The White Savior Industrial Complex

I know this topic is extremely relevant and crucial to discuss. It can also be sensitive and difficult. Mainly because everyone views the world through their lens and has their own experiences that shapes their perspective. But we have to discuss and we should do so with the goal of being productive and respectful of others.

To begin, I was recently called the white savior Barbie. But from a professional/academic perspective you all should know it is more respectfully called “The White Savior Industrial Complex”. This relates to foreigners, obviously mainly white people exploiting marginalized populations through poverty tourism. And more so, these foreigners lacking any cultural and historical understanding of the ‘problem’ they are trying to fix. This tends to relate to missionaries, non-profits and other volunteers that just put a Band-Aid on the problems related to poverty instead of coming up with an actual solution. As the world is changing this now relates to social enterprises and can even include influencers or travel bloggers exploiting local communities for their own benefit. But, more traditionally this complex relates to white people acting high and mighty as if they know the solutions to fix all poor peoples problems. i.e. providing food baskets, donating clothes, building churches, touring schools. While in fact they do more harm than good - in perpetuating a culture of handouts and not creating a sustainable avenue for economic growth. 

I have my Masters from the #1 School in Foreign Service. My degree is in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University. I have been trained to work at the World Bank and have professional experience with USAID, microfinance organizations and non-profits. And I have lived here in rural Guatemala full time for almost 8 years. I, 100% do not fall into the category of the White Savior Complex, just because I’m white and more noticeably blonde and god forbid, I wear bikinis. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I have white privilege. I know that. And unlike many others, I am conscious not to reinforce systems of oppression. I do not remain quiet or neutral in situations of injustice.

When I founded Hiptipico, the inspiration came from one place. The women. In 2011 when I first arrived in Guatemala I was working for a non-profit focused on education. I conducted home visits and interviewed many mothers - mainly about their children's schooling. I always received the same response. 'I wish I could provide a better future for my children. If I had a source of income I would buy school supplies, new shoes and even healthier food for my kids.' Always thinking about the wellbeing of the next generation. Mentioning all of this to me while she's sitting there weaving an intricate and thoughtful design. Feeling like she has no way of contributing financially to the home - I immediately saw her value. 

Rarely leaving their community and without much Spanish, many women maintain the home and weave in their spare time. With no access to buyers or a viable market and eager to support the future of their children - emerged the idea for Hiptipico. An ethical fashion marketplace featuring fair trade goods.
But to be honest, it’s really hard for me to put into words exactly what “fair” is or even how to define the relationship I have with Guatemala and its people. And in my opinion I don’t believe it’s my place to tell our artisan partners what is fair. That is why, since the inception of Hiptipico, pricing, design, production everything has been a conversation. The artisans are the experts and I just want to support them and provide them with more resources. If I can give them more knowledge or value their products higher than they are asking, I will. 
At Hiptipico, I always tell the women, that I work for them. Not the other way around. My job is to share their story and products with the world in order to get them more orders to help support their family. Simple. 

But you also need to know and respect the fact that I am not going to stop living my life because I’ve dedicated my career to helping others.

Leave your respectful comments or questions on my recent instagram post. I address them all personally!

≫ ≫ ≫

Learn more:

≫ ≫ ≫ Intellectual Property for Maya Weavers

Read next:

≫ ≫ ≫ Domestic Exploitation of Maya Textiles

Coming soon:

≫ ≫ ≫ Cultural Appropriate vs Appreciation 


≫ Follow along LIVE from Guatemala and browse more of our fair trade products on Instagram (@hiptipico).

♡ See our female founder's daily posts featuring other ethical fashion brands and collaborations (@alyssaya).

≫ Be sure to like Hiptipico on Facebook for global news, travel and women's empowerment.

← Older Post Newer Post →