Through organic relationships that have been built by working with artisans to bring their products to the Western market over the past four years, we have received a unique insight into the workings of smaller, female cooperatives. Working with groups from Bosnia to Bangladesh, we've been privy to get a behind the scenes look at how they: manage their finances, structure leadership, as well as their process for product development and design.
What have we found? Their enthusiasm is invigorating. Their talent and skills is a craft to be celebrated. Their desire to work and provide for their family?Tangible and inspiring.
However, without the skills or business training, they often lack the structure and/or product design to gain the attention of the mainstream fair trade movement and their local markets are limited. While progressing, their efforts often do not help the women break the generational cycle of poverty.
With this in mind, we have developed a curriculum that strives to tackle the issues surrounding poverty by providing a holistic approach by focusing on life and business skills, as well as training on leadership, education, and making healthy choices. This training works with the women over the course of four months, empowering the women to form a cooperative and learn how to create and design demand-driven products to be sold in local and international markets.
To create lasting, sustainable change, we believe in going beyond fair trade- which means providing a holistic support package that enables vulnerable women to start, or expand a cooperative, as a means to generate income for themselves and their family, alongside learning other valuable life skills.
Many of the communities we work with are vulnerable and the women have little or no background in artisan work, as well as skilled craftsmen seeking to take their skills and business to the next level by learning valuable lessons, forming a cooperative, and gaining access to international markets.
Over the course of the 4-month program, select artisan groups have access to our Artisans Thrive Training Program designed to establish a member-led cooperative to generate income and serve as a place for learning and support. Additionally, we focus on developing a team of member-nominated leaders throughout the program who take the lead in the continuation and direction of the cooperative.
Working collectively, the cooperative designs and launches a fashion-forward, unique product. It's important the artisans themselves drive the creation of the product, given local resources and skills, while also learning how to gauge the market for the product.
The training not only teaches the women the skills to make the product, but also provides them with training in entrepreneurship and business management including quality control, budgeting, savings, marketing and customer service. Working with a team of leaders, the women are empowered to run a business together and apply their new skills to their individual businesses.
Following the program, we work closely with the artisan group and partner organization focusing on the sustainability of the cooperative, providing a market in which they can sell their products, and help them to establish other retail and wholesale outlets. Over the course of the nine months following the program, we continue to work with the leadership team and partner organization, assisting the women in creation of new products and monitoring any challenges or issues that arise.
The women are paid upfront for products made, providing immediate income. This is often a 200-300% increase in their normal daily wage! The women report using the additional income to pay for food, healthcare, children's school fees, and other necessities.
Additionally, with each product sold, a percentage of the sales price is set aside to pay back the training costs (depends on the partner). This is mechanism creates a way to sustain the program and train other organizations moving forward.
Long-term, we encourage the women to use their cooperative for other purposes, including savings and lending among themselves from the profits of the cooperative.
So far, we have worked with three groups in three different communities:
Casa Rosa, Rural Guatemala
The first Artisans Thrive Training Program took place in a remote western area of Guatemala near Coatepeque. After doing on ground investigation and assessments over the course of several months, it was determined that a skills training program would benefit many of the mothers in the community whose only means of work was often small farming and selling opportunities, or working within the plantations that surround the area. Mobilizing 14 women to begin the program and finding a sewing instructor and local interpreter, the program began in February 2017.
Focusing on teaching life and business skills alongside learning how to sew and create products, the women were able to develop their very first product, the Leydi Crossbody Bag over the course of the Training Program. Since their graduation in June 2017, the women have continued to meet weekly, working on additional orders for Artisans Thrive, have added new team members to the cooperative and continue to work on additional designs to sell.
Mujeres con Vision, Guatemala City
Through our second Training Program, we were able to partner with an organization that had been working on the ground in Guatemala City, in a small community called La Verbena. Joining the efforts of World Orphans and their on the groundwork of running a school and providing various services and psychological counseling, we were able to work with the women in the community who had no had any hopes of having a job before. With most of the women having only basic education, this 4-month training taught the skills for them to begin their own business together, gain financial independence, and work within the parameters that also allowed them to be primary caregivers in their homes.
At the end of the program, the women had created a number of new products, including the Verde Poncho.
The women have since continued to work together to develop new products, gain traction as they sell to additional places in the community, and find a new sense of peace in their life. As a cooperative, leadership in relation to sustainability has been a large focus. Each woman plays a vital role in the sustainability, continuation, and daily functioning of the business. Additionally, the women have started a savings group to help support their ambitions and visions for the future.
Classic Designer’s Association, ClaDesA, Cameroon
Our third training program is taking place in the South West region of Cameroon in Buea. Partnering with United Action for Children, a local social enterprise, we have worked to help organize the many talented seamstresses from the area to form the a cooperative. The women came to class with years of experience as designers and artisans, and through the course of the information learned through the class, they have been able to elevate their own business ambitions, as well as collaborate with an intention to learn from one another.
Working with 25 women in the cooperative, forming a leadership team is critical to the sustainability and continuation of the cooperative. The women are finding that it’s important to continue learning new skills, offering new products to their customers, and learn the various aspects of a business to be able to plan for the future and grow. As we begin wrapping up our time in Cameroon, we are excited to bring a unique product created and produced by the women back to the United States!
To learn more about these groups, visit our Partners page.
If you are working with a group of women that would benefit from this type of assistance and want to see how our training program is different, contact us today for more information.
If you are interested in learning more about our Artisans Thrive Training Program and how you can invest in accelerating artisans in a sustainable way, please contact us today.
Are you an local artisan (jewelry maker, seamstress, designer, etc.) looking to use your skills to train others, either as a volunteer or in a paid position?
If so, please join our artisan roster to be considered for future opportunities.