28. August 2019
„Laugh a lot when you’re young and you’ll have happy wrinkles when you’re older.“
Andrea Bury’s philosophy reveals the importance of humor is to her as an element that unites people, wherever they are in the world. People that laugh together quickly form a bond. Andrea’s big, warm laugh is impossible to escape, infecting everyone around her as her cascade of curls falls over her face. The Stuttgart-born social entrepreneur initiates projects that link tradition and modernity to make the world a better place. She listens to people and hopes to inspire them to greater self-confidence and independent initiative.
In 2007 Andrea’s life took her from Berlin to Marrakesh, a step that would change her life. The intense, glowingly colorful, noisy city honed her perceptions, and she came into her own amid its chaos. She renovated a riad with her own hands and transformed it into „AnaYela – A Place of Inspiration.“ The beautiful boutique hotel is named after a woman who once lived there and whose story in Arabic now covers the walls.
During her life in Marrakesh, side by side with the people there, Andrea’s attention was drawn to the many craftspeople and their problems. She was fascinated by their traditional skills, but shocked that many were unable to earn enough to provide for themselves and their children. As a pragmatic, practical “doer” used to tackling problems with action, she promptly developed a business model that met the craftspeople at eye level, designed to open up better earnings opportunities for them and their talents. The fair trade lifestyle label ABURY combines the best of both worlds, bringing together designers and master craftswomen in order to set up and preserve employment for them.
The ABURY Foundation invests funds in local education and community projects with deep emotional roots. Like Portraid.org, an art project in which profits from every work sold go to solving the problems of the person portrayed; or a music school supported jointly by Abury and singer Namika, providing children with a carefree environment in which to explore their creativity.
For Andrea Bury, the most important lesson learnt from her local work is that everyone flourishes if they are appreciated and listened to. She encourages people to show her who they are and what they can do, working with them to inspire ideas which Andrea and ABURY then help to translate into reality. Confronted directly with a new culture, she found that as a result she now knows herself more deeply, is more grateful for her background and has redefined luxury from her own personal viewpoint: as a Swabian born and bred, she would never give up her beloved buttered pretzels, yet she personally owns just one piece of furniture – a table, around which all her friends can come together!
Laurèl: The “white cube” is a well -established concept in museum and exhibition architecture. It reduces the surrounding space to its basic essentials and turns the spotlight on the art. We brought our white cube to the desert, and invited you into the middle of it. How did it feel when you were alone in that space in front of Mike’s camera lens?
Andrea: Interestingly, I experienced some very contradictory emotions. On the one hand, I felt protected and accepted within the outline of the cube, but on the other hand the design of the space offers nothing to hold on to – no table or anything. I stood in front of the camera, alone, and felt totally insecure and uncertain. And yet the cube shape allowed me to blank out the environment and actually made it easier to concentrate. The choice of white as the color is also important; it provided a neutral background for my personality.
Laurèl: We’re delighted you agreed to take part in The White Cube Art Project! What made you decide to accept?
Andrea: Well, I’m interested in any intellectual examination of art and concept art. The White Art Cube Project offered many different levels that appealed to me; for example, the idea that all women are part of a universal work of art that extends throughout the world. And then there’s the intercultural aspect, unfolding the stories that women all over the world have to tell – in New York, Hawaii, Marrakech. What are the differences between us, what are our similarities? HERSTORY is about personal stories, true, but it’s also about women as parts of a greater whole – about female empowerment.
Laurèl: One reason why we chose the cube as our framework was in order to showcase the “rough edges,” the quirks and personal characteristics that make individuals interesting. What are your rough edges?
Andrea: I’m very fast and impulsive, and I tend to throw myself into projects. If I set my mind to doing something, I do it – more or less. This has the result that I don’t think every aspect through perfectly or plan it before I start on a project, and I need my team to be pretty flexible. Not exactly a rough edge, perhaps, but I immerse myself in my projects and this can be challenging for my personal life. I’m so happy to have friends that can accept my nomadic existence and don’t take it amiss when I disappear off the scene for a while.
Laurèl: Have these characteristics ever caused you to make mistakes that taught you valuable life lessons in hindsight?
Andrea: Basically, I’m the kind of person that sees the opportunities in life first and foremost. If I’m enthusiastic about something I move heaven and earth to make sure it becomes reality. I suppose I’m quite hyperactive, but I think that’s better than thinking ideas to death for too long and not even giving plans a chance to get off the paper.
In my work, this has landed me in situations where, say, we had already invested a lot of money and only found out afterwards that the processes involved weren’t as simple to organize as we had planned. But I’m still convinced it’s good to take risks; you understand things better afterwards, or can perhaps ask questions sooner the next time. It’s the only way to really develop and grow. Transformation through experience.
Laurèl: Would you advise other women to do the same?
