“I’m prepared for the future,” says Flora Lopez. “I’ve learned a little English, I have my GED and my U.S. citizenship. Additionally I’ve learned a lot about leadership. If in the future I need to leave here, I am ready.”
Lopez is speaking about her experience with Southwest Creations Collaborative, a contract manufacturing business with a social mission to alleviate poverty by building economic opportunity across generations. Started in 1994 in Albuquerque, Southwest Creations specializes in sewn soft goods and hand assembled products, while providing well-paying jobs for women.
Founder and Executive Director Susan Matteucci explains, “Southwest Creations is a social enterprise based on an economic development model used around the world to create intergenerational wealth: If you give a woman a chance to earn an income, she’ll use what she earns for her children and family first.”
Located in the Barelas neighborhood, where 31 percent of households live under the poverty level and nearly half of residents over 25 do not have a high school diploma, Southwest Creations aims to improve the lives of vulnerable children by providing their mothers with an opportunity for a living wage. Then both the women and their children have an opportunity to complete their education, go to college, afford better housing and enjoy more stable family lives.
Lead with Business and Provide Opportunity
While Southwest Creations is guided by its multi-generational approach to social change, Matteucci understands that it must succeed as a business if it is to sustain itself and realize its larger vision. Customers appreciate that Southwest Creations is a social enterprise, but that is not what keeps them coming back. The women in the collaborative must work hard to deliver quality products on time and at an affordable price.
In turn, the collaborative does more than provide an income; it offers job training, onsite childcare, healthcare, ESL and GED classes, educational opportunities and family programs. The women give back by contributing to these programs and offering support to other women in the collaborative.
In the 17 years she’s been with Southwest Creations, Flora Lopez has seen her three daughters grow up through the childcare program. One daughter is now in high school and another is in college. Lopez is not only a wonderful mother but also a role model to other women in the collaborative. She was hired to do handwork and now she’s a production manager—solving problems on the floor, figuring how to get products out the door in a timely manner and helping to keep Southwest Creations moving forward.
A Model for Both NonProfit and For-Profit Businesses
Southwest Creations offers a model that can be taken to scale, whether by a social enterprise or a traditional for-profit business. Its approach to leadership development, production management and creating a family-friendly workplace transfers beyond mission-based organizations.
Bill Woldman, field representative for Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), appreciates the benefits of Southwest Creations’ comprehensive approach, and that it involves an income stream. “It would take some innovation,” Woldman says, “but . . . a lot of different businesses could take this model and make it grow.”
More businesses like Southwest Creations could mean more opportunities for disadvantaged women to earn a living, develop as leaders and chart their own pathway forward to improve the lives of their children by creating wealth for their families.
To learn more about Southwest Creations Collaborative, visit southwestcreations.com.