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The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, founded in November 2012 and hosted by the Aspen Institute, is a collaborative effort of over 70 artisan businesses, artisan support organizations, corporations, government agencies, and other partners who are working together to promote the full potential of the global artisan sector.  

The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise was created to elevate the importance of the artisan sector, support and grow artisan businesses, and share best practices in a collaborative learning community. 


Women Artisans of Morocco

Gina Rogari

Contributed by Thrums Books. Read the original feature in Hand/Eye Magazine

Their stories, their lives.

Author Susan Schaefer Davis acknowledges in the introduction in Women Artisans of Morocco: Their Stories, Their Lives there are numerous books about Moroccan craft with a focus on textile and fiber art, but none of these other books cover the women behind the craft and who have dedicated their lives in producing the highly coveted textiles while at the same time taking care of their homes and their children. Davis introduces readers to more than 20 women whose skills and designs vary from several regions within Morocco. She examines both their work and their lives and how the relationship between craft and their role as women has evolved in the 21st century.

Many of the profiles are of rug weavers who continue to use skills that have been brought down by generations but vary greatly within the different regions in Morocco. Davis provides introductory historical and cultural background accompanied by Joe Coca’s spectacular and opulent photos that include expansive vista shots, a horse competition with the horses decked out in their own textile finery, but it’s the images of the women and their work that take your breath away. 

Davis travels through the different regions and takes the reader through a magnificent and unforgettable journey. We get the opportunity to see where the women live. We first meet Fadma Wadal who lives in the remote village of Zawiya Tidgheste, south of the Atlas Mountains. The village is located right on the edge of desert country.  Fadma is a storyteller, sharing stories of her days working as a sheperdess. It was while on her watch she learned to card, spin, and weave. 

Each chapter provides ample information of the individual craftwork with photographs that show the intricate detail of their art. Readers will be drawn by the daily routines of these women artisans as well as their entrepreneurial spirt. 

Halfway through the book, Davis writes about Aicha Duha, who lives in a market town near Rabat. Aicha is one of many artisans who suffer through the stress of producing beautiful works of textile art, but who earned very little. Instead of having to deal with the stress of endless hours of weaving and not selling to the male dominated shops and markets, Aicha entered the primarily masculine world of buying and selling, becoming an expert on rug quality. Now she buys rugs from rural women and sells them to merchants or private clients in Khemisset and Rabat. She says of her craft and now trade, “I saw my craft did not get me anywhere. I couldn’t get by on what I earned. I had to change with the times. Now, thank God, I get by on my earnings.”

In a time when women’s voices across the world are louder and clearer, Women Artisans of Morocco: Their Stories,Their Lives is an important volume for anyone interested in textile traditions and in the lives of Muslim women. 

To purchase Women Artisans of Morocco: Their Stories, Their Lives, visit 

Lessons Learned from Launching, Growing and Closing a Social Enterprise in the Craft Sector

Gina Rogari


An interview from AOW Handmade with Hedvig Alexander of Far & Wide Collective. Read the original post on the AOW Handmade blog

This month, AOW connects with Hedvig Alexander, founder of Far & Wide Collective, a social enterprise and leading global artisan brand that brought a new approach to the craft sector. F & W partnered with artisans around the world, empowering them to share their talents and products. This past month, F & W sadly closed its doors. As a way to share lessons learned about launching, growing, and closing a social enterprise, we asked Hedvig to reflect on the experience and provide his insights on what needs to be done to strengthen the craft sector.

“We launched Far + Wide Collective five years ago with an ambitious goal: to build a global brand in a competitive market that would take a new approach to the craft sector.  The goal was for Far + Wide to have close relationships with artisan partners around the world, empowering them to share their talent and products with customers everywhere.  I truly believe in economic empowerment: it is the only reliable way to build strong economies.  In this regard, the craft sector has enormous potential.

