CHANCE: Her Older Brother Was Behind Bars, Now She Is Helping Incarcerated People Make a Living
In 2021, Youth Co:Lab adopted the theme of ‘Left No One Behind’. For UNDP, myriads of fissures which spread across the society need to be filled, and social innovation is the best answer to this gaping problem, as it requires participation from every member of the society, especially the creative and innovative contribution from youth, who see social issues through a progressive lense and recognize every human being as a fellow global citizen with full entitlement to human rights.
As one of 5 teams that passed to the final round of Youth Co:Lab 2021, ‘CHANCE’ proposes a social enterprise specifically focused on incarcerated people, who are kept out of our sight. We tend to forget that they too want to see and take part in our world. The inspiration behind this team’s innovation project comes from a personal experience of one team member, whose older brother was sentenced to prison. She believes that people may have committed crimes, but without a second chance, they will come back to re-offend, going through a ‘revolving door’ from release to incarceration repeatedly instead of driving the society towards a sustainable future.
The team said that this project was planned before Youth Co:Lab 2021, but it could not be put into action due to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. After passing the second round, this team wishes to continue what they started earlier, because they believe in the project’s potential to bring in change. “Lila Thai Massage”, a massage parlour that recruited formerly incarcerated women to work and acquire skills needed in service industries, also inspired this team to pursue the same cause. Comparing support to food gathering, they expressed their desire to teach incarcerated people how to fish instead of feeding them from time to time.
In their definition, “fish” meant the skills of fabric painting and embroidery that could birth various value-added accessories. This team found that prison authorized incarcerated people to make crafts and set a price for their products in order to ensure fair wages for them. Under normal circumstances, mentors were also allowed to conduct workshops inside the prison. Although products made in prison were put on sale regularly, this team saw the opportunity to generate more income, secure a second chance, and upskill incarcerated people simultaneously. They deliberately avoided using the “made by prisoners” label as a selling point, because they wanted consumers to base their purchase decision on appeal and quality of products, not how pitiful the prisoners were.
After 4 sessions of workshops that broadened the team’s understanding of every aspect of the issue they sought to address and consultations with experts on social enterprise, CHANCE drafted a social business plan and set a short-term goal. At the initial phase, they searched for a supplier they could trust, and started designing paint patterns. The team emphasized that the advantage of making fashion products was the end-to-end control of the production process. In the future, mentors were expected to teach pattern-making in prison, deepening the prisoners’ participation even more.
In the short run, CHANCE will make 12 pieces of fashion products, all of which are hand painted dresses with floral patterns that can be used as work or casual attire, or clothes for other occasions. To reduce the risks of the COVID-19 infection, the team aims to sell their products on various online shopping platforms, which also collect customer data. They do not simply set their eyes on the present. Their gaze is directed towards the long-term running of this project, which will include global shipping via different e-commerce platforms.
When the team was asked if they had any secondary plan, in case they were not selected as one of the 2 winners in the final round, CHANCE immediately answered that they could use remaining profits, netted from initial product sales, to fund this project further. The workshops with UNDP and experts had fundamentally changed their attitudes about activities for social causes. They firmly believed that a viable business model was the one that created a sustainable ecosystem that made self-support possible. The team also added that, once their products were finalized, we could see the name of the artisan behind each craft. By giving proper credits to incarcerated people, they could continue to pursue artisanal careers post-release. Survey findings revealed that the majority of ex-prisoners struggled with employment and the stigma of incarceration. This hardship convinced this team to help them acquire a second chance without falling into recidivism.
As of now, CHANCE has partnered with Ubon Ratchathani Central Prison. The team chose “Chorphaka” [Bouquet] as the title of their fashion brand, because painted floral patterns were their signature design, and what they expected to leave an impression on customers, not the plight in prison. The team hoped for continuity of the business growth, because there were incarcerated people with a wealth of artisanal skills, but without any chance to showcase their potential.