Keyne and Kirsten Monson first had the concept for Elevita — a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating poverty worldwide — when they visited India and were overcome by the intense poverty they witnessed.
“India is a nation seething with a mass of humanity — of its 1.2 billion population, over 400 million people live on less than $2 of income a day,” Keyne Monson said. “This staggering number of people living in extreme poverty is greater than the entire population of the U.S. There are many examples of scenes that tugged at our emotions.
“We witnessed a father tucking his sleeping children in at night on a broken cardboard box under a busy overpass in downtown Mumbai,” he continued. “We saw village children wearing nothing but rags while in search of that day’s meal, and we saw destitute families living under canopies with no hope for a better future. After this life-changing experience, we could not sit still and pretend that this part of the world does not exist — we decided to do something about it.”
And thus Elevita came into being. The aim of this nonprofit humanitarian organization is to create economic opportunities for underprivileged people in developing countries. Elevita is a medium by which these artisans in underdeveloped countries are able to sell their goods to a worldwide audience, with 100 percent of the profits going to humanitarian projects.
The Monsons, who were both born in Utah but whose families moved away while they were growing up, spent signifcant time living abroad through the years. They returned to Utah to attend BYU, graduating in 1997. The couple have since lived in Boston, Minneapolis and now Forel, Switzerland, where he is an executive for a multinational medical device company.
Kirsten has run her own preschool and is a stay-at-home mother of their five children.
As they traveled, the Monsons recognized that many people in destitute situations had marketable skills. They decided to create a website to help them sell their goods.
Elevita is simple. First, artisans in developing countries “who could use assistance” are found. Quality products are purchased from them at a price determined by the artisan. The goods are then sold on www.elevita.com.
“The idea is to sell sufficient quantity that we can continue to support the artisan groups by returning to them regularly for more goods,” Keyne Monson said. “Though we make a small mark-up on products we sell, none of the Elevita team is paid. We are 100 percent volunteer so that all profit can go toward helping people in developing countries improve the quality of their lives. Critically important to our long-term vision is scale — we plan to scale our Elevita operations such that we can lift significant numbers of people out of poverty. We recognize that it is only through greater scale that the true impact of our mission can be felt.”
The organization’s goal is large-scale.
“We are on a mission to alleviate poverty across the globe,” Keyne Monson said. “We should be very clear: Our goal is to recruit as many people as possible to join us in this transformation, either as consumers of goods purchased through Elevita and/ or as philanthropists who donate money to support humanitarian projects focused on education. Elevita is a story of lifting lives — one that is already taking place but which can be accelerated if more people will join us on this life-changing journey.”
The word Elevita means “lifting life,” and that is what the Monsons are trying to do.
One of the places Elevita works is in Ghana, Keyne Monson said.
“(We work with) the Hand in Hand Sheltered Workshop, a group of handicapped young adults in Ghana. In Ghana, handicapped people are shunned because they are considered cursed, making it all the more challenging for these individuals to provide for themselves. The young adults at the Hand in Hand Sheltered Workshop make beautiful jewelry out of bone, shells and semi-precious stones. Elevita is pleased to help these artisans find a market for their jewelry as a means of helping them become self-reliant.”
The Monsons are convinced that if more people were aware of the poverty going on in the world, there would be much more participation to alleviate it.
Some of the ways to help with Elevita are to simply go to www.elevita.com and shop or post links to social networking sites and blogs.
“We also believe in the goodness of humanity and people’s ability to respond in times of crisis to help their fellow neighbor,” Keyne Monson said. “In our early work with Elevita we have been touched by the donations that we have received thus far — some from people who struggle financially themselves, but who even still felt a desire to help others. We hope that Elevita can provide a bridge for many people who live in the developed world to meaningfully reach out to others in need.”
Livi Whitaker writes for such publications as the Deseret News and Mormon Times and contributes to the modest fashion blog, www.sensiblystyled.com.