We successfully raised investment, sold online and forged partnerships with a number of large retailers who showed, through strong sales, that there was demand for the kind of high quality, beautiful and well-designed products our artists produce.  However, we were still lacking one important element – public sector involvement.  Despite growth fueled by the private sector, we were unable to generate enough support from governments, foundations or donors with an interest in the craft businesses with which we worked.  That investment was needed to train, elevate and position craft businesses on the ground for global success. Most of the businesses we worked with had trouble scaling their production; as a result, we could not grow either.  My observation is that there is now very little financing – private or public – available for the craft sector.  There is a very important segment of financing missing between micro-finance and larger loans around $100,000. There is also a critical lack of real interest in or attention to exploring new and more effective models for partnership and investment to achieve development and business results.

The underlying challenge that inspired me to create Far + Wide Collective remains unresolved. Craft production and the handmade economy represent (after agriculture) the second largest income opportunity in most low-income countries.  The sector is dominated by women, most of whom work in the informal economy with limited production, income or potential for growth.  To help these women truly realize their potential, in some of the poorest communities in the world, we need viable, sustainable solutions.  It is frustrating for our team to see women in advanced economies breaking barriers by speaking out against discrimination, harassment, and outdated social constructions, while women in poorer countries remain invisible.

In the craft sector I have met some of the most incredible people, with unique talents, who richly deserve support on a much larger scale.  Eighty percent of our partners are women; very few have received loans, grants, training or support in any form.  Far + Wide Collective had hoped to help these producers by building a stronger market. I still believe we can reach our goal.  When one considers how much investment the fair-trade coffee industry has received over the past 15 years, it confounds me that the craft sector has received virtually none.  I sometimes wonder if this is because the sector is dominated by women and easy to ignore.

It strikes me as both logical and inevitable that this imbalance will one day be redressed.

To this end, I remain extremely committed to the same beliefs that led me to launch Far + Wide Collective in the first place.  By connecting local artisans with the global marketplace, we have shown that such empowerment has the power to transform lives, lifting some of the most vulnerable people in the world out of isolation and poverty.  Success for the craft sector has enormous impact, helps us achieve the Global Goals, and is in every respect the right thing to do.  Together with a number of proven partners and like-minded entrepreneurs, I am reflecting on how we can give promising artisans the right access to financing to create a strong supply chain and provide sustainable livelihoods for them, while making a new universe of beautiful products available to a growing range of consumers worldwide.

For the craft sector to function effectively it needs to be modernized, professionalized and regarded as a real business sector.  The gap between producer and buyers has to significantly narrow. In our experience buyers want to buy but are held back by either quality, design, lack of certification, or ability to scale. A number of elements need to be in place to achieve significant change in the sector: market demand, strong supply chains with effective support to producers, as well as access to financing.  In my view, a strong private-public hybrid funding model will be crucial to elevate the sector and make it truly sustainable, as was the case for fair-trade agricultural products starting 15-20 years ago.

In the case of coffee, significant investments were made in the supply chain in the form of loans, grants for technical assistance and equipment leasing programs.  These investments raised the capacity of local coffee producers, making it easier and less risky for large businesses, notably Starbucks and later Nestle, to buy from them.  Today it is the craft sector that needs the right combination of financial and technical tools to narrow the gap between producers and buyers.

The fair-trade coffee sector had champions like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, alongside great implementers such as Root Capital and others.  Who will now champion the craft industry?  No matter who takes up this opportunity for partnership, it will be vital to ensure genuine collaboration among all players who care about poverty reduction, market access (particularly for women), and growing businesses in the field.  This will allow enterprises such as Far + Wide to use their revenues and private funds raised to invest properly in building their brands, marketing their products and establishing strong sales channels.  In today’s marketplace, all products – even ethical and sustainably produced ones – have to be well-designed, beautifully-packaged and presented to customers through a strong brand offering and with all the conveniences other major brands feature.  With the right partnerships, financing and commitment, the craft sector can drive a new wave of business success and consumer satisfaction, while lifting vast numbers of people out of poverty and into new lives as dynamic entrepreneurs and exporters, designers and educators.

Yes, we can do this. But we need a more business-oriented approach to both selling handmade products and investing in the people that produce them.”

- Hedvig Alexander, Far & Wide Collective.


