‘Editor’s Notebook’ with Diana Mosher: Are Your Apartment Communities Socially Responsible?

Afghanistan is frequently in the headlines, but ma...

Afghanistan is frequently in the headlines, but many Americans know very little about this distant and mysterious land. Connie Duckworth wants to change all that—and she also wants the decision makers in the apartment industry to know that a hand-woven rug from Afghanistan would be a perfect conversation piece in their multifamily communities.

Frank Gehry designed this “Puzzle” rug which was hand woven in Afghanistan

Especially in those markets with a socially responsible renter demographic. And also because now there’s a new collection designed by some of the world’s most celebrated “starchitects.”

Zaha Hadid

Duckworth founded her non-profit Arzu Studio Hope because she wanted to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to the women of Afghanistan. The aptly named rug manufacturer (“Arzu” means “aspirational hope” in the Afghan language Dari) employs and educates Afghan women while preserving traditional weaving techniques.

Duckworth launched the project in 2004 with 30 carpet weavers, but since then ARZU has created over 700 private sector jobs and provided direct social benefits in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan. Central to ARZU’s approach is the Social Contract with weaver families. ARZU pays women the market rate for weaving plus up to a 50 percent quality incentive bonus. In exchange for the extra income, families must agree to send all children under the age of 15 to school full-time, to allow women in the household to attend ARZU literacy classes and to allow ARZU to assist pregnant women and newborns in obtaining pre- and post-natal care.

I recently attended a press preview announcing the new Masters Collection designed by six iconic architects: Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, Zaha Hadid, Margaret McCurry, Robert A.M. Stern and Stanley Tigerman. The Masters Collection is the result of a new collaboration between ARZU Studio Hope and Coalesse, a design-savvy furniture manufacturer owned by Steelcase. The rugs are available through distributor Coalesse.

Hand woven in Afghanistan… designed by Zaha Hadid
Kudos to Duckworth and Coalesse whose partnership has resulted in beautiful products by six of the most internationally acclaimed designers. And, more importantly, for their desire to do some good in the world. I chatted with Duckworth at the press event. “This is an innovative model for a post-conflict economy,” she said. “The empowerment is truly transformational.”

And, in case you were wondering, the project already has buy-in from the husbands, because, according to Duckworth rug weaving in the home has long been culturally accepted womens’ work in Afghanistan.

The market for socially responsible products has been growing steadily in recent years. SWM (“Shop with Meaning”) connects consumers with brands supporting social causes such as “clean water,” “fair trade,” “fighting poverty,” or “hunger relief.” Mainstream retailers have gotten into the act as well: Macy’s Path to Peace Program includes products by Rwandan weavers who survived the country’s civil war and genocide. There are also green investment opportunities where consumers can support environmentally responsible companies.

Can you pinpoint which markets and properties in your multifamily portfolio have the strongest concentration of socially responsible residents? (Hint: they probably like to shop at places like Whole Foods and The Body Shop… commute by bicycle… and have been wishing they could do some urban vegetable farming on the premises…)

Can you picture the marketing possibilities created by showcasing an ARZU Studio Hope rug? How would your residents respond to a “socially responsible” gesture?