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Impact Magazine

Handcrafting Access to Global Health

BYU alumna receives 2023 International Businesswoman of the Year Award for helping lift thousands out of poverty.

A woman with light-toned skin and curled brown hair past her shoulders speaks into a microphone, gesturing with her hands. The tan podium has a sign that says World Trade Association Utah. She is wearing a brown striped velvet jumpsuit.

A mother in Uganda sends her children to school every morning, grateful for their opportunity to receive an education, which will improve her children’s quality of life and help protect them from disease. She can provide them with this invaluable experience because of BYU alumna Melissa Sevy (MPH ’09), who seeks to improve the lives of women and their families around the world.

Sevy is the founder and CEO of Ethik, an online company that sells ethical home goods, such as cashmere blankets made by artisans in Nepal and jewelry crafted by human trafficking survivors. The income Ethik’s artisans earn lifts thousands of people out of poverty. Because of her efforts, Sevy was named the 2023 International Businesswoman of the Year at the annual Women in International Business Conference held by the World Trade Association of Utah.

“This recognition [is] a platform to talk about what we’re doing and hopefully let people know they can embed social good into their business in any industry,” Sevy says about winning the award.

Sevy graduated from BYU in 2004 with her bachelor of science in special education. She taught kids with cognitive and physical disabilities, many of whom were adopted from international orphanages. “I started thinking, ‘What can we do to prevent disability?’” Sevy reflects.

The previously described woman in the same outfit stands between a woman and a man holding a glass trophy. The woman on her right has light-toned skin, shoulder length wispy curly brown hair in a side part, and clear-rimmed glasses. She wears a fuchsia pantsuit with a gray silk blouse loosely tied. The man on the left has light-toned skin, brown hair short on all sides, and a half-smiled. He is wearing a blue suit jacket with gray pants, a thin checked purple, white, and blue shirt, and a dark purple tie.

After learning that public health encompasses the prevention of disease and disability, Sevy decided to return to BYU for a master’s degree. Upon completing the program, she went to Uganda to work for a nonprofit organization that teaches healthy living practices. Sevy taught a class on the spread of germs, emphasizing the importance of washing hands. As important as the message was, Sevy quickly realized it wasn’t relevant because many of the students in the class couldn’t afford soap, demonstrating the influence economic and social factors have on access to health.

“There were so many bright, capable women [in Uganda] who were the breadwinners for their families—and yet there were very few jobs for women,” Sevy reflects. “They couldn’t send their kids to school, which is a determinant of health, and they weren’t able to access appropriate health care. That led me down this path of exploring how to provide employment opportunities for women so they can have access to better health.”

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"That led me down this path of exploring how to provide employment opportunities for women so they can have access to better health."
Melissa Sevy
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Noting that improved health can only come after families have appropriate resources inspired Sevy to start a nonprofit in Uganda that employs local women to make and sell jewelry. Sevy’s idea eventually evolved into what is now Ethik, through which 2,919 artisans in nearly 20 countries craft goods and earn resources to provide for their families. Some of the empowered women include sex trafficking survivors in East Asia, single mothers in Rwanda, and refugees in the United States.

BYU played a vital part in Sevy’s journey to support these local artisans, starting with BYU’s motto: “Go forth to serve.” Additionally, Sevy says the opportunities she had to work closely with professors during her master’s program contributed largely to her success in public health. She also received funding through the College of Life Sciences to participate in an internship in China.

Four women sit around a table painting glaze on ceramics. Three of the women are wearing hijabs and are looking down at their work. The one in the left background wears a light brown hijab and a blue and maroon long-sleeve dress. The one in the left foreground wears an off-white hijab and a green dress. The one in the right foreground wears a cream hijab and a burgundy dress. The last woman in the right background grins eagerly at her work. She has chest-length curled brown hair, light-toned skinned, and wears a long-sleeve black shirt. The woman next to her in the burgundy dress oversees her work.

I'm grateful for the scripture that says to pray over your crops and your fields... The livelihood of three thousand artists... is very interwoven with my pleadings, my prayers to the Lord.
Melissa Sevy

Sevy benefitted from other organizations at BYU, including the Ballard Center for Social Impact in the Marriott School of Business. There, she participated in a social entrepreneurship class. The center now includes clubs and competitions to involve students in supporting social impact worldwide. “It’s really remarkable. They’ve become globally recognized as one of the best social impact centers on a university campus,” Sevy says.

Throughout her journey, Sevy’s main source of strength has come from turning to the Lord. “Prayer has been very real to me. I’m grateful for the scripture that says to pray over your crops and your fields,” she says. “We’ve had some really low lows. This is the livelihood of three thousand artists. [Ethik] is very interwoven with my pleadings, my prayers to the Lord.”

Receiving the International Businesswoman of the Year award leaves Sevy hopeful that other businesses will recognize the importance of their social impact. She looks forward to watching businesses adapt to meet the common goal of making a positive difference in the world.