Gina Rogari

The 2018 Artisan Alliance forum, "The Creative Economy Matters," took place on February 8, 2018 at the Aspen Institute headquarters in Washington, DC. Leaders in the creative economy, the financial services and impact investing communities, and the small business and development sectors shared best practices on investing in creative businesses, building sustainable and successful artisan enterprises, and more. The following article contains transcripts of the panel discussions held at this forum.

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Three Big Ideas to Support Artisan Businesses and the Creative Economy

Gina Rogari

On February 7, the Aspen Institute and Clinton Foundation hosted a forum on innovative financing in the creative sector ahead of a day-long Artisan Alliance summit on the value of the creative economy globally.

What is the creative economy? It includes all the cultural and creative industries, including arts, crafts, design, fashion, food, music, theatre, and technology. The sole purpose of these industries is to produce or promote goods, services, and activities of a cultural, artistic, and heritage-related nature.

Artisans are a core component of the creative economy, both in the US and abroad. The Aspen Institute and the Clinton Foundation are committed to supporting artisan and other creative entrepreneurs, and are part of a growing coalition of cross-sector partners strengthening artisan businesses. The emerging coalition draws lessons from what we’ve learned from our international programs – including the Clinton Foundation’s ongoing work to help farmers in East Africa and the Artisan Alliance’s Kiva loan program, which provides loans to artisan entrepreneurs with no access to traditional financing – to further support artisan businesses, which provide viable incomes to hundreds of thousands of individuals across the globe, particularly in developing countries and rural communities.

As we work to expand economic opportunity for artisans and creative entrepreneurs, below are three big ideas we learned from our partners at the February events.

There is a case for investing in the creative economy

Artisans, farmers, and small business owners are an integral part of all communities, whether in the rural US or a huge international city. The artisan sector is a key driver of economic growth, job creation, and cultural preservation. It is the second-largest employer in the developing world, behind only agriculture, generating incomes and providing important and unique skills development — particularly to women. Artisan businesses help expand opportunity by diversifying and stimulating local economic activity and creating new jobs that can help families and communities thrive.

Investing in the artisan sector is not charity – there’s incredible economic potential with even more opportunities to be realized. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the global artisan market generates an estimated $34 billion a year, and the demand for handcrafted, authentic, and locally produced goods is growing. More and more individuals, foundations, businesses, and banks are seeing this artisan entrepreneurial space as an investable sector.

Get creative with financing

Despite the growing influence and impact of the artisan sector, access to capital remains one of the main barriers facing creative entrepreneurs.

There are many ways to help bridge this gap. On February 7, participants discussed the different mechanisms to deploy capital, including impact investing products, which generate both social impact and financial return for investors; or royalty arrangements, which can produce returns over time without compromising an artisan’s financial independence.

Participants spoke about the need to explore new models of financing that connect the dots between investors who are looking to generate strong financial returns and social impact. A strong example of this is a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action the Aspen Institute launched with the US Department of State and Kiva in 2014. The project provides loans to underserved communities by working together with microfinance organizations and local community groups to conduct outreach to small business owners as well as elected officials to raise community awareness for small businesses to access much needed capital. To date, 28 entrepreneurs have accessed $237,550 in loan funds to help them grow their small-businesses, impacting upwards of 19,000 artisans and their families.

Shared challenges from the US and abroad

Whether it’s access to capital to finance and grow their businesses, or access to markets to sell their products – artisans both in the US and around the world face similar challenges.

DolmaKyap, a Tibetan artisan entrepreneur, founded Chamtsee, meaning “compassion,” to preserve Tibetan art and craftsmanship while employing local people displaced from their nomadic lifestyles. After partnering with the Artisan Alliance and receiving a Kiva loan, he’s been able to grow his business and pay it forward — connecting local craftsman with Chinese tourist markets and the international community.


Brooklyn-based Refoundry trains formerly incarcerated people to repurpose discarded materials into home furnishings and mentors them into their own business and/or career path. The program is designed to build access and opportunity capacity for people from disadvantaged and under-sourced communities that facilitates social, economic, and civic inclusion.

