Rebecca Hui, founder/CEO of Roots Studio, 2021 WE Empower Finalist, Europe and North America
Rebecca Hui has always had a passion for bridging cultures. This led to the founding of Roots Studio in hopes to celebrate cultures through beauty and wonder. Roots Studio was not always the e-commerce site it is now that sells limited-edition prints by rural artisans. It began as a 50-seater Mahindra bus that was a school on wheels serving four villages of West Bengal. Its original idea was to “create a flexible school that addressed education inaccessibility in areas lacking school infrastructure.” While English was taught from the four walls of the Mahindra bus, Hui saw there was still a disconnect between education and opportunity. This resulted in the shift from education to economic empowerment and art. Hui desired that this shift celebrated the rich cultures and crafted skills that are passed down throughout generations.
Having spent a decade elevating rural creatives on an international level, Hui has successfully promoted the bridging of cultures in a number of ways. Hui and Roots Studio have worked with over 2,800 Indigenous artists by digitizing art into an online library to license into the fashion and home industries. In doing so, they have tripled the yearly income of participating artists. As the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur, Hui is eager to scale her evidently successful model on a global scale through continuous exchanges from a community of daring women entrepreneurs.
Culture and community
In support of UN SDG 5: Gender Equality, Roots Studio seeks to “end discrimination against women and ensure full and effective participation in decision-making to spotlight them and upskill their careers.” Despite men holding the upper hand in decision-making on financial matters and having the majority of the exposure to training, most of the tribal folk artists involved with Roots Studio are women. These women are given exposure to design training, decision-making on the digitization of art, and the freedom of spending the money that they earn. Roots Studio highlights and gives exposure to these female artists and entrepreneurs to help combat the discrimination they face in their home communities.
In addition, Roots Studio creates economic incentives for artists while valuing their heritage to be able to provide for their families without taking on any physical or financial risks by leaving their home villages (90% of Roots Studio artists are also majority smallholding farmers). In doing so, Roots Studio honors UN SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities through the work done with these communities by providing equal opportunities to artists in rural areas. Migration of household members to urban land is reduced, and royalties are digitally transferred to artists by rewriting the rules of profit sharing in a structure that includes 25% being given to a community fund. This recognizes the individual talent of the artists, and allows their village community to participate in the work being done as a whole.
The WE Empower UN SDG Challenge is a first-of-its-kind global competition for women entrepreneurs who are pushing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and leading innovation in sustainability and climate change through their businesses. This Contributing Series highlights finalists of the Challenge whose work demonstrates how business models and social entrepreneurship can drive global impact.
by Danyelle Kawamura