On Crafts: Doing Good or Doing Business

On Crafts: Doing Good or Doing Business
27th April 2017

We introduced the crafts programme in 2015, after requests from local women to help them gain an income generating skill. Our mission was to teach women and girls a skill, which could enable them to earn an income to sustain themselves and their families.

By Cianne Jones – I struck up a conversation with a businessman recently, about the pros and cons of the new trend in organisations setting up social enterprises in developing countries. Social enterprise can be defined in many ways. A common definition is ‘an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being’. This may include maximizing social impact, alongside profits for external shareholders.

Our main discussion was over whether these social enterprises were truly sustainable. The businessman argued that the social enterprises that are set up in developing countries are generally set up by people who lack business acumen. This impacts on the sustainability of the enterprise. The people that the businessman was referring to were the so-called “do-gooders” or western NGO’s.

He gave me an example of a social enterprise that he visited in East Africa, which didn’t appear to have a clear business plan. Indeed profit to them appeared to be a dirty word, as if social enterprise and profit should not go hand in hand. The businessman argued that, without clear profit goals formulated in a concrete business plan, many of these social enterprises are bound to fail. He asserted that the priorities of the NGO’S involved were less on doing business and more on doing good.

Our conversation made me reflect on our crafts programme in Busembatia, our first social enterprise. In Busembatia, the majority of the women rely on agriculture as their main source of income. However, the women don’t generally own the land and, despite working on this land, rarely see the fruits of their own labour.

Setting up a crafts programme in Busembatia

We introduced the crafts programme in 2015, after requests from local women to help them gain an income generating skill. Our mission was to teach women and girls a skill, which could enable them to earn an income to sustain themselves and their families.

We fundraised and bought the craft materials and found two local women, Suzan and Sarah, to teach the classes. 40 women attended our weekly programme, learning how to make jewellery out of intricately rolled pieces of paper, wire and varnish. They were taught each step in the process of making some really quite beautiful jewellery.

Now they had the skill, but they were lacking the market.

To assist in this, we set up an Etsy store online and we sold the women’s jewellery in the UK at fundraisers, crafts events and Christmas markets.

All of the profits go straight back to the women who receive money on account of how much product they make which is so financially empowering for them.

One of our success stories – and there are so many – is Apio, who used the money she earned from the crafts programme to send her youngest daughter to school. A magnificent achievement for her and something that she never thought that she would be able to do for her daughter.

So are we ‘doing good’, or are we doing business?

Honestly, I think we’re doing both. We actively work towards making a profit from our jewellery sales which is then paid back to the women, helping them to support their families and the community as a whole, without which, this wouldn’t be possible.

We work with local women to ensure the programme is routed in the community. We advise the women on where they can buy the materials and the cost, so that they can buy things themselves if they want to and make them for themselves or for their own business.

We are so pleased this year to be to be collaborating with Artisans Thrive (formerly known as Women’s Partnership Market) who have worked with us to produce and sell our first wholesale line. This partnership is a huge step for us and will provide the women on our programme with a new source of income.

We are planning on running savings and banking training to advise the women on what to do with the money they earn. This training will benefit women like Suzan, who has developed her own small crafts business as a result of leading our crafts programme. Suzan has also signed up for computer literacy training and will be learning how to use Excel to monitor the crafts programme costs.

Another example is Sarah, who has managed to buy livestock because of being on the programme and earns income from providing host family accommodation for some of our interns. Both demonstrate that women on our crafts programme are using the knowledge and income gained to develop their own businesses sustaining themselves and their families.

If you would like to help support the women on our crafts programme please check out our Etsy store. All profits go straight back to women like Suzan, Sarah and Apio!  Donations also help in expanding our programmes. If you are more interested in volunteering, we are recruiting crafts programme interns right now. Check out our recruitment page here.

crafts necklaces

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