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Doing vs. Planning: An update on the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment

We have a poem framed in our office, (yea, yea, we’re that kind of company). It’s called “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy. I love this poem, but especially the second stanza:

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

Months ago, Thread began preparing a plan to address instances of child labor, hazardous working conditions, and quality of life improvements for the population of plastic collectors that work in the Truittier landfill. We made the plan our Clinton Global Initiative Commitment. In September, with the partnership of Timberland, HP, Team Tassy, and ACOP, we announced the commitment at the CGI Annual Meeting in New York.

It was an exciting week – the commitment, with its 3-year timeline, impact numbers, and funding requirements were published to the CGI website. Very nice articles were written and commented on. Interviews were given and Ian’s quote about not being able to put toothpaste back into the tube showed up on several social media platforms.

Partnering with Timberland and HP, Thread is addressing child labor in plastic recycling in Molea, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Haiti.

Two weeks ago, with much less fanfare, the real work began. Team Tassy, Thread, and ACOP spent a week in Molea completing phase one of the commitment. Individuals who collect plastic in this community were given invitations inviting them and their families to a local clinic for health screenings. For five long days, this team who worked closely with a team of amazing medical professionals providing check-ups, starting health records, and in a few cases identifying and transferring emergency cases to hospitals where surgery was administered.

One of the 400+ new families we met during the intake process.

Team Tassy surveys collectors and their families after health assessments were complete.

The WhatsApp messages, emails, and photos that were sent back and forth that week made me laugh, made me proud, and broke my heart. For many of the individuals in Molea, this was the first health screening they had ever received. After the check up, an intake team lead everyone through a survey so that we will have a solid understanding and baseline of household and living conditions in the community.

The deeper data analysis is being done now, but preliminary observations include the following:

  • 431 individuals surveyed (43% of which are plastic collectors)
  • Only 15% of families are receiving aid from other organizations (72% of which cannot name the helping org)
  • 97% of families are experiencing food security issues (Answering “Sometimes” or “Often” to “Our Family Doesn’t Eat Well Because We Do Not Have the Means.”)
  • 88% of families do not have a clean water source

Thread's Richardson learns more about one family during the first phase of our Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action

Richardson completes an interview with a family living in Molea.

This is what the first mile of most supply chains look like. This survey process made clear just how isolated this community is and how this commitment and partnership is the primary or sole safety net for the majority of our collectors. This is the work that is not exciting, it’s tedious. But it is because of this approach that we are able to truly gain the trust of communities. It is by doing the tedious work, that we have the information necessary to inform solutions and strategy that will be having lasting impact – not just throwing bandaids on situations to make things temporarily better.

We are so grateful for our brand partners, Timberland and HP, who have stepped up as leaders in their industries and are taking a strong stance at this level of the supply chain. They are some of the few companies that can now trace their products origins down to the individuals collecting the raw material – from Ground to Good™.

Mackenley (left) collects plastic from the landfill to put himself through school. Here he talks with John Jules, Team Tassy’s Haiti Country Manager.

There have been so many moments since starting Thread, when I thought my heart would burst with pride, or when I thought I would faint from the relief of seeing this idea become a functioning business that is working. The work that has started in Molea eclipses all of that. I have never been more proud to be a part of an organization or the work it is doing. This is the first step of many in the muck, in the mud, in the very literal garbage. We will be here for a long time and we’ll keep you updated on what we learn, what we accomplish, and where we fail.

We’ll keep doing what has to be done. Again and again.

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