Who are we: We are the Foundation “Help Us to Help”, created in Bogotá by Fabio Ramirez Cortes a naturalized Swiss citizen of Colombian origin, the principal aim of which is to support and assist struggling single mothers eking out a living for their families in the emerald mining communities of Coscuez, Quipama and Muzo in Boyacá, Colombia.
Our story: The idea first came to Fabio when he lost his own job in one of the international organisations in Geneva and he decided to venture out to Boyacá with the intention of finding ways and means of assisting people who were in a more precarious situation than himself. A cooperative, the Coomultraquipama, founded with artisanal small-scale miners, male and female, was the outcome of this venture. The conditions of work in the region are extremely harsh and single mothers, a good number of whom have simply been abandoned by their men to fend for themselves, are particularly vulnerable and by extension, their families as well. The mothers have no choice but to take their small children along during the arduous hours spent sifting for emeralds or hunched over cutting stones for a mere pittance. There is very little money to go round and older children need to go to school and eventually, to learn a trade if the poverty cycle is to be broken. To enable and assist the women in these communities progress from a situation of extreme precarity to better themselves, financially and socially and to give them back their dignity, what remained to be done was to find support for the Coomultraquipama cooperative to build the commercial side of the enterprise.
Fabio returned to Switzerland seeking employment so as to be able to finance this stage of the venture. Unfortunately, as a result of the financial crisis and partly due to his age, no doubt, he found himself drawn into the spiral of the unemployed, of countless job searches and reinsertion training. The contact with others in the same predicament, however, gave him the idea of bringing together unemployed Swiss nationals from the jewellery sector and the members of the Coomultraquipama cooperative in Colombia. He had hit on the idea of a joint collaborative initiative whereby a “solidarity” jewellery line designed by unemployed professional jewellers in Switzerland would be created using stones received through the Coomultraquipama cooperative in Colombia. At every step, this would be an initiative that targeted the common good and would be based on profit redistribution and fairness with the objective of long-term social and environmental impact.
Our Project: a social enterprise initiative
Phase I – Colombia
The first part of the project will focus on furthering the development of the production and marketing of a line of jewellery in Colombia. The Foundation’s jewellery brand, “Emeraudinne – Ethical Jewellery” will be created based on the principles of sustainable development and corporate social responsibility and will operate within an environment of solidarity and fair wages. Training for stonecutters will continue in collaboration with the SENA. We aim to put the miners and stonecutters of the Coomultraquipama cooperative at the very helm of their destiny.
Phase II – Switzerland
For the second half of the project, we will be seeking to create a workshop in Switzerland for local unemployed jewellery designers who wish to join our collaborative initiative and create a jewellery line. We will focus mostly on using mature unemployed jewellery designers but will also be able to take on graduates seeking their first work experience in the jewellery sector. We offer the opportunity of creating a strategic alliance with unemployed professionals capable of bringing their own personal experience to the project and their salaries in the first instance, would be covered by Swiss organizations such as unemployment insurance agencies.
In both Phase I and II, the semi-precious stones used in the framework of the project will be extracted and cut by the small-scale miners and stonecutters of the Coomultraquipama cooperative. The members of the cooperative will have control of the flow of raw materials from beginning to end with no intermediaries and greater financial gain for themselves. To ensure the quality of the stones, we are grateful to the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaie (SENA) in Colombia which will handle training in the cutting and polishing of semi-precious stones.
It is projected that the initiative as planned should be self-financing within 18 months.