Living Wage

As you may have seen on the Purnaa Blog, we recently became Guaranteed Fair Trade under World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). If you want to learn more about Fair Trade, check out the blog post in the link above.

One of the principals of Fair Trade is “Fair Payment.” This fall, WFTO plans on releasing a Fair Payment policy stating that all Fair Trade organizations should be (or should be working hard towards) paying workers a living wage.

What is Living Wage?

The definition of living wage can vary a bit if you do a google search, but the essence means that a worker can pay for the necessities of life (shelter, food, medical, education for children, etc) and have about 10% left over for savings for the future. It is calculated by country but can be calculated for a specific region if the income inequality is high from region to region. There are good living wage calculators available to use if you are interested.

When looking at living wage at Purnaa, we used WFTO’s Daws Living Wage Calculator, an internal study of our employees actual expenses, and a report from the government of Nepal on living wage for the country. Each of these calculators yielded similar results; living wage in Nepal is about nrs 16,000 ($160) / month for each employee. This is much more than the official minimum wage of $100/month.

Paying Living Wage

I believe that a working person should be able to afford a basic standard of living.  It is unjust to take a persons effort and labor, and in return give them a compensation that is below what is decent. We believe this so much that starting next week Purnaa will be making the living wage the minimum amount of compensation that we offer.


There are, of course, real challenges that need to be addressed to make this possible. We work in an industry that is notorious for exploiting people; sewing work does not pay a high salary. On top of that, we offer employment to people that society would consider not financially viable. We take broken, hurting people and pay them far above market rate, and in a country that ranks near the bottom in ease of doing business! We cannot simply pay a higher salary to our employees and hope to survive as a business. And so, we are looking to address these challenges in three ways:

  1. Finding good partners and customers. At the end of the day, we need customers and partners who are willing to pay a higher amount for their products. We cannot compete on price with unethical businesses who exploit their people, and our prices will probably always be higher. We need customers that are willing to pay more for something better in the world.
  2. Increasing Efficiency. While it is good to ask customers to pay more for better treatment of workers, it is not good to ask them to cover inefficiencies within an organizations operations.  We are working to develop new methods of production and using the best tools we can find to enable us to do much more work with less effort.
  3. Training well. We are working very yard to train our staff so that they are the most skilled sewers in town . If we are paying our employees 1.5 times the going market rate, we need to be enabling them to be producing 1.5 times the amount of goods as well.

By accomplishing these three things we are working to make life better for everyone involved in the industry. Customers that work with us are no longer participating in a system that exploits people, while employees that come to Purnaa gain significant skills are able to live a fulfilled life through their own dignified work.


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2016 Social Impact Report

2016 Social Impact Report


As 2016 drew to a close we once again conducted our annual social impact survey. We do this every year to try to really understand what impact we are having on our employees lives; especially in the areas of finances, emotional health, physical health, living situation, and relationships with others.

It can be easy for us to get lost in the daily battles and perhaps lose sight of the larger picture of what we want Purnaa to be about. This report gives us a chance to step back, evaluate how we are doing, and look at ways we can press forward.

What was especially encouraging to me this year was a shift inside some of our employees from being the person who is “helped” to be the one “helping.” Moving beyond a victim mentality and into one of proactive effort to help others is a huge internal accomplishment! You can read the full report by clicking the image above, here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Before I didn’t have anything and I couldn’t help anyone, now I can.

I have learned a lot at Purnaa, now I am able to teach others.

Before I started work at Purnaa both my children couldn’t live with me. Now they can.

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Learning is hard, and expensive…

This last year at Purnaa we sewed over 40,000 items and more than 60 different styles. Because we are producing so many different styles, this  means that we are changing on of our production lines on a weekly basis. Our employees are constantly expected to learn how to sew a new style. I wanted to look at how long it takes us to learn how to sew a new item productively.

When we start producing an item for a customer, we are locked into a price before we start sewing. From the customer’s perspective, this makes sense. They want to know the cost of their item before we make it. However, this places a risk on us as the manufacturer. We have fixed expenses each month (rent, salaries, etc) that do not change. If we sew 1 item or 10,000 items, our rent and salaries remain fixed. This means that when we give a price to a customer for their particular item, it needs to be based on how many items we think we can produce each day, before we have sewn it. This gives us a daily production “target” that our sewing teams need to hit in order for us to be profitable.

I looked over all of our past projects and checked the number of items we actually sewed on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc day compared to how many were were supposed to sew on that day. This gave me a “% of Daily Target.”

For example, if we sewed 35 items out of a target of 100 pcs, then the “% of daily target” is 35%. Below is a graph of the average of all our projects arranged by production day:




A few things stand out immediately.

1. It takes us 4 to 5 days to learn how to sew something effectively. In the first few days, we are losing money.

2. Even after we are “up to speed,” on average we never hit our production targets. (Grim news!)


I then looked at one of our sewing team that was able to sew the same item consistently. We had repeated orders of this particular style for 6 months. What did their production look like? Here is the graph:




We produced on average 10% above target! Not only were we more successful financially, but our employees enjoyed working on this item because they became experts at making it. They felt more successful and less stressed to learn something new. Also, our logistics and management team’s workload was also greatly reduced, because we solved all the problems on the first round of production and the remaining months could go on auto-pilot.


Clearly, if we can sew something repeatedly, it is a huge benefit. Based on the above data, we are working on a plan to try to bring more repeatability to our work at Purnaa.

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Getting out into Nature

One of the things we loved living in Portland Oregon was the ability to get outdoors. During the summer months, if we weren’t working we were usually out on a trail somewhere. Portland is where we learned how to backpack and fell more in love with the solitude and beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Taking a hike together was a way to recharge for the week to come and commune with God. We called in Nature Church.

