Orama is an affordable luxury jewellery brand providing microfinancing to female entrepreneurs in developing communities. Founders, Ilaria, Joelle and Yolanda, came up with the idea during their Master’s degree at Imperial College Business School – three women with international backgrounds and experience in different sectors, all tied by the common goal of creating a venture with a strong social impact.
Their delicately crafted bracelets connect women from across the world who share a vision. They strive to achieve this through their partnership with micro-financing institution Opportunity International and the “Women and Girls Appeal” initiative, which gives women entrepreneurs in struggling communities the chance to create businesses with the help of micro-loans. To do this, they have pledged 10% of profits derived from the sale of each Órama bracelet to Opportunity International. Through eight distinctive affirmations signified in different colours (Strength, Independence, Vision, Positivity, Radiance, Drive, Growth and Sisterhood), our Vision Collection bracelets empower both the woman who wear the bracelet as well as the woman who receives a helping hand.
What were you up to before Órama?
Before Órama we were all specialising in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management at Imperial College. Prior to that we came from different paths of life:
Ilaria (Italian) came from two years’ working in marketing in the cosmetics industry. She loves anything with a cause, has Peruvian heritage and spent a lot of her time helping communities in South America. Furthermore, she has experience in the e-commerce sector and speaks multiple languages. Yolanda (Greek) and Joelle (German) studied International Relations at LSE and Warwick University respectively. Yolanda has developed a passion for social entrepreneurship and the way community-based and socially responsible business ventures can generate positive returns to society. Joelle has worked in several political institutions seeing the need for grass-root actions in impoverished communities. She has vast experience in the fashion industry specifically with an e-commerce startup of a major player in the garment market.
What was the inspiration behind Órama?
Órama was the result of a common passion in social entrepreneurship and trying to leave our mark in the world by improving it, even if just a little bit. We realized what brought us together is our desire to be independent, inspiring, capable women. We met during our Master’s degree at Imperial College London, so education had brought us together. But what about the millions of women who strive for the same goal but do not have the means to achieve it? How will they fulfill their visions? Órama was conceived.
Tell us about Órama and what problem you’re trying to tackle
At Órama, we want to make women independent. The micro-loans these women receive are essential for the financial stability of the woman’s family and a matter of long-term survival; thus it is absolutely imperative they be financially autonomous and have a steady income. It is vital for their children to create a better environment, providing them with more prospects than other generations had.
We believe women are true pillars of every community and their relentless drive, vision and strength make them incredible examples of what a true leader and entrepreneur should be. We want to tackle this and give women the tools they need to achieve their entrepreneurial goals, making them active members and leaders of their communities. With access to transformational training, and critical financial products such as savings, loans and insurance, women in poverty can build financial security and create stability for their families, often for the first time in their lives. Our focus is on creating a venture with a ripple effect, allowing women in deprived communities to create their own ventures that empower them to work their own way out of poverty.
What have you found to be the most difficult part of your social entrepreneurial journey?
The most difficult part has definitely been to build a brand that is credible and that people would believe in. We found that a lot of people we spoke to were concerned about transparency when it came to donating money to help the less fortunate, which is why we chose to donate profits to a micro-financing organisation instead of a normal charity. We are convinced that micro-financing allows individuals in developing countries to be independent whilst also being empowered by the skills learnt when receiving the loan. To further stress the transparency issue, we came up with an innovative way of packaging each bracelet, where every box includes the story of one particular woman that is being helped by OI, so the purchaser feels directly connected to a single individual rather than a large organisation.
What specific qualities were you looking out for when building your team?
First and foremost, passion: it would be impossible to build Órama without having a strong passion for what we do. Further, our diverse skill-set and varied past experiences were very helpful in assigning specific roles within the team. Some being more proficient in financial and legal matters, others more talented in writing, graphics or technology – the diversified skills are truly valuable. However passion for empowering women has to be the sine qua non of Órama.
Where do you hope to see Órama in the next 10 years?
We hope to see Órama develop into more than a jewellery line, but becoming a staple in people’s lives when it comes to helping others. Our dream is to expand into other areas (fashion, art, education) and become synonymous to micro-financing and empowering women (and children!) in third world countries. We would also like to have our own micro-financing entity set up by then, to become fully independent and have a direct impact on developing communities.
Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs specifically striving to have an impact?
Never loose focus! It will be very hard at the beginning to coordinate everything and take the first steps, but it will all pay off. Knowing that you are working on something that could potentially change someone’s life forever should give you the perseverance and drive to work day and night to achieve your goal!