The Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University is home to unique entrepreneurial initiatives that are designed to make a positive impact in a variety of communities, both in Toronto and beyond. See all of our profiles here.
Who’s involved in this project?
Dana Kandalaft (founder), Genevieve Dauphinee (co-director), Alexandra den Hond (marketing and research assistant) and Adam Kruger (supply chain and logistics).
What are your goals for this project?
Tight-Knit Syria is a Toronto-based not-for-profit organization working to rebuild the lives of Syrian refugee women in the Middle East by expanding on their existing skillsets in knitting, embroidery and sewing. We currently work with two collectives of 25 women in northern Syria and Lebanon. By giving North American consumers access to their beautiful handmade pieces, we not only create a tangible connection but also an emotional one.
What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?
Because we work with extremely marginalized communities in the world, it comes with some unique challenges. We learn to work flexibly around the circumstances. Better yet, we work to adapt and accommodate these circumstances. For example: by allowing the women to work from home, we offer them flexibility to meet their other responsibilities as mothers and wives.
Can you explain the mentorship process available to you through the Ryerson Social Ventures Zone (SVZ)?
Ryerson’s Social Ventures Zone has been a game-changer for us. There are literally endless resources. From looking for mentors to consultations, to work spaces and workshops, you as a young entrepreneur have a safe pace to develop, make mistakes and grow. Especially for social enterprises, where you’re faced with different challenges from conventional enterprises. With SVZ, you become part of a wider network that not only becomes a safety net but also fertile ground for collaborations.
The Ryerson SVZ is all about leveraging innovation to make a social impact. How will your project affect the communities you’re targeting?
Tight-Knit Syria is using a socio-economic approach to the Syrian refugee crisis. By transforming Syrian refugee women into artisans who are part of the international market, we relieve pressure from fragile host communities like Lebanon, which is a country of four million and has taken in close to two million Syrian refugees. In situations where women earn an income, it relieves the economic burden that often falls onto the shoulders of children, which can harm their education and in turn their future. More importantly, we provide North Americans a platform to contribute to a solution to the refugee crisis as a customer or volunteer.
Have you been able to obtain any feedback from people who stand to benefit from your project? If so, what have they told you?
Absolutely. That’s how we know we’re on the right track! Even as we grow and develop, we do our best to preserve a grassroots approach with a mission that focuses on developing people, not generating profit. We have been able to witness the economic, social and mental health benefits for ourselves. We also do questionnaires and collect data from the women on a regular basis. From their wages, one of these women was able to purchase an oxygen mask that gave her freedom from long, unsafe and expensive visits to the doctor. Several women are also expanding outside the obvious benefits of earning an income, but also expressed the psychological and emotional relief achieved through the rhythmic act of knitting. Also, many of the times the women choose to knit in groups, which helps friendships grow but also encourages co-dependancy.
What kind of public or private partnerships are you hoping to make (if any) to help grow your project?
We are currently open to different partnerships. We are looking for partnerships that will help us develop our work in the field but also for partnerships with established fashion designers, retailers and wholesalers who can invest in product design and innovation who will introduce the pieces to a wider audience. We love helping designers source ethical labour practices and connecting them with marginalized communities they would not be able to reach otherwise.
Imagine if you could scale up your project to its full potential. What would that look like?
For the project to reach its full potential, we want to help develop our artisans from the producer phase to a more entrepreneurial phase, which will provide them with the skills and resources to sustain their own client network – all while learning computer literacy, management skills and an ability to work independently. This way Tight-Knit Syria can produce a module that will allow ourselves or other organizations to apply the same strategy with other collectives.
Timing is a crucial factor that contributes to the success of a social venture. Why is now the right time for your project?
Tight-Knit Syria flourished organically as a response to the Syrian refugee crisis. With no political solutions in sight, organizations need to began in investing in livelihood projects that will allow refugees to sustain themselves independently, and prevent dangerous migration while also providing creative outputs for trauma.
Is there anything else we should know about your project?
Yes! Tight-Knit Syria will be hosting their biggest event yet – But Syriaously – on November 7 at the Centre for Social Innovation in the Annex. We are presenting a side of Syria not typically highlighted by the media. Our artists/performers are Syrian, and amongst other items we will feature short films, Syrian cuisine, an artisanal market place and live music! As well as a creative workshop that is sure to provide you a bridge into another world! Tickets are limited.
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