Our founder, Susie De Rafelo, has always had an interest in alleviating poverty. Starting with childhood visits to a homeless shelter as a volunteer with her mother. This continued into her early twenties when she was invited to join the PA Home of the Sparrow shelter after arranging for local businesses to fund the lease for a charity resale shop.
Like many volunteers, she did not see her efforts as “work” nor did she conceive that it could be a career. For the next decade she moved between the corporate sector (software) and independent small business (retail/art studio), always making room to volunteer.
In 2005 she was diagnosed with a rare cancer that would see her abilities and priorities shift and require lifelong treatment. It was the opportunity to shift priorities.. She pursued a degree in Third World Development at University of Connecticut full time and immediately entered an MA program following.
When she was well enough to travel overseas she began volunteering at every opportunity with the support of mentors and partners. She elected to write her masters thesis "in the field", moving to Sri Lanka to work with UN and USAID partner Sewalanka. A student of sustainability with corporate and small business experience she was often assigned to help producer and artisan communities move from aid-dependence to independent operational models, this became her concentration.
She saw the need for direct aid interventions but recognizes the limitations for long-term development. When she completed her thesis she decided to create a small business that would support these villages and the people in them by bringing their products to the larger world. Hands In was officially started in early 2015.