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The Final Mile

Ten by Three’s Mission to End Poverty

Kelly Hendricks headshot
Kelly Hendricks
ten by three non profit activities

During our darkest times, the common, although often unhelpful, advice is that the experience will make one stronger and that the pain will be worth it. For Ten by Three founder Theresa Carrington, this suggestion proved to be true.  

In 1999, while facing a personal crisis, Theresa received dozens of supportive letters, notes, and postcards which she read to get her through her most challenging days. Eventually, the support was overflowing and had to be held in a basket.  

“When I got on the other side of this crisis, I realized I could never pay these people back for what they did,” said Theresa. “They saved my life, but I could pay it forward.” 

In the meantime, Theresa had begun to speak at conferences using her basket as a motivational prop. Soon, women requested to purchase a basket of their own. This sparked an idea of how she could use a basket to affect change in an area that she was already passionate about - poverty. 

Theresa wanted to bridge basket weaving and curate a deeper connection with the maker of the baskets and the recipients while simultaneously uplifting both the makers and the recipients. Additionally, she wanted to ensure that the makers of the baskets would be adequately compensated without having to cede the majority of the profits to a middleman.

Through a maze of chat room bulletin boards and conversations, Theresa was steered to Africa, where weaving was indigenous, and poverty was at its greatest, to begin her work. Organizing a direct path from Theresa to impoverished artisans took more than a year. Nevertheless, by the summer of 2003, the first Blessing Basket Project (Ten by Three’s original name) product arrived stateside.

After almost 20 years of operation, Ten by Three is active in seven countries across Africa and Southeast Asia and has helped thousands of people. Ten by Three’s model has been so successful that students are intensely studying it at Washington University, St. Louis, as well as other top universities. 

“Ten by Three does its best work along roads that have no name,” Theresa said. “They are where the final mile of those living in extreme poverty can be found.” 

The Game-Changing Formula

“From my own lived experience of growing up in poverty, the food stamps, et cetera, it’s not enough. Minimum wage is not enough,” said Theresa. “When we translate that to international work, fair trade, while it’s good and it keeps people alive, it’s not enough to prosper them.”

Theresa further explained that most handicraft organizations you buy from today will have built up workforces, but not necessarily people’s lives. Ten by Three has the mission to create more than a workforce. The Ten by Three artisan is on a path to prosperity. 

Through Ten by Three’s formula to end extreme poverty, the artisans build their own prosperity out of poverty. This begins with their wages. Ten by Three pays a ‘Prosperity Wage,’ which starts at two-and-a-half more than the Fair Trade wage. Higher wages usually have an immediate impact, enabling individuals to exit unhealthy situations and better support their families. But, a key difference with Ten by Three is that the higher compensation is intended to push artisans to financial independence through entrepreneurship. The second step of the Ten by Three formula is that artisans are required to start three small businesses. 

“We get a lot of criticism from people who say, ‘Oh my gosh, how can you have a poor person and ask them to start three businesses?’ We’re like, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what they got to do because if they just rely on making a handicraft, what happens if something happens to us? They have nothing left behind,’” said Theresa. “That is the large difference between Ten by Three and most other handicraft-based nonprofits. We are not the first people in the world to think about using an artisan good to help someone living in poverty. It’s the how we do it that is different.” 

Power Of The Model

Theresa has seen this method proven successful for years. During the organization’s beginnings, Theresa and her team watched who was succeeding and sustaining. Those people have started multiple businesses creating multiple streams of income. Her team also gathered that they could help get them the working capital they needed to start those three small businesses by buying at least ten products a month. Hence, the three and 10 in the organization’s name.

“That is the power of this model because when they are required to start those small businesses, those small businesses begin to churn in income, and pretty soon, the woman gets to the point where, ‘Oh, my gosh, I really want to go over there and weave for them, but I got to take care of my cows and my chickens and my crops,’” said Theresa.
 An artisan is ready to graduate from the program when they no longer rely on it for any income. 

Graduations are public affairs. Each artisan stands before their family and village to declare that they are free of poverty. During the ceremony, graduates are pinned with a badge identifying them by name and the year they graduated. They also receive a graduate certificate. Those items are often vital components to obtaining additional funds from local banks and mico-lending programs. 

Graduates’ micro-businesses jumpstart village economies, creating a roaring ripple effect. Program graduates are able to offer employment opportunities that uplift their fellow community members out of poverty. Almost 100% of program graduates become employers. 

Living In Prosperity

Theresa explained that the formula is sustainable without her organization. While the money to begin the business may come from Ten by Three, the money sustaining the businesses comes from the community and stays within the community.

A shining example of the program’s success is a Bangladeshi woman named Majada Katoon. When Ten by Three first approached Majada, she earned the US equivalent of $1 for her baskets and lived in a natural fiber house crafted of banana leaves with a batch roof. The home was so small that the five-foot-tall woman couldn’t fully extend her feet. 

Ten by Three enrolled her in the program and paid her $12.60 for the same basket she had produced. She was ready to graduate after three short years of working in the program.     

Theresa recounted a tender moment after Majada’s graduation when Theresa was taken out to Majada’s land. Proudly, Majada showed Theresa her businesses, including her rice field. Showing Theresa her achievement, Majada said, “This is my field, and I’ve got my rice, and I’m fine.” 

When Theresa asked Majada how the accomplishment felt, Majada had no words. Instead, she proudly spread out her arms in joy, safety, and contentment. Today, Majada lives in prosperity as an employer under the roof of her brick home. 

This story is one of many that fuel Ten by Three’s work. Every day is driven by what is in the best interest of the artisans and their communities.

“That makes really hard decisions a lot easier because sometimes the business and the social mission are at odds with one another,” said Theresa. 

Theresa explained a current situation where they are expending more money than their products are selling for out of Togo. While a solely business-minded person would make the call to exit Togo, Theresa and her team act differently. They are steadfast in their commitments by doubling down on training and strategizing steps to care for the community.

“We’re not going to abandon them. Anybody can abandon them. That’s what they’ve lived for centuries experiencing, people who look like me, making a big promise that they never live up to,” said Theresa. “As leaders, it’s important that our Yes is Yes, our No is No.” 

The United States has a plethora of private and public social programs and networks to support the poor. However, in these rural, developing regions, there is no safety net to catch them. As a result, social needs in these communities are not being met. Ten by Three’s commitment to the overall community well-being is seen through their assistance in building schools and hospitals and improving roads. 

How You Can Help

The most significant impact an individual can have on Ten by Three is to buy a basket. The more baskets sold directly equates to the number of humans helped. 

Theresa shared that when someone gives a housewarming gift in a Ten by Three basket, it shows the homeowners that they are a part of a bigger picture. Their gift is providing housing on a global scale. 

“It’s one of the biggest things someone can do to grow the organization, and it could help someone else grow their business by providing a memorable and thoughtful gift,” said Theresa. “People are going to be more likely to come back and do business with them because they’re going to remember that housewarming gift.”

Baskets sales do not support Ten by Three’s annual budget alone. As the organization still raises 90% of its funding, donations are always appreciated. 

Baskets can be found nationwide at Whole Foods, online at, and an exclusive product range with Room & Board can be found in-store and online at Visit the Ten by Three website for a complete list of stores.

A Ten by Three basket connects you to an artisan, a story, a community, and a bigger mission to end global poverty. 

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine November 2022 issue.
Kelly Hendricks headshot
Kelly Hendricks,
Managing Editor, Mortgage Women Magazine
Published on
Nov 21, 2022
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