The 5 P's of Community Developement: @Urban_Zen

10:00 AM

In efforts to sharpen my assessment skills concerning the metric system I created regarding community development I will be selecting various non-profit organizations and community programs and examining them against the 5 P's. These first few entries will be pretty rough cut. Disclaimer: It is not my intention to expose, judge, or condemn, any organization or program. My objective is to open dialogue in the ways of building sustainable communities that benefit the persons that inhabit those low and moderate-income spaces. Now let's get on with it shall we...

Urban Zen Foundation, Est 2010


Soulful Promise:
To raise awareness and inspire change to the issues that touch all of our hearts...[C]reating integral connections on individual and global levels, bringing mind, bod, and spirit to preserving cultures, well-being and the education of children.

Headquartered in New York City, this post will examine the work that the organization does in Haiti. This includes the Haitian Artisan Project and The D.O.T (Design Organization and Training) Center. We will not be taking a look at the fashion collection, or the Urban Zen center located in NYC, nor the wellness training that takes place through the organization, as the latter do not directly affect a predominantly-Black space as the former two do.

General Assessment: 
When first looking into the Urban Zen Foundation, I searched solely through the org's site. Skimming through blog posts, (the most recent post is from April of 2015), and clicking through the various links on the site regarding the three initiatives, the Artisan Project, DOT and Empowering Children, I couldn't find much of what the organization was doing present day, past 2011/2012. After a little more digging it appears that the organization partners with the Clinton Foundation, where work in Haiti is still very much a priority.

The D.O.T. Center

Partnership(s): Parsons School for Design

Proximity: Located in Port-Au-Prince, the capital city with approximately 10.5 million residents and an unemployment rate of 40.6% (source), there is no real information as to the distance the Center's workers have to travel from their homes, nor whether or not the workers have access to ample transportation. As far as access to resources go, this is all the information available. With further research I would want to know whether or not their wages enabled them to afford more food, better living conditions, medical care, etc. Does them working in this facility give them access to the same or similar benefits that one would have working for a factory here in the States?

Political Engagement: Though Urban Zen as a whole may be working with the Clinton Foundation to bring Haitian economic development concerns to the forefront, the DOT specifically appears to play little to no part in ensuring that there is a Haitian voice at the table. It also doesn't appear to be their role or objective, which is fine.

Preservation: The 5,000 sqft facility was a new facility that was built, not refurbished, nor a building torn down and replaced with this facility. With further research I would want to know the condition of the area where the Center was built, and whether or not it was surrounded by other functioning factories.

Perpetuity: The Center's purpose is to a vocational training center for Haitian artisans, it appears that entrepreneurial abilities are being taught. In the event that the Center ceases to function there appears to be no sustainability to the lifestyle residents may have afforded through working at this facility.

Final Assessment:
I wanted to also examine the Haitian Artisan Project, however there isn't much information on the initiative as a separate entity. Its mission comes off as a catch-all for all the work that the Urban Zen Foundation seems to stand for in Haiti specifically. I make this distinction because the Foundation also has a wellness focus that is carried out in the US.

To make it highly simplistic it appears that a fashion executive built a facility in a country that has a great need for economic development and a culture that provides beautiful art that proves to be profitable. So here is where I find opportunity for either more information to be available, and/or the organization look into improving.

  • Partnership: At present the scholarship for students is one-sided. Parsons students and professors can go to Haiti to study, but it is not a two-way street. All scholarships and grants for Haitians have been said to have been provided in-country, for example their relationship with PRODEV a not-for-profit that supports children's education. It also bugs me a bit that there was not one Black student from Parson's but since I don't know what the applicant demographics were, I have no real qualms here. In any event, it would be nice to see an exchange program of some sort that the Haitian artisans also have access to facilities in the States in the same way Parsons students and staff have access to Haiti. 
  • Preservation: I really would like to know if the living conditions of the neighborhoods of the workers improved in any way at all? With the ability to build a showroom for their product, I wonder if the showroom that showcases the Haitian's work has better utility access than the homes of the workers themselves. 
  • Perpetuity: The biggest frustration I have was the fact that I have now seen 3 collections (there may have been more, I am just referring to what I have witnessed through the web), of clothing and home goods under the Urban Zen label, and the prices can range from $50-1,700. If I am purchasing a $1,700 knit dress, with little to no detail, that I am positive cost $25-40 at most to produce, where is the rest of the $1,675 going? Granted, I don't know the companies costs nor expenses, however with the Haitian Gourde being 65 to $1 US, (source) and housing in a moderate area costing a little under the equivalent of $800/mo (source), which I am positive is still higher than the actual cost of living for the workers in the Center, I wonder how much economic and living conditions improved since the Center first began turning profit (even as a not for profit). As a merchandise planner I have been trained to look at the cost, wholesale, retail, and discounted price of an item. With that profit how those funds were allocated concerning expenses, I was not privy, as with this case. I don't know how funds are allocated across the Haitian initiative as provided by Urban Zen's website, so I can only guess. 
  • Blog: Not one of the P's of Community Development, however it still communicates what organization is doing in Haiti. If they can take the time to ensure that the collection's site is up to date, ensuring that their children's initiative remains current is recommended. I could find no information about what they were doing with this area past it's inaugural year. It looks like it was the hot thing to do back in the early 20'teens and then it got old and the Foundation started to focus on the NYC facility, but kept the Artisan vocational facility because they both made, rather than required, money. It appears to benefit less Black faces, and more those who like to exploit them for good PR. It is a harsh assessment, however when entering Black spaces without continuity, and that continuity appears to occur in a place where Black faces are scarce is cause for call out. Even the Twitter post about work in Haiti wasn't about anything that Urban Zen Foundation is itself carrying out. 
With that said, I am appreciative of the way that this post has caused me to take a closer look at the way in which I utilize the 5 P's for assessments of organizations. There are places where a more defined scale would be needed in the categories in order to provided a quantitative measure of comparison. For example, in Proximity I ponder about the access to resources and the distance from the residences of the workers is the Center and the mode of transportation available to and from the facility. Is there a Distance to Transportation ratio? Concerning Perpetuity, am I measuring in this case, unemployment within the area, improved economic conditions of the workers (percentage of those who no longer need government assistance, disposable income, etc.)?

There is still much work to do on this metric system. If you made it down to this end...bravo! On to the next organizational assessment. Stick with me...I think once I get this it is going to be good!

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