By: Zannah Herridge-Meyer
At the age of 8, Nancy lost her hearing. She struggled to keep up in regular school and it took many years before shew was able to access resources tailored towards the Deaf. Despite the communication challenges she has faced throughout her life growing up in Kenya, she has been able to excel. Three years ago, she trained to make jewelry and now is the Lead Artisan for a group of deaf women who make jewelry in Nairobi, Kenya called Sasa Designs by the Deaf.
Nancy is one of the first recipients of a Kiva loan made possible by a new partnership formed between Kiva and the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise. The artisan sector is the second largest employer in the developing world after agriculture yet it is rarely seen as a driver of economic development[i]. A key barrier to growth, stability, and scale for artisan businesses is a lack of access to appropriate financing[ii]. As Alliance Board Member, Jacqueline Novogratz recently tweeted, “the artisan sector is the next frontier in impact investing.” As a member-based organization, the Alliance’s mission is to elevate the power and potential of the artisan sector by addressing systemic barriers to artisan business growth, of which access to capital is a key challenge. Sasa Designs by the Deaf successfully paid back the entire $8,000 loan in April, showing the value of access to these funds.
Launched in Fall 2011, with the goal of providing employment and fair wages to Deaf artisans in Kenya, Sasa Designs employs more than 40 artisans. The estimated unemployment rate among the Deaf in Kenya is 85%, partially due to stigma and also the challenge that employers have in communication. This major gap of access to opportunities has driven the work of Sasa Designs to build a non-profit that trains, educates, and supports Deaf artisans to make jewelry.
We had a chance to speak with Megan Macdonald, the CEO of Sasa Designs about the recent success with the loan program. Megan began working with Sasa Designs by the Deaf while living in Kenya for her masters research on artisan production and supply chains. Since she started, Megan has worked relentlessly to connect the social enterprise’s wares to the global market.
Sasa Designs has been steadily growing however, when Sasa received an order of 2,000 pieces from Noon Day Collection, a fair trade organization, they needed extra capital in order to ramp up production to fulfill their largest order to date This dilemma led them to seek a capital investment in order to increase their production and ensure they kept the timeline and quality required for this opportunity.
A common challenge in artisan businesses is the ability to produce large orders such as these, allow smaller organizations such as Sasa to prove their capacity as wholesalers, progressing to a larger level of production. However, without the capital to purchase materials and train new artisans, such orders cannot be filled and the organizations growth is stagnated. It is often an issue of cash flow for smaller groups who want larger orders but do not have the means. Megan sees the financial product to be an important step in bridging this gap, “this loan allowed us to purchase the materials and hire and train more people to increase our capacity, meaning larger economic impact for the artisans.”
The Kiva financial product, which is specifically tailored towards the artisan sector “brings the sector to the large scale” says Megan, CEO of Sasa Designs by the Deaf. In addition to the production, there is a responsibility on many ends of the supply chain to create responsible, transparent, and ethical sourcing. Noon Day Collection has ordered from Sasa Designs four different times, and their continued support means that the increased capacity that Sasa created from the loan can be sustained in the future.
Megan has been an active member of the Alliance and sees the important value of bringing groups together working in the artisan sector to share, collaborate, address and overcome the barriers faced by many organizations. She expressed that “it is essential to not have these barriers hold us back” and to create innovative solutions to these challenges. As for now, Sasa Designs is busy working on future collections and continuing to empower deaf women artisans in Kenya. They continue to mix traditional with modern design in order to broaden the market and support the artisans. Their long term goal is to replicate the successful model of Sasa Designs globally, to provide economic opportunities for Deaf artisans across the globe.