Whether in Brooklyn or on the Tibetan plateau, artisans and other creative entrepreneurs share common barriers that can be solved for and addressed. By bringing together a coalition of global artisans and partners in the business, philanthropic and nonprofit community, the Clinton Foundation and Aspen Institute’s Artisan Alliance are working to give voice to those common challenges and build innovative solutions that draw from those diverse viewpoints.

Peggy Clark is Vice President of Policy Programs, Executive Director of the Aspen Global Innovators Group, and Director of the Artisan Alliance at the Aspen Institute. Gregory Milne is Chief Metrics and Impact Officer at the Clinton Foundation.

Shorter name, same mission: Introducing the Artisan Alliance

Gina Rogari


Explore the new look & feel of the Artisan Alliance:

As we celebrate 5 years supporting the global artisan sector, the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise is now the Artisan Alliance. Since our launch by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in late 2012, the Artisan Alliance has kept the artisan at the center of our work. Now more than ever, it is critical to stand by our mission and determine the best interventions to support and strengthen artisan businesses across the globe. 

As we continue this work, we pledge: To support the full power and potential of the artisan sector to create jobs, increase incomes, and support development that respects the uniqueness of people and place.

Thank you for joining us in this important work. It will take all of us, together, to generate meaningful change and show the world the artisan sector matters. We think our new look and deeper integration under the banner of theAspen Global Innovators Group will help us take the next big step forward. 

The Aspen Global Innovators Group:

The Artisan Alliance is a core initiative of the Aspen Global Innovators Group, a policy program of the Aspen Institute. The Aspen Global Innovators Group widens access to health and prosperity for people living at the world’s margins. Our network of innovators brings overlooked challenges into plain sight, then creates programs, policies and partnerships to address them. Breakthrough programs include the Aspen New Voices Fellowship, AMP Health, the Artisan Alliance, the Bridge Podcast, the Aspen Ideas Incubator, and Spotlight Health at the Aspen Ideas Festival. 


Celebrating the Stories and Traditions of Chinchero Weavers in the Awacpa Wasin Exhibition

Gina Rogari

Indigenous weavers of the Cusco region of Peru founded the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco more than 20 years ago to rescue, promote, and spread traditional textile knowledge and traditions. The Center empowers weavers through the sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textile traditions in the Cusco region, enabling them to maintain their identity while improving their quality of life. 

Today, tourists from around the world make their way to Cusco to visit the Andes mountains and Machu Picchu, discovering ancient Incan sites and culture. To take advantage of the growing interest in the ancient cultures of the Cusco region, the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco partnered with the Artisan Alliance and the TreadRight Foundation as the first grantee in the Heritage Initiative. This project allowed the Center to construct the Awacpa Wasin ("weavers home") exhibition, representing a traditional house occupied by weavers during the 20th century in the community of Chinchero. The exhibition provides local community members and international visitors with the opportunity to interpret the stories and anecdotes of the Chinchero elders, while generating a deeper interest in the historical and cultural heritage that is changing and disappearing through the years. 

Thank you to the TreadRight Foundation for your generous support in this project. To visit the Awacpa Wasin exhibition, please contact the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco.

Reflections on Artisans and the Global Market

Gina Rogari

At the 2017 TINKUY Gathering of Weavers, Alliance director Peggy Clark shared her reflections on artisans and the global market with over 500 local weavers and global textile lovers. She addressed a vibrant room filled with men and women in traditional dress, who spent the week eagerly studying the techniques of weavers from throughout Peru and across the globe and learning from expert anthropologists, designers, and researchers. These weavers, Peggy noted, are the heart and soul of the Artisan Alliance's work. By spending time together and learning from one another, we will be better able to understand what makes a strong artisan business, and work together to drive more resources and opportunities to weavers, potters, and entrepreneurs around the world. 

2017 TEDWomen Global Showcase: Building Livelihoods for Refugee Women

Gina Rogari

Each year, the TEDWomen conference convenes over 1,000 women and men to share powerful talks that take on today's breaking issues. TEDWomen brings together a global community of people interested in exploring how change begins: with innovative thinkers who catalyze ideas toward action. Over the past few years, TEDWomen and TEDxWomen have launched some powerful ideas into the world.

