Pillows, bags and coffee with a social mission

Sewing services, bags made from used IKEA uniforms, and Romanian pastry. IKEA has partnerships with local social entrepreneurs in 13 countries, which means income and stability for people experiencing poverty and inequality. It is a growing business, says Business leader Vaishali Misra. “We have not even just scratched the surface.“

When the IKEA store in Malmö needed employees who could speak the many languages represented in this diverse city in southern Sweden, they reached out to local organizations. One of these organizations was the women’s collective, Yallatrappan. Instead, the collective soon became a partner providing sewing services for both the store and for the customers. Their very first project was to sew hijabs for the IKEA store uniform.

“Today Yallatrappan is supplying all Swedish stores with hijabs for our co-workers, ” says Karin Wingren, Customer Relation Manager at IKEA Malmö.

Customers can also get help from Yallatrappan’s sewing service when they visit the store in Malmö. Neire Kerimovska is one of the seamstresses who sews curtains and pillow cases. The collaboration gives her a steady income and a daily routine.

“For me it is a new environment, and I meet a lot of new people,” says Neire.

Neire and Karin at IKEA Malmö.
Neire and Karin at IKEA Malmö.

IKEA has several ongoing partnerships with social entrepreneurs all over the world. Many of them are mainly self-help groups and women-owned cooperatives employing local artisans in vulnerable communities. Through IKEA, they can access a global marketplace, giving them a strong foundation for self-sufficiency and independence.

Some of these entrepreneurs recently met with IKEA representatives to exchange experiences and to talk about how to tackle challenges. One of them is the Dutch entrepreneur I-did. They help brands get rid of surplus textiles, like company uniforms, and turn it into design products. For IKEA they made bags with felt from used IKEA uniforms, which was given to co-workers as a gift. When you look closely you can see stripes of blue and yellow mixed with colours from other companies’ work clothes. They also created two upcycling collections sold in IKEA stores in The Netherlands.

I-did helps people who have been on welfare for a long time achieve economic independence. Founder Mireille Geijsen emphasize that it is business, not charity.

How do you measure the social impact?

“Jobs!” says I-did founder Mireille Geijsen.

For IKEA, partnerships with social entrepreneurs started six years ago in the carpet belt in northern India, where there is a huge challenge integrating women to the labour market. Soon afterwards two other projects started to employ local artisans in vulnerable communities in southern India and Thailand. Vaishali Misra, Business Leader for Social Entrepreneurs at IKEA, has been involved from the start.

Vaishali.
Vaishali.

Why do we do this at IKEA?

“We want to have collaborations closer to the communities where we are not only selling our products but also manufacturing, to create positive impact for people, planet and society. It is a way for us to reach out to many more who have difficulty being a customer, supplier or a co-worker,” says Vaishali.

What are the ingredients to make a partnership with a social entrepreneur successful?

“To allow the enterprises to use their skills and do what they are good at. Being small, they will use their limited resources in an efficient way. For example, the fabric was supplied to them, because they will never have that buying or negotiating power with their volume to get the desired price in terms of raw material. We will also scale up one of our most recent partnerships in Jordan, where refugees and local women are creating handicraft,” says Vaishali.

Where do you hope to see more IKEA collaborations in the future?

“We have not even just scratched the surface. I would say Africa is a big opportunity. We started with coffee in Uganda last year focusing on women farmers. Some parts of South America is also a big opportunity,” says Vaishali.

IKEA is committed to being an inclusive business and it is important to meet those that are in close to local communities day in and day out, like Yallatrappan and I-did.

“If all these minds are getting together with the whole ambition of how to scale this up, providing them the best tools, I could not think of a better way,” says Vaishali.

FACTS

IKEA and local social entrepreneurs

23 partnerships in 13 countries

2500 artisans of which more than 80% are women

8000 farmers

10000 small holders farmers