Collective Humanity, weaving a new economic model of female empowerment

Elaine McKellips-14

Cambodia Civil War’s legacy teared down the social fabric of the country for decades. During the 1970s, genocide, violence, illiteracy rates, fear and disempowerment spread across most of the population leaving the economy heavily dependent until nowadays on garment, agriculture and tourism industries.

Cambodian women were affected the most by the armed conflict and the nation’s own gender violence dynamics.

By Natalia Bonilla 

According to a 2003 Gender in Poverty Reduction study, it was estimated that 50 % of rural women were illiterate and have not completed primary school education in the 1990s due, in part, by the destruction of educational facilities under the Khmer Rouge.

It is estimated that 70% of Cambodian women currently work in vulnerable employment.

When Collective Humanity’s Founder Kate Davis began a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia in 2015, she travelled to Cambodia unaware of how deep wounds still ran in this society.

While visiting Siem Reap she was approached late one night by a 6-year-old girl carrying her newborn baby sister in a blanket, tightly wrapped around her chest.

«She was begging for money to buy milk to feed the baby.  The moment I made eye contact with this young girl, I felt as if my heart stopped. I remember knowing deep down that the 5USD I had in my pocket wouldn’t make the lasting impact that this child needed to change the current (or future) circumstances of her life,» she recalls.

When she returned back home to the United States, she continued learning about the cycle of poverty women and girls were facing in this nation and how could she best provide a sustainable solution.

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In September 2016, she launched Collective Humanity, a social fair trade enterprise who sought to partner with female artisans to help them generate consistent and dignified sources of income.

Currently, more than 60 women are having a second chance to empower their families and communities using the skill set of their hands and pride on their cultural heritage.

Each blanket or piece of clothing takes weeks to be weaved and a name tag connects the artisan with the potential buyer to remind women across the world that our stories bonds us together.

For each purchase or donation, a woman is helping another break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

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«I felt that from the beginning, one by one you can change the world and change people,» Davis said.

Davis commitment is so strong to empowering women in a sustainable way that not only there is a production limit to offset fast fashion trends but also there is a profound respect for the relationships being built on the ground with the artisans and their family members who also get access to support programs like a community emergency fund and a financial literacy program.

In Cambodia, 72 % of people live on less than $3 dollars a day. According to Collective Humanity’s founder, the team of artisans is receiving a fair trade salary estimated in $250 USD a month.

The nonprofit organization aims to continue growing its collaborative handcraft model and integrating waste management solutions recognizing the threats of climate change and its impact on women and girls.

«My big vision goal is for people to start leading with their humanity. Our job is to connect one another», Davis said.

To learn more about Collective Humanity please visit:


Photos Credit: Collective Humanity| Elaine McKellips 

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