Getting into nature in Nepal is hard. It seems like it shouldn’t be – almost every image you see on Google from Nepal is some amazing vista or remote village. But to be alone, to be in undisturbed pristine wilderness is extremely hard in a place packed with people everywhere. In Kathmandu, there are more than 150,000 people per square mile! So, in order to still have Nature church we have had to find new ways to get alone in Nature.

North of Kathmandu is Shivapuri National Forest. It is about 45 minutes drive from our flat and is the closest place that has been set aside as some sort of a park. It is a place where we can be alone all day, its even far enough from the roads that we don’t hear too many horns! Last weekend we went with some friends from Purnaa to Shivapuri and went rock climbing. Its a sport that we are learning to do in lieu of backpacking, and it gets us outside once in a while 🙂



Climbing_167 Climbing_058

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Goats for Girls Trip

Last November we traveled north with Mary’s uncle Jim to look into the possibility of doing a pilot project for Goats for Girls. Last post we shared the basics of what we think the project can look like; this post shares a bit more about what we learned and where this is headed. If you don’t remember the idea, read our previous post here.


Our Uncle Jim – looking out over the areas we want to be working in.

We  spent about a full day driving until we hit the end of the road. The road was rough (like 4WD at 1mph over boulders rough) but, owing that it wasn’t rainy season, we were able to drive all the way to the primary village, arriving in the afternoon. After a cup of tea we walked around the village meeting with people, looking at the land, and talking over the possibilities.

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There were a few things immediately encouraging that you may notice in the photos above. First, there were more girls in the village than when Mary and I went 3 years ago. Previously, it was hard to find any girls between the age of 12 and 22, but now it seems to be changing a bit. Second, there was plenty of community land for foraging food for the goats. This is great because it means families don’t have to use their farming land (which they rely on for their food) to grow crops for the goats. Third, there were already a few families raising goats, and others were positive toward the idea of working with us.

The next day we trekked up the hill to get a better view of the surrounding villages. There are 8 other small villages on the hillsides around the main market village – we would like to eventually see our goats in all of them. Below is a photo I took from near the top of the hill. In the very center of the photo is one of the surrounding villages and, if you look closely, you will see another village just up and to the left, right between the two landslides.


Future Plans

After visiting the village we think it would be a great site for an initial pilot of the Goats for Girls model. Now, having a basic idea of what we want to do and getting it done are two very different things! Because Mary and I are very focused on Purnaa and Jim lives full time in the USA, we know that we need some more help to get this started. We decided that it would be best to work with Five14 during the beginning phases. Five14 has been working in the the main village for the last 3 years developing tourism and other small businesses and, most importantly, they have forged good relationships with everyone in the village. They agreed to oversee the development of the program under their other activities and we can see if this model is something that can expand and have a large impact.

In the next few months we hope to hire a full time staff to oversee Goats for Girls, identify 10 families in 2 different villages to work with, and deliver the first round of goats! Please pray for everyone to have wisdom as the project moves forward, and that it can be a way to help families keep their daughters at home.

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We are still Around….

It has been a long time since we have written anything on our blog. Some of you have written emails to check in to see if we are alright. Thank you for caring!! It is encouraging to know there are people that keep track of and pray for us.

One person wrote and mentioned that when we go quiet we are “either very busy or discouraged.” A bit of both is true at the moment. When we are working extra hours and feeling discouraged, the last thing on our mind is to write. We often don’t have much nice or positive to say! So we keep silent.

I hope to write some updates soon (maybe after another cup of coffee this morning).

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Goats for Girls


In some places in Nepal, parents sell their daughters into exploitation. When most traditional families mourn at the birth of a daughter, some people groups celebrate it because it means that they will be able to make a profit from her sale. Her value to her family is the amount of income that she will bring when she is sold to a brothel. Mary and I have been wondering; is there some way to bring income into the family trough their daughter – to fight trafficking economically? Even if a family does not have a heart change that teaches them to intrinsically value their daughter (which would be awesome), if some of their income relies on her, they will see the basic economic advantage of keeping their daughters in their home. But we can’t exactly employ the girls outright, that would be child labor! We need something that is scale-able (very large need), can be easily distributed across difficult terrain (due to the mountains), and would work in the village areas where the resources are next to nil (other that some basic plants).



Beautiful villages. Looking North from a ridge near Kathmandu.

A few years ago some friends of ours made a deal with a poor neighbor; they purchased a baby goat and gave it to their neighbor to raise. Once it was full grown (about 12 months later), together with their neighbor they sold it at the market and split the earnings. The neighbor was supplementing her income, while our friends were doubling their earnings every year. A great business idea. Can we use this to prevent exploitation of these girls in the hills?


A Baby Goat we found in a village. So cute!

The basic idea of goats for girls is to provide income generating work for families of girls that are at high-risk of being sold. We would loan a family 1 or 2 baby goats every 2-3 months. After the first year, when we bring the next round of baby goats, the first goats will be full grown and we would purchase this full grown goat back from the family and sell it for a decent price in Kathmandu. In this way, the family earns a regular income through a sustainable and scale-able business. As long as their daughter remains at home and is attending school (if there is a school), the family can continue to participate in the work and supplement their living expenses. If their daughter disappears, we take our goats back and their income source goes away.

This week Mary’s uncle Jim is visiting us in Kathmandu to see if we can get this business up and running. We are taking a break from Purnaa and traveling up north to a village nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas that has historically been a center of trafficking. We would like to see if this village is a suitable location to attempt a pilot of the model. Stay tuned for another blog post reporting on how the trip goes!

Please pray for this idea. We want to see daughters stay in their families. We want to see the families’ values transformed. We want to see the model work so it can be taken to many other girls in hundreds of villages.

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