… Leadership, for me is ensuring that I am the best possible role model for these ladies. I do everything I can to support them to get their needs met. One example is, when I go to the banks in the rural villages I always make sure that I take one of the knitters with me to role model to her what I do when the men speak to me in an unacceptable manner.
As a part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Chiel.
Danielle Chiel is an entrepreneur and founder of KOCO (Knit One Change One) and The Artisan Nation. After a career in music teaching and academia (She has a PhD in Musicology), Danielle followed her passion for hand-knitting by opening and developing one of Australia’s largest independent retail knitting stores. She cares deeply about the empowerment of women,especially in developing nations. From her travels across the world and working alongside some of the most beautiful, smart and talented women, Danielle feels extremely passionate about enabling them to have an identity and to have their voices be heard.
The Artisan Nation was born from a realization that women in rural villages in India who have little or no formal education combined with lack of opportunity are stuck in a subservient, malnourished, or a non-educated cycle. Using both their hands and their minds, combined with the support of The Artisan Nation, these ladies have a wonderful opportunity in front of them which entails breaking all of the above cycles through secure, regular work. The Artisan Nation is not bound by geography, language or culture but rather unified by passion, creativity and talent. Danielle is truly changing lives one village at a time.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always loved colour and texture, but more importantly I have always been a huge supporter of empowering women. I went to an all girls school and was raised in a family that had 2 working parents so the role modeling I had around me always was females being educated and speaking up for themselves. When I met these ladies, I realised how fortunate I had been, and instantly knew that I could help them break their cycle of no education.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
This one is easy to answer. One day of the knitters came to work with the biggest smile on her face. Our ladies are always happy to come to work but this day was different. She was beaming. I knew she wouldn’t have been pregnant, so I asked, “What is the special occasion that is the cause of your big smile?” I never would have predicted her response, which was, “It’s been one week since my husband has hit me. This is the longest ever in my whole life. I am just so happy.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It was in relation to the clothes I wore. For my first visit, I wore old clothes. Shorts and a t-shirt. When the ladies came to meet me they looked gorgeous. Long, black hair that was braided with fresh flowers and really beautiful saris. They looked at me and said, “Is that all the clothes you own?”. The lesson learnt was, I need to set the standards. If I want them to take pride in how they dress when coming to work, I had better make sure, I packed skirts and more elegant clothes next time.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We are a certified B-Corp. Last year, we were named by B-Corp as being one of the best in the world for building communities. We build strong sisterhoods and break the education, financial and domestic violence cycle in every village we enter. Hundreds of children are going to school because of the brands that support us. www.koco.global
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
We are KOCO. Knit One (garment), Change One (life). Everyone women we employ has their life and their family’s life changed as a result of us. The biggest change is that we teach the ladies to think. Before meeting us, the ladies are raised in a traditional 2 parent household. They are raised to be compliant and to do exactly what each parent asks. There is no outside influence. Then we come along and start asking questions. Same or different? Is that ok with you? We are the gateway that allows these ladies to find their voice. It is such a huge change for all.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
My sole aim is to employ as many ladies as possible. It would be their dream to be the largest all girls company in the world from ladies who have never been to school. The best way to speed up the process in empowering more women, is to have companies purchase our products for gifts for their staff and their customers.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership, for me is ensuring that I am the best possible role model for these ladies. I do everything I can to support them to get their needs met. One example is, when I go to the banks in the rural villages I always make sure that I take one of the knitters with me to role model to her what I do when the men speak to me in an unacceptable manner.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Actually, the reality is that I have learnt all along the way and as we go. I am guessing you are asking for aspects that I have struggled with, however, the “5 things” would be:
you will learn as much from these ladies as they learn from you.
you will fall in love with India and these ladies
your vision and influence will change the world
making the implicit explicit will change your life (and I don’t have a 5th one)
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
For everyone to own one or more handknitted garments knowing that each garment has kept someone employed for about 10 days. 100 sweaters keeps an entire village going for a month. This would, in turn, change the lives of million of women in developing countries.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Make the implicit, explicit. People can’t read your mind. Because the communication skills of these ladies have not been developed, they are constantly mis-understood. I am always asking, “please tell me what you had in mind”. It is super important that is women are to have a voice and to be empowered that they have a confidence and skills to speak up for themselves.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Yes, Michelle Obama and Oprah. I feel that if both of these women knew what was going on and how easily they could impact these women, they would wear one of their jumpers tomorrow and have a zoom meeting with the maker to hear how knitting has changed her life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
On Instagram we are https://www.instagram.com/knitonechangeone/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Danielle Chiel of The Artisan Nation Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.