As Founder and CEO of The Bridge Fund (1996), Monica Garry has devoted her career to supporting philanthropic and integrated development programs in Tibetan regions of China. Yet after mobilizing over $40 million in support for rural, underserved communities, it was time, as Monica puts it, “to revisit the development model and focus more on providing communities with long term support to develop social enterprises that meet financial, cultural and environmental bottom lines in a sustainable way.” To do this, Monica wanted to pursue further graduate education. For her, the TRIUM program was a natural fit.
Monica had a clear picture of the type of MBA program that would meet her long term goals. As she states, “I became more and more interested in social enterprise as a tool to alleviate poverty. I was at this point in my life where I needed more management skills but I was not interested in traditional MBA programs. TRIUM was perfect for me in terms of all the core MBA skills, but its capstone process also provided me a unique niche to test a social enterprise project. For me, capstone was an incredibly important element of the TRIUM EMBA.”
A Social Enterprise Capstone Endeavour
TRIUM provided Monica the opportunity to test her ideas, through her Equity Himalaya Capstone project. The Capstone idea was based on a social benefit corporation that produced a collection of knitwear and textiles from Tibetan cashmere and yak wool. Planning and a trial collection had already been completed to test the market, however, financial, marketing and business plan to put it on a path to success was needed.
Led by Monica with a talented team of fellow students (Sonja Van Vliet, Jan Morath, Paul Quinn and Kristina Sawala), the project included site visits to Katmandu and Tibet for research. The project’s success was due largely to the diverse expertise and experience of the group’s members. Their industrial expertise (banking, the luxury industry, academia, IT, retail, non-profit and infrastructure) and their geography (Stockholm, Amman, Johannesburg, Paris, Ottawa and Washington, DC) varied widely.
In addition to the support of her team members, Monica also profited from advice and guidance within the larger TRIUM community. Following graduation, Monica was keen to see how her Capstone project could become a live entity. As she explains, “I kept working on it after graduation, and I kept plugging – went back to the business plan – really felt confident and pitched it to a few people. In a short period of time, TRIUM gives you the tools and skills, and all the incredible discussions and exchanges that help you formulate an idea and think it through. It has been incredibly valuable.”
Launching Fibre Tibet
Fibre Tibet grew out of the case study for the development of Equity Himalaya social impact fund that supports entrepreneurs and enterprises in China, Myanmar/Burma, Nepal and Bhutan. By working directly with 42 nomad families in Tibet and with the company’s atelier in Kathmandu, Fibre Tibet primarily employs over 150 Nepalese, Newaris and Tibetan weavers and workers (primarily women) to weave, knit and embroider knitwear and woven textiles. The Fibre Tibet cashmere is collected by Tibetan nomads in Ngari Tibet, with pieces hand woven by a cooperative in Kathmandu, Nepal. The design process is collaborative with support from Italian designers and Nepalese artisans.
Monica credits much of the success of Fibre Tibet to the guidance and support that she received at TRIUM. ”With TRIUM,” she states, “you have a global perspective and you have people who come from all sectors and who do understand and are interested in working with social enterprise and the faculty was so supportive. It is wonderful to still be in touch and meet. That is a real strength of the TRIUM program – the experience doesn’t end when you graduate and you get to meet alumni and make connections and network. I see my colleagues working with people from different classes and making new friends.”
This year, Fibre Tibet received notable publicity by being featured in J. Crew’s In Good Company: a great gift idea, with a social enterprise impact, just in time for the holidays.