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"Mission without relationship is just a project."

Almost 80% of the chain used in Dora Mae Jewelry designs are handcrafted by newly trained artisans in Madagascar. Designer Ansley Schrimsher traveled to capitol city, Antananarivo to train them in jewelry making, but also to begin a lasting relationship.   

Why did you choose Madagascar? What was it about that particular place that made you decide, “I want to teach women there”?

 Madagascar definitely chose me.  At first, my answer was a resounding no! I felt more comfortable serving/giving in my own community. I also wanted to make sure whatever effort I made was sustainable and I just didn’t see how I could give in a lasting way to a country 9,000 miles away! It seemed impractical – more of a romantic idea rather than a sustainable reality. However, somewhere in my soul I knew there was a bigger plan here than I could achieve on my own, so I took a step of faith and said “yes!”

I loved watching the fair trade movement sweep across Africa and beyond but never knew how a small company like mine could get involved. Until one day, I got a call from a friend. (I think the best adventures start this way!)

Can you tell us about the experience? What was most important to you on this trip? Like, if all else failed and only one thing was accomplished what would you have wanted that to be?

  • To teach them a skill today that could provide income for them tomorrow…but what is “tomorrow” to a culture that is simply surviving “today?!”
  • To challenge them toward “excellence” in their new craft to reach a “professional standard”… but excellence means very different things in our cultures!
  • To inspire creativity and confidence through skill training, providing opportunity for those who would otherwise be locked into paths without hope… but first we may simply want to consider how their volatile lives may prevent them from even showing up to the weekly meetings!

In other words, there are larger factors at play than my goals set from my limited perspective. Any lasting change requires a lasting commitment. Just like throwing more “stuff” at poverty never solves the poverty equation, throwing a “skill” at unskilled workers is only one small piece of the puzzle.

Hope and confidence and creativity are possible, but we must appreciate and respect both the unique strengths and challenges the culture possesses. Then our “goals” have the opportunity to expand and become true “vision” that has the potential to affect lasting positive change for everyone involved.

What did you learn from this experience?

Simply put, I learned just a little more about what it means to live by faith. This is hard for entrepreneurs, I think. We want to know the bottom line. We want to be sure of our decisions and certain of the outcomes. Our risk is measured and our bets are hedged!

But there is something so freeing about living for someone that is bigger than yourself, something beyond your control, something outside your own personal realm of what’s “possible.” Sometimes people like to complicate this, but I’m learning that living by faith often simply means showing up. You can’t always have the perfect plan, you can’t always be certain of your outcomes, but if all of you simply shows up, fully present to God and to others, miracles can happen.

There’s something incredibly powerful in the act of humbling yourself and relinquishing control. There’s a bigger plan, a larger purpose and greater possibilities than we can dream. Perhaps the best sort of ambition is discovering what that means for each of our lives.

 Do you have any plans to do something like this again in another country?

I have no plans to teach these skills in another country, primarily because I want to continue this relationship in Madagascar. As my business grows, I want to be careful not to spread myself too thin. A wise friend of mine says that mission without relationship is just a project. I have no interest in another project. I want lasting relationships and sustainable partnerships that benefit all involved!!

 So, what’s the update on the fair trade line? How are things going since you left and when can we expect to see Malagasy Dora Mae pieces for sale?

I hired an amazing coordinator (Ranto, one of our translators during the trip) who sends me email updates every week. We started with a team of 8, but due to the volatility of their life circumstances, that number decreased to four. However, these incredible women are willing to help train new workers and have since added two more to the team. (Update: We have 9 women working from two different cities!) Without Ranto, none of this would be possible!

They had the idea to give their team an official name and even designed their own logo! I can’t describe the joy it brings me to hear of the pride they are experiencing in this new skill and identity. My coordinator is relationship-focused like me and not only sends me productivity and quality reports, but also shares what’s really going on in the girls’ lives. I am so grateful for this because it allows us to continue in real relationships across oceans and cultures.

Dora Mae Jewelry has several distinct lines – Marry Mae for brides, Mini Mae for kiddos… and now Mada Mae! (The locals simply call their country “Mada.”) 

I am beyond thrilled about this new relationship, but I definitely have dreams beyond this small partnership between Dora Mae and these Malagasy women. I would love to make connections with other jewelry design companies who may want to hire these talented women as well! Continuing to dream bigger dreams than I can accomplish on my own.