Andrea: I might not advise everyone to take more risks, but I do think it’s very important to meet life with positive interest and curiosity. Most people in the world respond warm if others show interest in what they do and ask questions about it, whether they’re a CEO or a
carpenter. If you ask questions with interest and respect, you’ll always get a gracious answer that you can learn from. In fact, showing respect to people is one of my key lessons learnt. It’s so simple and it has such power, in both professional and personal situations.
Laurèl: On the subject of your professional work, tell us more about ABURY and the ABURY Foundation. How did you come to create it all?
Andrea: My basic idea was to revitalize ancient Moroccan crafts and to create secure jobs, especially for women. Of course, in order for the plan to work I needed people to join in, and Rotaract, the youth wing of the Marrakech Rotary Club, helped me find them. We travelled around various villages, met the village elders and visited them regularly until eventually two villages showed serious interest. In the first year I went there every six weeks and only met the men at first, until they finally trusted me enough to introduce me to the women. You have to remember that plenty of strangers show up and only want to exploit the villagers, or build up false hopes that are never fulfilled. With this in mind, their skepticism was completely justified. It took one and a half years for the first school project to get off the ground.
Laurèl: So you needed patience above all … but when I think of you, so quick and brimming with energy and keen to get started, how did you manage? Was Marrakech a learning process for you too, a new way of doing things?
Andrea: My word, yes, I definitely had to learn how to be patient! And I also learnt that fast isn’t always better. Quite the contrary, in fact; taking things calmly is very beneficial, and it’s actually nice to chat to people first of all. That’s how they get business done in Morocco; my partners wanted to get to know me, find out whether I had any siblings, what my family does, and so on. It was a huge change for me and my usual way of working, and sometimes, I have to admit, I still have to restrain myself (laughs).
Laurèl: Where do you get your new ideas from? What are your sources of information?
Andrea: Oh, there are so many … life, other people, other cities, books, magazines. Sometimes when I’m out jogging – my favorite sport – I count the steps until my mind switches off. When that happens I enter a phase of complete calm which is absolutely essential for me; it gives me the impetus I need to move forward into my next phase of activity. It’s vital for me to restart my flow of energy.
Laurèl: We photographed you in Marrakech, the place where your life changed. You restored a riad there in 2007 and opened it under the name of “AnaYela – A Place of Inspiration,” and you still run it today. How did Marrakech change your life?
Andrea: It was an extremely emotional, positive time. I’d just got married and wanted to experience adventures, going forward together into a new life. And then the city hit me! Marrakech has an incredible atmosphere and appeals to a lot of sensuous levels at the same time – the brilliant colors, the warmth and intensity of the people, the new scents, the chaotic streets; I found myself flooded with emotion, with very profound feelings welling up. I had to start by going deeply inside myself. And of course, it’s precisely this chaos that is so fascinating. The beauty that opens up when you take a closer look – as with the ancient crafts practiced there. It’s a completely different world, and it has a particularly magical attraction for artists and creative minds.
Laurèl: How did you feel about abandoning your life in Berlin?
Andrea: Well, I’m not usually the kind of person that feels tied to a specific place; I find it incredibly difficult to, say, sign a rent contract! In fact, I never thought about what I was
leaving behind. Instead, I always felt surrounded by the safety and security of my family, and that gave me a basic confidence that everything would be OK. But starting up in Marrakech was quite a different process because I’d only ever been in Europe before.
Taking that leap to Africa broadened my horizons; I plunged into it believing I could change something, and found myself having to learn and realizing that I would need to start by listening to the people here, taking a step back and understanding the life and the people here, because everything was so utterly different. It was a very exciting learning process.
Laurèl: You believe that taking responsibility is part of “learning to understand.” You’re always there for other people. Have you always been so strong?
Andrea: I was brought up to be independent and had to take things into my own hands at an early age, which built my self-assurance. I developed courage from the experience of mastering something that was a source of fear or respect for me. In hindsight, I’m really grateful that I was so lucky in my life, and yes, I do feel a responsibility to give something back to others.
Laurèl: That’s a good link to your projects, such as “I See, You See”. How did that come about?
Andrea: The issue is that cataracts are robbing many craftspeople of their sight, taking away their skills and their livelihoods. This is a huge problem in Morocco, where bacterial infections spread fast because of the climate and the sun.
To raise international awareness of the topic, we launched the project Portraid.org. The procedure is very simple: we find people that all have the same problem – in this case, the craftspeople with cataracts – and then we look for a well-known photographer to create portraits of those people. By selling the portraits, we solve the problem of the people in the pictures. All the photos are unique works – one to one!
We organized an exhibition opening in the US Embassy and sold 42 photos on the very first evening. Of course some of them went to friends and acquaintances, but others went to people that loved the idea, or even people who had cataracts themselves. A lot of people thought, “Wow, for 400 euros I can buy an original photo and restore somebody’s sight!”
