Women's Empowerment

Reese Fernandez

Founder of Rags2Riches
and Rolex Ambassador

As a child, Reese Fernandez was inspired to find solutions to solve social problems. Now the founder of Rags2Riches, she has used her skills to train people to become social entrepreneurs, giving them the means to confront many challenges and improve their lives.

Reese Fernandez

Biography

As a child, Reese Fernandez moved around often with her missionary mother. Exposed to the suffering of others, she was inspired to find solutions to solve social problems. Fernandez went on to win a scholarship to attend Ateneo University where she took a degree in management. Deeply committed to helping others to improve their lives and alleviate poverty, she has used her skills to train people to become social entrepreneurs, giving them the means to confront many challenges, from rebuilding housing after a cyclone to teaching organic agriculture to farmers.

PROJECT
At Manila’s Payatas waste dump, which is home to 12,000 families, women developed a means to earn a living by recycling scrap material to make rugs. When middlemen got involved, they took the bulk of the profits, leaving the women earnings of US$0.02 a rug. In 2007, Reese Fernandez cofounded Rags2Riches, a social enterprise company that revolutionized the women’s business practices by arranging for them to sell their products direct to retailers. Fernandez and her team of young professionals sought advice from designers, who demonstrated how the rugs could be transformed into fashion handbags, eyeglass cases and winebottle holders, all for sale in top-end shops.

About 300 women now work for Rags2Riches. They receive about 40 per cent of the retail price for each item, and 54 of the women founded a cooperative which owns a share of the company. Rags2Riches also provides them with training in personal finance, health insurance and nutrition.

“4P” goals: empowering People; protecting the Planet by “upcycling” waste to turn it into high-value products; making sustainable Profits that benefit the community and the company; and being a Positive influence on society.

Fernandez wants to scale up the project by establishing the Rags2Riches Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (RISE) Center where business professionals and technical experts will create new products to promote Rags2Riches’ “4P” goals: empowering People; protecting the Planet by “upcycling” waste to turn it into high-value products; making sustainable Profits that benefit the community and the company; and being a Positive influence on society.

Website: rags2riches.ph