Slavery exists today.
At least 36 million human beings are enslaved globally, robbed of the ability to choose what to do with their lives.
The OR stands for choice.
We educate about the impact that everyday choices have on the individuals who are enslaved today, and on the environment that we all share.

The OR Foundation is not a foundation disbursing money. We are a foundation doing things. We are laying a foundation for a world free from slavery and environmental degradation. To do this we have five key program areas that often intersect:

  • Designing and implementing transformative educational experiences grounded in the value of time and creativity.
  • Expanding perspectives across borders and beyond single stories.
  • Generating and spotlighting trade based on empowerment of people and conservation of the planet.
  • Challenging exploitative power dynamics and exposing truth related to destructive consumption habits.
  • Fostering a network of educators, designers, activists, artists and engaged citizens working to reimagine the world without social or political borders that impede empathy and justice.

Slavery and environmental degradation are massive and complex issues. Our programs try to make them more tangible by focusing topically on product supply chains. Our expertise is in the fashion industry. Geographically we have directed our work around the United States of America and in Ghana and South Africa. These countries have deep connections to the exploitative injustices we seek to address.

Slavery in the cotton fields built the social and economic power of the United States of America. Despite popular fiction and the sacrifices of countless people, slavery did not end in 1865. In many different forms and locations it continues to supply products made from cotton and other textiles. Historically, Ghana was one of the largest points of exit for people coming to the Americas as slaves. Although Ghana has a long tradition of fashion design, today it is the largest point of entry for the used clothing that make up roughly 25% of sub-saharan Africa's imports. With such a massive influx of used goods undercutting local value added markets, exploitation of both raw mineral resources and human capital is rampant. Free labor was the driver of South Africa's apartheid policies. Today the country rich with diversity, natural beauty and mineral resources is struggling to deal with this history as it faces new forms of corruption crossing racial divides.

We do not directly liberate people who are enslaved. Nor do we directly clean the air or the ocean. We are grateful for the individuals and organizations who make that their work and we are eager to support them in the ways that we can. Our work is looking at the root causes of slavery.

Why does slavery exist? If we don't address that question it will never end. We believe that slavery and environmental destruction exist for much the same reason. Time. Time is the most concrete yet illusive part of us all. We don't know how much time we have, and we can do very little to change that or to get more time or to give time away. It's this fact that gives time value. Because we can't choose how much time we have, we can only choose what we do with the time that we enjoy. Yet there are still many people who do not have the ability to freely choose what to do with their time. These people are by definition enslaved. This undervaluation of time has an impact on the environment as well. Consider how many billions of years went into the evolution of our planet. Consider the ocean, the forests and the delicate balance of the air that we breath. Our garbage and pollution can destroy entire ecosystems in minutes.

What we know is that undervaluing time somewhere undervalues it everywhere, even for ourselves. This is not a question of merely raising the minimum wage and enforcing stricter environmental standards. It is the fact that a countless number of choices leading us to buy into the idea of wages and currency to offset opportunity cost have been made for us before we are even born. As children, we are immersed in a culture we cannot control. Before we can choose to exercise our right of exit, we are influenced by what our parents do, what our peers do, what our icons do. We are fortunate if these influences help us respect process and appreciate time. But if we are influenced to consume and produce with little regard for the impacts of our actions, consider how hard it is for us to even recognize that we can choose to behave differently.

We are not naive to history. Our parents were children when the nation of Ghana took the first step on a new frontier of self-rule on the continent of Africa. At that time in our own country, most schools were still segregated. We recognize how far our society has come and how far we have left to go. We have seen colonization in the guise of charity. We have seen greed in the guise of beauty. We have seen people of different nations stray far from what they know to be moral, because for them the wrong path is the easier path to take. This is the reality that we know. But most importantly we have seen people of every color and every creed cross those lines for love. This inspires our imaginations.

We believe that the words "created equal" have no borders.
We believe that empathy extends to people and the planet alike.
We believe that education is a political act.
We believe that awareness begets choice.
We believe that knowledge requires action.
We believe that the incredible gift of humanity is the ability to decide what to do.

This is the foundation for our work. We seek to inspire choices that will lead to a healthier society and a healthier planet. We intend for a world of freedom. Not only freedom from slavery, but freedom from the vicious cycle that creates slavery and is created by it.

We are a small organization. Led by two people we have worked with hundreds. Since our first program in 2011, our institutional collaborators include:

  • Textile Arts Center, New York, New York
  • West Africa AIDS Foundation, Accra, Ghana
  • St. Thomas International School, Accra, Ghana
  • NYC Fair Trade Coalition, New York, New York
  • Sidwell Friends School, Washington, DC
  • Greene Hill School, Brooklyn, New York
  • CentroNía, Washington, DC
  • Cranbrook Academies, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
  • Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse, Detroit, Michigan
  • Boston University College of Communications PRSSA, Boston, Massachusetts
  • University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Walnut Hills High School, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Martha's Table and Martha's Outfitters, Washington, DC
  • Student Global Leadership Initiative, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Waterberg Welfare Society, Vaalwater, South Africa
  • Hawaii Fashion Incubator, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Punahou School, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • The Westminster Schools, Atlanta, Georgia

Now that you know a little about us, we want to point out something you may have already noticed reading through our story above -- we define we and its other pronouns rather ambiguously. Sometimes we mean The OR founders Liz and Branson. Sometimes we mean a team of volunteers and collaborators. Sometimes we mean all of our program participants. Sometimes we mean you. Nothing we do exists in a vacuum. There are many people doing exciting things all over the world. There is no one solution. We each have the ability to cause a conflict or to mediate one. We make this choice everyday. The or is ever-present.