the artisans involved, as well as their families and communities. Thus, One World Projects expanded its mission to include Fair Trade, and began initiating income-generation projects to benefit artisans in the developing world while promoting its original goal of environmental conservation.
After September 11, the mission expanded again to focus on peace-building, and the company began to look for income-generation opportunities in areas of conflict or recent conflict. One World Projects now works with artisans in Afghanistan, war-torn areas of Colombia, in Ayacucho, Peru (which not so long ago was controlled by the terrorist group Shining Path,) and in Burmese Refugee Camps along the Thai border as well as refugee camps in Rwanda, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It’s Smith’s belief that new economic opportunities, and new chances for personal development and growth, will help create an environment of hope and peace.
One World Projects’ current mission is to expand the concept of Fair Trade to include Compassionate Trade™. Fair Trade should be the minimum level all companies, whether they be Global Exchange or Wal-Mart, should conduct their business in a fair and ethical manner. Through Compassionate Trade™, which still creates economic opportunities for those who choose to help themselves, the company addresses the most pressing issues that face mankind today, such as drug trafficking, education, health care, women’s and children’s rights, conservation and climate change, juvenile delinquency, and gives customers the chance to express their compassion for others.