“I always knew that there was a power in connection.” – Lauren Gillis

What is your purpose? What gets you up in the morning? For Lauren Gillis it’s knowing that her efforts and vision will positively affect change through Relate Bracelets, a South African not-for-profit social enterprise built on a uniquely sustainable model for the upliftment of people and communities.

What is the mission of Relate Bracelets? To make meaningful and long-term, positive change in South Africa and the world and give every South African the chance to affect change as lots of little makes a big impact.

Through the sale of locally-beaded bracelets, the Relate Bracelets model generates job creation, skills and enterprise development, while supporting more than 60 worthy South African causes, from education for adults and children to environmental and wildlife programmes and social upliftment organisations.

Lauren Gillis, founder of Relate and the trust’s full-time champion, has a passion for helping others that is truly ingrained in her spirit. A former social worker, Lauren has always wanted to help people and make a difference by changing the lives of the many South Africans in desperate need of support.

Relate’s very first order in 2008 was 6000 bracelets which were branded with the Nando’s colours beads, and had a cockerel and a 21 on the closing for their 21st birthday. These were given to employees to connect them to the brand.

Unemployed people made them, and 21 orphaned and vulnerable children were fed for a year as a result of them. In 2010 Relate Bracelets was registered as a not-for-profit organisation, and in just 5 years since has raised just under R30 million from the sale of almost 2 million bracelets. Their model is somewhat different and more sustainable than other non-profit organisations as they rely on sales of the bracelets, and not donations.

They rely on retailers to enable their customers and guests to be part of the movement by wearing the change they want to see. It is Lauren’s ability to connect with people of all backgrounds which drives Relate’s philosophy that we are all connected, and that each of us therefore has the opportunity, responsibility, and privilege to be agents of social change.

Using the mechanism of a simple string of beads, Relate Bracelets create opportunities that change lives. As a show of their commitment to transparency and accountability, each handmade Relate bracelet comes with a signature ‘R’ bead of authenticity.

Relate bracelets are threaded by township seniors who care for their grandchildren and foster children (many of whom are HIV Aids orphans). The money they earn from Relate assists them to supplement their small pension and improve their lifestyles. The bracelets are then closed and packaged by young unemployed adults from challenged or disadvantaged backgrounds who, in addition to earning an income, participate in compulsory skills development programmes.

These young people are able to choose courses that will improve their lives and help them achieve their dreams. Currently, there are youngsters working with Relate taking part in nursing, butler, soccer coaching, and acting courses – and many more.

Funds from every single bracelet sold are also invested in Relate’s enterprise development programmes, supporting local black businesses. What makes Relate so unique and inspiring is it provides a platform for people to support a cause they feel passionately about, while also assisting and upskilling the very people who make the bracelets.

Relate is not only a sustainable model for social upliftment, but it has helped improve countless lives – one bead at a time! The simple thinking behind the entire movement that is Relate, is that funding is not relied on from others. It’s about everyone becoming part of the solution by taking a very small step.

Lauren says her vision throughout has been to find a simple and creative solution to lessen the divide between the haves and the have-nots and to create opportunities, change lives, and give dignity and hope to others. Looking at the difference between ‘wellness’ and ‘illness’: the only difference is WE and I.

It is time to not be so self-focused, but to bring giving and sharing into our daily way of thinking. This can be done through buying and wearing a Relatelet.

Purely Local: As the founder, how did you realise that this was one of your purposes?

Lauren Gillis: I have always ‘served’ in many aspects and facets of my life and it comes naturally to me. Giving back energises my soul. I have had the privilege of experiencing that giving is actually rather selfish as it gives one meaning and purpose in ones life. There is nothing that makes me feel better than giving someone else an opportunity.

PL: How do Relate Bracelets assist all those who form part of the production line?

LG: We provide opportunity at every step in the value chain. The workers who make our bracelets are given a chance in life through on-going employment, skills courses and the opportunity for the grannies to help their families in topping up their limited pensions. Corporates and retailers are able to build their own brands through the positive CSI association with Relate and we’ve seen massive growth in the last while. The consumers are able to contribute to making a difference.

PL: What is the next big goal for Relate?

LG: We’d like to be able to raise and donate a million Rand every month (which we are now starting to do) but our ultimate aim is to get every tax paying South African to purchase one ‘R’ bracelet every year.

PL: What is one message you would like South Africans to know?

LG: Lots of little makes a BIG impact. We’ve raised R30 million in just over 5 years through the making and selling of simple bracelets. If every South African bought one R bracelet, we can raise a quarter of a billion Rand for good causes, social upliftment and deal with some of the biggest challenges in this country in the most tangible, transparent and accountable way. Can you imagine the change we could make by doing that!

PL: Where can we get in touch and support Relate?

LG: Go to our many retail partners and ask for the R bracelet – Woolworths, Foschini, Markham, Cape Union Mart, Poetry, Old Khaki, Sorbet, Protea Hotels, Tigers Eye shops, Spur, Clicks, SPAR (Sea Point) and Trappers.

Join the conversation on Facebook (Relate Bracelets) or go to our website www.relate.org.za. You can buy Relate Bracelets online: https://www.shop.relate.org.za/.

Are you wearing a Relatelet? Do you belong to the ‘R’ movement for change? Head straight to the abovementioned retailers or shop online and join the movement!

This article was first published by Purely local on 08 Decmber 2015, click here for the original article.