Travel bags produced through the collaboration between Âdi Co. and HOA.
As the World Affairs Council celebrates its 70th anniversary, we are excited to continue showcasing the extraordinary local partners we work with! Our latest Community Spotlight features the collaboration between the founders of two inspiring social enterprises who first met in Seattle during an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), one of the many international exchange programs we host locally.
Liz Hadley (on the left) with Âdi Co. artisans
Seattle-based Âdi Collective (Âdi Co.) brings together the spirit and creative skills of local refugee women through sewing artisanship that produces high-quality, handmade, minimalism-inspired clothing for women. Âdi Co.’s co-founders, Liz Hadley and Meredith Seversen, work to provide employment services to individuals who have recently come to the United States as refugees. Prior to the creation of Âdi Co., Liz and Meredith were working predominantly with families from Afghanistan. They noticed it was often challenging to help women find employment opportunities that aligned with their personal goals and preferences. Many of the Afghan women had little to no experience working outside their home, and they wanted to be able to provide a stable home environment for their family as they went through the hard work of resettling in a new country. From a series of conversations with members of the community, Liz and Meredith learned that sewing was a highly prized cultural skill, and many women were interested in opportunities that would allow them to use this skill. Liz and Meredith created Âdi Collective as a way to provide meaningful employment opportunities for refugee women that honors their culture, supports them in fulfilling the roles they wished to fulfill in their families, and opens up access to income-generating opportunities.
Âdi Co. has met with dozens of international visitors through programs hosted by the World Affairs Council, including the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP). For Liz, these exchanges “were incredible opportunities to meet people who are doing amazing work in their communities... what has stuck with me the most is this reassuring sense that there are more good people out there doing the hard but noble work of dismantling systems of oppression and trying to co-create systems of care that actually support individuals in vulnerable situations.” In 2018, European visitors participating in an IVLP titled “Regional Responses to Refugee and Migration Issues” visited Âdi Co. The program sought to examine government policies to resettle and integrate refugees and civil sector initiatives to broaden employment opportunities and civic participation for immigrants. One of the participants in this program was Lye Ogunsanya, the co-founder of The House of AKI-NA in Ireland.
Lye Ogunsanya of The House of AKI-NA
Lye Ogunsanya is an experienced telecom executive and strategist and is “super passionate about everything that links technology with societal benefit.” He has extensive experience in creating philanthropic change-driven programs at home in Ireland and in countries around the world. Recently, Lye was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of Dídean. Dídean, meaning “shelter,” was established in 2019 to provide a community-based alternative for persons who require accommodation support. Dídean has also been working collaboratively with the Irish Government on migration and integration issues by recommending alternative approaches to the current services offered by the state through committee inputs. Prior to Dídean, Lye was Portfolio Manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at The One Foundation where he led change-driven programs in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Colombia and the Mediterranean that set new precedents for the United Nation’s adolescent education programming. Lye’s work with UNICEF humanitarian programs for families, youth, and children in refugee camps along the Syrian border with Lebanon and Jordan involved health, education, and youth development. The program in Jordan won UNICEF’s Champion for Children award in 2018 and was granted on the basis of the highly innovative and forward-thinking approach to program strategy and the work has been captured in this video:
Lye co-founded the House of AKI-NA (HOA) at Dublin City University at the height of the migration crisis in 2013. HOA is a social enterprise lifestyle brand producing handmade, limited quantity accessories with profits used to support programs for migrant women and an innovation bootcamp for underprivileged minors. HOA also engages students, young professionals, NGO workers, and the general public through volunteer programs that affect positive change in the lives of migrants. HOA prides itself on harnessing creativity to show the benefits of an inclusive economy while its products challenge the status quo of mass consumption. Lye believes that HOA promotes inclusion and employment through product design and creation. Profits gained through HOA support the integration of new refugee and immigrant communities in Ireland, which has a deep history of migration.
Based on Lye’s extensive experience working with refugee and migrant communities around the world, he was nominated by the U.S. Embassy in Dublin for the State Department’s premier professional exchange program, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). In 2018, Lye and eleven other emerging leaders from Europe travelled across the United States on the “Regional Responses to Refugee and Migration Issues” IVLP. In Seattle, coming out of his meeting with Liz and Meredith of Âdi Co., Lye recalled that:
“I was impressed and really admired their approach to entrepreneurship. I saw that Âdi Collective was not focused on media hype and popularity on social media but was taking a long term approach to building a business, a support network and a brand… I saw that [the founders, Liz and Meredeth,] were building a business that was real, humane, and sustainable.”
Âdi Collective dress
Shortly after this initial meeting, Lye quickly drafted ideas of products the two social enterprises could collaborate on that would support the employees of Âdi Co. and HOA and sent them to Liz and Meredith. According to Liz, “Because both of our social enterprises work with immigrant and refugee communities around economic empowerment, there was a lot of exciting synergy.” Despite the physical distance and the different time zones, Lye, Liz and Meredith stayed in contact for several months working on potential collaborations and product prototypes. Sharing the same business ethos and philosophy made the collaboration surprisingly straightforward. Eventually, a collaborative dress designed by HOA in Dublin and made by Âdi Co. in Seattle was ready; however, the planned launch in February 2020 had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That setback didn’t stop them, and by December 2020, Âdi Co. and HOA launched a travel bag which combines Âdi Co. design with HOA fabric. The bag is their first collaborative product brought to market, and it supports both organizations and their communities. You can find this item and many others which support migrant and refugee communities on Âdi Co.’s online store.
House of AKI-NA fabric designs used in the collaborative project with Âdi Co.
For Lye, the IVLP meeting in 2018 with Liz and Meredith reinforced his commitment to this model of social entrepreneurship and his aspiration of creating an inclusive economy as a long-term strategy to support communities. For Liz and Meredith, they choose to meet with international visitors like Lye because they believe in building connections rather than silos and that connecting with those they have met through the World Affairs Council has allowed them to build more collaborative power. The Âdi Co. founders want to be a part of building more welcoming communities that put energy behind economic justice and empowerment:
“We're constantly reminded that there is a global community, and that this community can teach us much about what justice, liberation, equity and flourishing can look like. We try to stay connected through stories - listening to the stories of the ladies who sew for Âdi Co., listening to the stories - of hope and suffering - coming out of conflict areas, listening to the stories of visitors we've met through World Affairs Council, and listening to the stories of our neighbors.”
We are so grateful for our partnership with Âdi Co., and we look forward to connecting more in the years to come! Thank you Liz, Meredith, and Lye for sharing your story with us. We look forward to seeing the next collaboration between Âdi Co. and House of AKI-NA!
For more information about Âdi Co. and HOA please check out the links below:
New to the Community Spotlight Series? Check out our previous Community Spotlights recognizing our amazing community partners and the lasting impact of exchanges!
By Sean Bowman, Senior Program Officer, Global Leadership Exchange