“The clothing sector has been under pressure for some time now, as have profits. It is a highly competitive industry and the pace of change is rapid. “But as a business owner, you remain responsible for improving the welfare of people – customers, staff and suppliers. At least as I see it,” says Dirk Perquy, who heads up the Belgian clothing company Terre Bleue.
“It would be good if my sector demonstrated a bit more corporate social responsibility.” Finding meaning in the broader sense is absolutely relevant in today’s business world. The tremendous influx of ultra-cheap clothing brands has unfortunately turned clothing into a disposable product for many people. But fortunately, there are still many consumers who continue to choose authenticity, quality and ethical behavior.
A brand with added social value
"Terre Bleue wants to be a Belgian brand that offers added social value. We don’t shout it from the rooftops, but those who are in close contact with us will have seen that we have a number of core values. We place great importance on respect, fairness, trust and responsibility. There is harmony and warmth in our shops. Our employees feel a connection with one another, and that radiates towards our customers too,” says Dirk Perquy.
Supporting female entrepreneurs
“Our staff appreciate that we have supported Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs for many years now. When the non-profit organization came to introduce their role as matchmaker between entrepreneurs here and entrepreneurs in the South, I immediately supported the formula.” Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs immediately went in search of an NGO project that aligned with his purpose: Dirk wanted to support female entrepreneurs. “In low- and middle-income countries, women in particular are concerned about the future of their children. It is critical that they get a good education: that is the biggest stepping stone towards sustainable development, prosperity and democracy”, according to Dirk Perquy.
“We also hoped to find a project that somehow looped back to our brand name Terre Bleue”, explains Dirk. So it had to be a water-related project.
“Our staff appreciate that we have supported Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs for many years now. When the non-profit organization came to introduce their role as matchmaker between entrepreneurs here and entrepreneurs in the South, I immediately supported the formula.” Dirk Perquy from the Belgian clothing company, Terre Bleue.
Dirk Perquy was immediately won over by the NGO Protos’s water project. In Burundi there was a need for farming irrigation, because the crops regularly washed away against the slopes of the numerous hills. Women, often left widows after the genocide in Rwanda, addressed this irrigation problem themselves by installing erosion ditches, which enabled them to work the land afterwards. They also established an ingenious system for waste water purification that produces compost for the soil. This enabled the women to establish a business selling the vegetables they were successful at cultivating. Terre Bleue joined the project after it had already kicked off. Now, five years down the line, it has been completed and these women mini-entrepreneurs can stand on their own feet.
“What I really like about Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs is that they focus on sustainability. They only work with NGOs that guarantee that development projects won’t fall flat. Unfortunately, that happens all too often in low- and middle-income countries. Protos only withdraws from the project once they are sure that the women have become completely self-reliant. Even after that, they are still monitored.” Terre Bleue is now joining a new Protos water project in Haiti. Once again it will provide support for female entrepreneurs.
Dirk Perquy is also trying to convince other business people in his network of the added value offered by Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs. “I tell them about the satisfaction such engagement brings, about the added value of this type of cooperation for their business culture, and how much potentially new employees appreciate it if you open your heart to people in the South. Corporate social responsibility has the pleasant added benefit that it has yet to disappoint me.”
Sometimes people say to Dirk that the money never reaches its destination anyway or that politics in low- and middle-income countries are too complicated to allow meaningful participation in development. “I disagree with that,” says Dirk. “One thing is for sure: if you don’t try you can never succeed. Supporting entrepreneurship in the South is in our own best interest too. If people are not offered opportunities in their own countries, the flow of refugees will only continue to swell. As entrepreneurs we set society in motion. Why not do the same in the South?”
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