In 2017, TEDWomen took place in New Orleans, focusing on the theme "Bridges" - building them, designing stronger ones, connecting them, suspending them, burning and rebuilding them. Speakers from around the world shared their stories and visions for strengthening our interconnected world. At the conference, the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise invited TEDWomen participants to hear the stories of global refugees in the 2017 Global Showcase. The second-ever Showcase featured 11 artisan enterprises, together creating income opportunities for more than 1,500 women to help rebuild their lives in a meaningful way. The Showcase also launched an ongoing partnership between the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise and UNHCR to build sustainable livelihoods for refugee women, often uprooted from their homes for more than 20 years. “When refugees flee, they flee with their heritage and their skills. For refugees to be able to use their artisanal skills in a way that helps them earn an income is so important in the process of rebuilding their lives in a peaceful and meaningful way,” says Heidi Christ, Artisan Value Chain Expert at UNHCR. 

At the Global Showcase, TEDWomen attendees explored and shopped a special collection of handcrafted products made by refugee, displaced, and resettled women from Syria, Mali, Afghanistan, Burundi, and other conflict areas across the Middle East and Africa. Exquisite handmade pieces ranged from traditional Palestinian embroidery to Shibori-dyed scarves and woven baskets using contemporary color schemes. On November 2, participants enjoyed a special discussion moderated by Alliance for Artisan Enterprise Director Peggy Clark, featuring USA for UNHCR's executive director and CEO Anne-Marie Grey, Mariette Chapel of Afrika Tiss, Enaam Barrishi of the Jordan River Foundation, and Tahira Afridi of Artisan Links. Launching with the evocative trailer for Ai WeiWei's Human Flow, the panel touched issues from big-brand retail partnerships to cross-sector resources needed to create change for the 65+ million displaced people across the globe. "We have to stop looking at refugees as a burden and look at them as contributors," noted Anne-Marie Grey. Together, we can build the resources and opportunities to create real change. 

The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise is grateful to USA for UNHCR and individual donors for making the 2017 Global Showcase possible. Learn more about the 2017 Global Showcase on the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise website, and in the 2017 TEDWomen program. Please contact Gina Rogari with any questions about the 2017 Global Showcase, or how to get involved with ongoing efforts to build livelihoods for refugees through artisan enterprise. 

All photos by Ryan Lash and Stacie McChesney for TED.

UNHCR and the Aspen Institute to Strengthen Refugee Artisan Businesses

Gina Rogari


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Aspen Institute’s Alliance for Artisan Enterprise have partnered to create economic opportunities for refugees through artisan enterprise. November 1-3, 2017, UNHCR and the Aspen Institute joined forces to launch the 2017 Global Showcase at the TEDWomen Conference in New Orleans, LA. With the support of USA for UNHCR, the Global Showcase features 11 artisan enterprises that are working across the Middle East, Africa, and the United States to provide meaningful work to more than 1,500 refugee women.

The partnership between UNHCR and the Aspen Institute seeks to address the immense need of refugees for sustainable income-earning opportunities and the power of economic productivity to rebuild lives.

“We are delighted to support the Alliance’s TEDWomen Global Showcase to tell the stories of refugees from all over the world who are rebuilding their lives through enterprise” noted Anne-Marie Grey, Executive Director and CEO of USA for UNHCR.

Around the world, over 65 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes – many uprooted for more than 20 years. After fleeing war or persecution, the opportunity to work and earn a living is one of the most effective ways people can rebuild their lives in dignity and peace. “The creation of viable artisan businesses connected to markets empowers refugees to build strong social and economic ties with their host communities and the world, and strengthens their ability to provide for their families while in refugee status,” says Peggy Clark, Vice President of the Aspen Institute and Executive Director of the Aspen Global Innovators Group.

“When refugees flee, they flee with their heritage and their skills. For refugees to be able to use their artisanal skills in a way that helps them earn an income is so important in the process of rebuilding their lives in a peaceful and meaningful way,” says Heidi Christ, Artisan Value Chain Expert at UNHCR.

