Knit a community
Bucharest | Romania
How did everything start?
Claudia Pedersen: I have a background in the non-governmental sector, I worked in one of the largest world organizations for children rights, World Vision. Apart from program management, I’m also experienced in e-learning. In a few days I’m starting a new job with Microsoft. That’s one thing. The second was… for the past years I’ve been trying to experiment with different things which could help me to develop, find balance, purpose in life, happiness, answer all the big questions. I tried all sorts of things. One day at the beginning of January last year I saw an amazing scarf, which I really wanted to have. But I couldn’t find it to buy. I decided I would do it myself. I picked up the needles and started to knit. It relaxed me, helped me to focus, for one month I was doing just that. I was in a very peculiar moment of my life, professionally speaking I didn’t know where I wanted to go, I had lost purpose. I gave time to myself, while knitting I was asking myself all those questions. When you do repetitive work your brain starts to think differently. I asked myself what I can do with my experience in NGOs, e-learning and knitting. I thought about a project called Oi, which means sheep in Rumenian. I wanted to hire people to knit, sell products and have sittings together, like in the old days.
Do you do it alone?
I was selected as a participant for a senior leadership program. I met there my partner, we immediately clicked; she has been working in human trafficking all her life, she is passionate and experienced in it. I told her about my idea and she said we need jobs for women who survived. The state doesn’t offer them enough possibilities to come back to society, so they become victims again for lack of options. Knitting offered two things: a therapeutic approach for trafficking survivors to recover from the trauma and a sustainable way of earning money. She suggested integrating it into the project and it proved a key, then it developed all around vulnerable women.
How is it today?
It works in two dimensions. Firstly, with Danish and Romanian designers we created a set of products based on Romanian patterns. We render them in a modern way, we do functional design and accessories. Baskets, multi-functional scarves and pillows, these we want to sell on-line or through other boutiques. We also want to be a sort of connector, supporting other social enterprises working with vulnerable women.
The second thing we do is urban sitting, a fundraising event we organize regularly. It’s a community-building event, a creative workshop. Every event takes place in a different space and it’s connected to a different topic. We meet and talk about specific things and we do with our hands something related to that. For example we had a sitting in the first breast feeding clinic in Bucharest and we talked about breastfeeding. We did another one before Christmas, we talked about the importance of making gifts with your own hands. We hand-knitted scarves in the center of Bucharest. For women's day we want to have a sitting only for men, helping them create gifts for women. We try to break boundaries, stereotypes. Doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman, you don’t have to buy, you can create something, repair. We want to make people learn something new, socialize, we all introduce each other, have a nice tea at the end. You pay a fee to cover the costs and fundraise for Oi. Through this money we were able to create a first collection. We created a community, they are a critical mass which would buy from us, and which will spread the word. I think this is what makes our project innovative - building the community before we actually have a product.
Do you see it as your full time job?
I don’t think it’s either or, either I’m a corporate girl or I do this. I need both of those dimensions to be happy. In corporation I work mostly online, without the face to face connection. On the other hand, in Oi I have very close relations, even physically. I often hug people to show better the pattern. For now it’s working.
What motivates you to keep going?
It came in a moment when I was professionally depressed. I knew e-learning was my passion but I didn’t know where to take it, what to do with it. What I was doing 8 hours per day at work took my energy but gave me nothing back. If you give energy, you absolutely need something which gives you energy. And there is so much energy behind working with vulnerable women, doing sittings, seeing how people change their ideas, preconception, stereotypes.
What would you say to others?
At the beginning of the way it’s important to find models. If you don’t have ideas or you don’t know what you are good at, just go to people, join, volunteer. Test different things. You don’t need to start from scratch. There are people who need help. We need to work together, partner to do something bigger. Help them, learn from them. I also did it, I was completely confused for 30 years of my life, even more. I still am, but at least I’m open to learn.
More about Project Oi: facebook.com/proiectoi