The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise and the U.S. Department of State’s Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues designed an artisan value chain toolkit that was recently piloted in the Philippines and Rwanda. Artisan value chains in the Philippines and Rwanda offer unique challenges and opportunities as well as striking comparisons to the breakdowns that artisan enterprises experience along the supply chain. In each country, artisan enterprises present a promising mechanism for inclusive economic development, bringing capital and resources to women in the informal sector, and improving livelihoods in economically depressed areas.
Peggy Clark, and Katie Drasser of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise team traveled to Rwanda with Natika Washington and Chase Ballinger from the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues to pilot the artisan value chain toolkit. Created by the Department of State and the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, the toolkit has two objectives, 1) to provide stakeholders the ability to visually see and understand all components of the value chain/supply chain, and 2) to create a common language to all stakeholders across the value chain to work in a more cohesive manner.
The questions explored while piloting the toolkit were:
Can the toolkit be utilized with minimal training and intervention?
How might the toolkit be leveraged in conjunction with artisan enterprise’s existing value chain analysis frameworks?
Does the toolkit help create a common language from which domain specific patterns can be extrapolated?
When given larger sample sets, could business model archetypes be derived from data revealed from the toolkit?
On the first day of the trip to Rwanda, Natika, Chase, Peggy and Katie held a workshop on the artisan value chain toolkit with two different artisan enterprises and one artisan support group which were, Gahaya Links, Indego Africa, and Women for Women International[CNB1] .
During the workshop, we witnessed the team members from all three groups working in collaboration to map out value chains for their respective enterprises and organizations. After completing this part of the exercise, we facilitated a discussion surrounding the empathy map and strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis components of the exercise. At the end participants came up with innovations and interventions for each area of the value chain toolkit (designing, sourcing, making and selling). To conclude the workshop we asked for feedback from the participants. The participant feedback from the workshop will be used to improve the artisan value chain toolkit.
We received positive feedback from the participants on the exercise. We found that the toolkit proved especially useful for the groups who work with women artisan cooperatives. The participants noted that it was useful to think about long-term strategic planning and partnerships to address the chokepoints along the value chain. The toolkit also helped the groups think about better ways to market their products and use social media.
Overall, the participants enjoyed using the toolkit. We observed a lot of laughs and smiles. Indego Africa said that the toolkit confirmed that teamwork, innovation, trust, and security among colleagues are all critical components. Indego Africa also said that they planned to adopt the toolkit in their women’s leadership training (specifically the empathy chart component) to get a better understanding of what the artisans are feeling, thinking, and saying about their work. Gahaya Links said that they planned to sit down with their core team to re-evaluate their business operations; they said the toolkit will help them be better strategic thinkers and planners about how to achieve their vision.
Prior to the workshop, we also met with the chair and executive board members of the Chamber of Craft, Art and Artisans (CCAA). The purpose of this meeting was to get a macro understanding of the Rwandan government’s investment in the artisan sector. The Chamber supports over 20 associations across a diverse range of sectors (basketry, woodwork, film, etc.). In this meeting we discussed the challenges that artisans face in getting their products to market in Rwanda and globally. CCAA also briefed the group on the direct support that the Chamber provides to their associations, including training and opportunities to exhibit their products.
On day two of the trip, we headed out to Bugersera for site visit to one of Indigo Africa’s rural Women Artisan Cooperatives. We were greeted by a happy group of women basket weavers, observed, and learned about the work they were producing for suppliers such as J-Crew. After giving them an overview of the AAE’s purpose and the work we are doing globally, Executive Director of AAE Peggy Clark, passed around a scarf she was wearing which was made by women artisans in South Asia. The Bugesera women basket weavers all seemed impressed by the quality and workmanship of this garment.
We also visited Indego Africa’s Leadership Academy to observe one of the training sessions they provide to women artisans. The Academy provides business skills and entrepreneurship training for all of Indego Africa’s artisans. One artisan who we met with said that she has learned about pricing through the Academy (e.g. fixed cost vs. variable cost). Another woman said that the auditing and regulatory training was most beneficial for her business. Other women in the program said that the training help build their self-confidence and leadership skills.
Next, we met with Joy and Janet Ndungutse of Gahaya Links at their new women’s training center in Gatsata. We discussed the way in which the women producing artisan goods for Gahaya Links can take their products and businesses to the next level. Joy raised that there must be more global advocacy for the artisan sector as well as more direct support services for artisans.
On the final day of the trip Natika and Chase visited the Kayonza cooperative (an hour from Kigali), which is supported by Women for Women International. We met with basket makers as well women artisans undergoing a training program to become basket makers. One cooperative leader for the women cooperatives that Women for Women International works with was proud to report that the hard work and determination of the women artisans finally paid off, as she recently secured a new contract with a local buyer who agreed to source products from their cooperative.
Before leaving Rwanda, we met Damien Mugabo, Director General of the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA). Director General Mugabo discussed the current work of RCA, their immediate needs for strategic partnership with entities such as AAE to provide training opportunities for artisans across the country, and the Rwandan government’s commitment to the growth of the artisan sector especially for women artisans across the country. We agreed that there are many areas for collaboration between the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise and the RCA and discussed steps forward for potential collaboration.
So far the Alliance team has tested this toolkit in two countries with the hopes of expanding to three more over the next year. Next steps for this pilot project are to share the toolkit with Alliance members, publish it online for non-artisan members, and share it with U.S. Missions around the world.