Laurèl: And you’ve also launched a project with singer Namika, haven’t you?
Andrea: Yes, we founded a school years ago and with Namika’s help we’ve now added a music school. Music is a great tool for fostering creativity and supporting children and young people in their development. We’re happy to welcome companies and organizations if they have an idea or want to support us; we’re open to all kinds of ideas.
Laurèl: Your work is also aimed at providing the impetus for people to take the initiative themselves. You bring people together that mutually inspire and support each other. That’s exactly what our hashtag of #cometogethernow seeks to achieve in The White Art Cube Project: making fruitful connections.
Andrea: When you look closely, there’s so much that connects us all, wherever we are – whether it’s love and care for the next generation, family closeness, humor, or a desire for satisfaction and happiness in life – and that’s such a calming, comforting feeling.
Laurèl: What does happiness mean to you personally?
Andrea: Happiness has a lot of different faces for me. Happiness can be going through life with a kind of carefree lightness, but it can also be about doing something for other people and sharing one’s own happiness. Those actions have the effect of placing your own unhappiness in context, relativizing it so it suddenly shrinks.
You find yourself appreciating and respecting your own environment far more and being happy about many, many things.
Laurèl: Can you quote us an outstanding example of success from your work?
Andrea: I could quote several! Let’s see; it must have been 2015 or 2016 when a craftsman came by with a new type of bag that he had designed and embroidered himself without telling us. It was absolutely gorgeous, and we accepted it with open arms. He’d learnt to think for himself about what could work on the market, and had the confidence to try it out. In another example, one of my pupils came to me with two men from the next village, asked me if we could open a school there, and suggested she could be a teacher. The independence and initiative she showed by going off and convincing the men from the village was so impressive that I couldn’t say no.
Laurèl: It sounds like she modeled herself on you, in line with your philosophy of “female empowerment”! But an honest comparison seems to show that there isn’t such a big difference between Morocco and Germany in this respect; in Germany, only 15% of startup founders are women although there are so many highly educated university and college graduates that there should be enormous potential there. Do we need women to show more pioneering spirit?
Andrea: I have the feeling that western societies still credit women with less ability to take independent action than men. Women have to work far harder than men on convincing investors that they and their business models are worth the risk. Women entrepreneurs get an average of 200,000 euros of investment, while men are entrusted with an average of 3.4 million euros. That gulf is dramatic because people need money in order to realize their business ideas. It’s also remarkable that women generally choose startups in artistic or social sectors where profit may not be the primary objective.
But alongside this criticism of the system, we women also have to take a good hard look at ourselves and learn to be more professional at dealing with figures and business plans. The world of investment is dominated by men; women with money should also go into the business angel sector and support women. We need more female business angels! I love to see all the young women entrepreneurs, so resilient and with so much understanding of what they’re doing. I believe this generation will manage to overcome prejudice and encourage more investment into women’s ideas.
Laurèl: Is that why you launched TEDex Marrakech, with talks focusing on “ideas worth spreading”?
Andrea: We choose speakers on a basis of absolute equality to create a fascinating combination of entrepreneurs, artists and scientists who inspire each other by passing on their knowledge. In some cases we seek out experts on specific topics, but we often get contacts through recommendations by friends or from within our network.
Laurèl: The last conference was about identity, which has naturally taken on a new poignancy in our era of migration crisis.
Andrea: The biggest surprise for me there was the enormous variety of talks on our topic of “Identifying Identity”! For example, one addressed the fact that around 250 million children all over the world are not registered; this means they have no passports and thus, in bureaucratic terms at least, no identity. But if you don’t have a piece of paper with your name on it, are you actually somebody? The new challenges thrown up by the refugee crisis have highlighted the links between identity and integration. Many people find it hard to get their bearings as they straddle the worlds they are currently living in.
Laurèl: Meryanne Loum-Martin, who we also photographed in Marrakech, also spoke on the subject, didn’t she?
Andrea: Meryanne and her husband, Dr. Gary Martin, spoke in 2017 about “Coexistence Or No Existence.” Their talk was about their background as a couple and how it is possible to develop together, however different the worlds that you come from. They succeeded in using their multifaceted origins as an advantage; a fascinating and lovely story about the form that personal identity can take.
Laurèl: Does that mean there was no concrete answer to the question of how identity is defined?
Andrea: No. Issues that used to be clear-cut and natural have today dissolved into nothing. Some people define themselves as citizens of the world and view identity as more of a personal mindset; on the other hand, others are overwhelmed and take refuge in right-wing populist movements that claim to preserve homeland and identity and protect against foreign infiltration. These trends can be found all over the world, from the US to the UK, from Spain to Sweden. We’re all living in this area of conflict. For me, identity starts with meditation, with taking time to think about who I am. I know best who I am when I’m most at harmony with myself. And that focus on essentials is a great fit to The White Art Cube Project.