Rolex presents THE YOUNG LAUREATES: Reese Fernandez

Reese holds a handwoven bag from the Rags2Riches program.

More than 80,000 families live among the hazards of Manila’s Payatas waste dump. When Reese Fernandez learned that women who earned a living there making rugs from scraps were being exploited by middlemen, she was provoked to act. In 2007 Fernandez co-founded Rags2Riches, which organized the women of Payatas and arranged for them to sell their products directly to retailers.  More recently Fernandez and her team consulted designers revolutionized the marketing approach. They found methods of transforming the rugs into fashion handbags, eyeglass cases, wine bottle holders, and other products fit for sale in top end shops.  Rags2Riches empowers and employs over 350 women in Payatas, some of whom are now its partial owners.  In addition to earning 2,000% more than they did three years ago, the women receive health insurance and training in personal finance and nutrition.

When Fernandez was a girl, she traveled around the Philippines constantly with her missionary mother.  The suffering she saw convinced her to devote her life to battling social iniquities. Before founding Rags2Riches, Fernandez had already used her skills to train people to become social entrepreneurs, teaching organic techniques to local farmers and rebuilding houses after a cyclone. It was the work of Rags2Riches that the judges for the Rolex Young Laureates program noticed first, but it was Fernandez’s “great resourcefulness,” as well as her commitment to the group’s four Ps (empowering people, protecting the planet, making sustainable profits, and remaining positive), that most impressed them. The Rolex Young Laureates program, which funds the enterprises of visionary young men and women whose projects take on the major issues of our time, notes Fernandez’s unyielding positivity and optimism. “Happiness,” she says, “is being at peace with what you do. I take time to be quiet and explore nature and feel peacefulness inside.”

Sundance Channel is proud to partner with Rolex Awards for Enterprise in their support of visionary young men and women tackling the world’s most pressing issues in five areas: science and health, applied technology, exploration, the environment and cultural preservation. Stay tuned for the announcement of the next Awards for Enterprise winner soon.

See the rest of the Rolex Young Laureates here.