Founded by Kerry and Annie Hilton in 2001, Freeset is a fair-trade business operating out of India that makes jute and cotton bags and shirts for customers around the world. It offers employment to women trapped in the Sonagichi red-light district of Kolkata, giving them the opportunity leave their work in the sex trade. Freeset profits are used exclusively for the benefit of the women (and of the few men) who are working there.
Initiated and organized by CJ Jain, Darden 2014 student and President of the Emerging Markets Development Club (EMDC) (read the EMDC blog here), Mr. Hilton came to speak at Darden on February 25th. The lunch discussion was co-sponsored by the Darden South Asian Society, Net Impact at Darden, and EMDC. Darden 2014 student Patrice Yao has shared her perspectives on the event below:
This past week, I had an opportunity to hear from FreeSet founder Kerry Hilton and volunteer Anna Kim as part of Darden’s ‘chai & samosas’ leadership speaker series. Kerry and his wife founded an organization called FreeSet to provide employment to women in Kalcutta, India who were trapped in human trafficking and prostitution. The presentation was not easy to digest- there were personal stories of women who had been forced into prostitution- it made me think of both the freedoms that I have, but also the responsibility I have as a civic and business leader. Kerry’s organization has grown to employ 200+ of the estimated 10,000 women that are trafficked in the Kalcutta region. They have started to research other business opportunities that could grow and employ women, either in Kalcutta, or other areas around the world experiencing similar issues.
In the midst of our fast paced FY courses and looming exams, this presentation gave me pause to remember the impact that we can all have as business leaders in our local community and as far away as Southeast Asia. Kerry mentioned several times that he didn’t have a formal MBA or business degree- he simply had a heart for the people of Kalcutta, and a desire to make an impact for the local women. Many of us stayed after the presentation to chat with Kerry and Anna, and asked about volunteering our time and skills to help as they expand their global operations. It is my hope that Darden will continue to bring in speakers and non-profits like FreeSet to help us understand the impact that we can have, and the organic/grassroots approach that business leaders can have on communities so far away from Charlottesville, VA. Given our talented and civic-minded students, I’m certain we will produce many Kerry’s, Anna’s, and FreeSet’s in our time after Darden.