Do Well, Do Good: WashU alum Rebecca van Bergen is making the world a better place

Nest founder, Rebecca Van Buren hugs a global artisan in South Asian

A well-deserved congratulations to WashU Woman Innovator Rebecca van Bergen. She is included in InStyle magazine’s 50 Women Making the World a Better Place in 2021.

Van Bergen is the founder of Nest. The nonprofit organization helps skilled and talented artisans around the world make a sustainable living and preserve their cultural heritage. Nest has built a global network of more than 1114 handcraft businesses across 115 countries. It supports these micro-enterprises with training, resources, connections, and opportunities that promote their growth and create social improvement in their local communities.

She also has been named one of Cause Artist’s 32 Nonprofit Leaders Who Will Impact the World in 2021.

Group of south asian people standing in front of plants with sign that says "I made your jewelery"
As part of Nest’s Professional Fellowship Program, senior staff from Qurate Retail Group dedicated thousands of hours of pro bono consulting to artisan brands like Rover & Kin. (photo: Nest)

In 2006, van Bergen graduated with a degree in social work from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis—the year Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance. Inspired by Yunus’ model and a grandmother and great-grandmother who were quilters and sewers, at the age of 24 van Bergen founded Nest to celebrate handcraft—the second-largest employer of women globally—and to correct gender income imbalance around the world.  That same year, the Skandalaris Center awarded van Bergen a $24,000 entrepreneurship prize for Nest. She credits this early-stage philanthropic investment and the perspective she gained at WashU, and the Brown School in particular, with fueling her passion for social entrepreneurship.

woman smiles while weaving yarn
Nest programs provide training and support to more than 250,000 handworkers worldwide.

Van Bergen’s efforts are not just overseas. She also has founded Makers United. The program strives to identify and support makers who face greater barriers to expanding their market reach or accessing business development services. This support is provided to makers through facilitated workshops, marketplace activations, and partnerships with businesses and entrepreneurship programs. Here in St. Louis, there are nearly 130 St. Louis makers connected with Nest’s Makers United program.

African American woman artists stands in a screen printing studio holding her own work
Nest’s Makers United program is building a vibrant and inclusive maker population across the United States.

The recognition is just the latest in a long line of accolades and honors for van Bergen: She is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Ashoka Fellow, Levi Strauss & Co. Collaboratory Fellow, Draper Richards Kaplan Fellow, Cordes Fellow, and GLG Social Impact Fellow. She has been featured in Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, The New York Times, Forbes, NPR, Vogue, Elle, WWD, and many other top-tier publications.

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