Job creation through craftsmanship: empowering mothers in sub-Saharan Africa

Mothers in rural Uganda and Rwanda are finding secure home-based employment as social entrepreneurs, far from the factory floor. Here’s a look at how the non-profit organisation Nest is helping to preserve cultural traditions and empower women by supporting All Across Africa, a socially responsible and economically sustainable enterprise.

9 Aug, 2019
It’s all about connecting craftspeople, consumers and design brands – the likes of ARKET and H&M HOME among them – to form a circular, human-centric value chain. Image: Nest

Nest stands for cultural preservation, recognising the value of traditional ethnic handicraft techniques such as embroidery, dying and basket weaving. The organisation also stands for women’s wellbeing, providing a source of livelihood to those with limited ability to work outside the home. And above all, it stands for global economic inclusivity, increasing the supply of and demand for responsible handicraft and creating an economic opportunity for local entrepreneurs who are a critical link in the supply chain. The result is a whole new hand worker economy that’s empowering women who would otherwise struggle to support their families.

It’s all about connecting craftspeople, consumers and design brands – the likes of ARKET and H&M HOME among them – to form a circular, human-centric value chain. Acting as a matchmaker between the entrepreneurs and fashion and furnishings companies, Nest oversees the business relationships between them, offering advice and training.

Nest also supports social enterprises such as All Across Africa, which is creating sustainable local jobs for artisans and bringing the fruits of their labours to new markets in exchange for fair wages.

With unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa as high as 80-96 per cent, it can be tough making ends meet. Particularly if you’re a mother living in a rural area, confined to the family home. But many women possess valuable craft skills passed down through the generations – and these are now being put to profitable use. Opportunities are also being created for others to acquire such skills.
 

"All these materials are renewable, and only non-toxic biodegradable dyes are used to colour the raffia and sisal."
Many women possess valuable craft skills passed down through the generations – and these are now being put to profitable use. Image: Nest

Making the business of basket making sustainable

The raw materials used for the basket-weaving process vary depending on the natural resources available. In Uganda, for example, raffia is woven around banana leaf stalks, while Rwandan artisans use sweet grass to create the basket’s overall structure and sisal to weave with. All these materials are renewable, and only non-toxic biodegradable dyes are used to colour the raffia and sisal. Once these have been sun-dried, they are used alternately to form graphic patterns.


In both countries, thanks to All Across Africa, basket weaving has become a sustainable business, alleviating poverty and enabling artisans (99 percent of them are female) to provide food, shelter and education for their families. While 7.7 percent of these workers’ income tends to be spent on family expenses, 92.3 percent is used for their children’s education.

In fact, 96 percent of the workers say that their children have completed primary school education at the very least. But one weaver, Carol Musoke, can say better than that: “Both of my oldest children have completed school through grade 12. My oldest daughter has a teaching degree. While she now works as a full-time teacher, she also weaves a lot on nights and weekends, and she’s fast and good. She weaves like it’s her only income!”

While weaving enables Margret Nampina to pay for all of her children’s school fees, she has also been able to purchase two pigs and some land. “I recently started my own chapati business,” she says.
While the immediate impact of the initiative on the weavers’ lives has clearly been positive, the profits are invested carefully in training and skills development.
 

Needless to say, H&M Group value the connection we have with these artisans highly. Because it’s thanks to them that ARKET and H&M HOME can fill their stores with products that not only look good, but actually do good too. Image: Nest

As the leader of the 79 weavers in her cooperative, Sarah Makayowa says she loves bringing the community together. When addressing potential new recruits, she always paints a clear and realistic picture of the challenge at hand. “I always tell those looking for work that weaving takes practice and they really need to commit to learning,” she says. “It’s not fast money. But these women are usually very committed because they’ve suffered so long without having an income.”
All of the people working for All Across Africa say that working from home allows them to take better care of their children. They feel proud of the work they do and would encourage their offspring to learn the same craft when they are of working age.

So far, H&M Group’s total order of handcrafts from artisans in Uganda and Rwanda have enabled the creation of 497 job opportunities, and 2,852 marginalised people have been reached. Needless to say, we value the connection we have with these local entrepreneurs highly. Because it’s thanks to them that ARKET and H&M HOME can fill their stores with products that not only look good, but actually do good too.

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