The partnership between UNHCR and the Aspen Institute brings together UNHCR’s commitment to the wellbeing of refugees and work on economic inclusion with the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise’s network of 140 members in 114 countries and expertise in building viable artisan businesses. Together, the organizations will work closely with refugee artisan businesses to introduce unique products and techniques to the market, while giving refugees the opportunity to earn an income and restore their sense of self-determination.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

This announcement was originally released by the Aspen Institute on November 1, 2017. Photo by Stacie McChesney for TED. 

How one woman turned the world’s worst aquatic plant into cool products and new jobs

Gina Rogari

This blog was initially published by TED on August 27, 2017. Read the full piece here, and watch Achenyo Idachaba's TED talk here

Beautiful water hyacinth was strangling the life out of waterside communities in Nigeria, but entrepreneur Achenyo Idachaba saw potential in the plague.

The water hyacinth is a flowering aquatic plant that is native to the Amazon River basin. When plant enthusiasts first encountered its tall, showy lavender blooms more than a century ago, they transplanted it into gardens all over the world and it spread from there. The nearly indestructible plant propagates like an alien creature out of a sci-fi film, and it’s become what some consider the world’s worst aquatic plant.

Water hyacinth is a noxious, invasive weed that is found in more than 50 countries, threatening natural ecosystems and people’s livelihoods. In Nigeria, it is referred to by names that point to its destructiveness and insidiousness — for example, in Igala, it’s called A Kp’iye Kp’oma, which translates to “death to mother and child,” and gbe’borun, a Yoruba phrase that translates roughly to “gossip” or “tale-bearer.”

In 2009, Achenyo Idachaba had recently moved to Lagos from the US when she was on the city’s Third Mainland Bridge one day and saw a group of fishing boats hemmed in by heavy mats of water hyacinth (TED Talk: How I turned a deadly plant into a thriving business). Today, she has helped turn this scourge into a source of employment for people in some of the communities it has harmed.

Water hyacinth can double in mass in less than two weeks. Making things worse, the freshwater plants link together as they grow: their waxy leaves form a dense blanket on the water’s surface and their roots tangle below in a thick web. As a result, they displace other plants and marine life, prevent the growth of phytoplankton, deplete the dissolved oxygen in the water, and degrade water quality — also hurting fish and other organisms.

The water hyacinth is devastating to humans, too.“Once it invades a lake or river, people who depend on the waterways for their livelihood are just shot,” says Idachaba. Fisherfolk, children who travel to school by boat, tourism, recreation and hydropower can all be harmed. What’s more, an overgrowth of hyacinth slows currents, leading the stagnant water to become a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. The plant has also been linked to an increase in incidences of cholera. So how do you get rid of it? You can pull it by hand or with a machine, douse it with herbicides, or introduce native predators, but the plant frequently grows too fast (and its seeds are too tough) for these labor-, time- and money-intensive methods to make much of a dent. As a result, many people just wait for it to abate, which it sometimes does. In Nigeria, two occasions that can bring relief are the dry season and when saltwater from the Atlantic flows inland to freshwater bodies, killing the plants. But even so, the indefatigable weed usually resurfaces within a matter of months.

Could something so detestable be turned into stuff that people wanted? Idachaba wondered what, if anything, could be done with the plants. She did some research and found that people in Kenya and parts of Southeast Asia were creating baskets, bags and furniture from it. Could she learn to do the same, then teach these skills to people and help them sell their products? Together, perhaps they could turn the plague into profit. She headed to the Sabo community in Ibadan, a city in southwestern Nigeria, where she hoped she might find people who could help her weave the stems of the plants into rope. There, she met Malam Yahaya who, with the help of local kids acting as translators, taught her the skill.

Idachaba first perfected her rope-making abilities.Then she worked with rattan artisans from Ibadan and Lagos to use it to create items like baskets. In 2010, she started a company, MitiMeth, to sell hyacinth-based products (today it offers everything from coastersand lamps to rugs and iPad sleeves). She also began teaching the handicraft in Nigerian communities that have been harmed by the plant. She and her colleagues will typically go to the chief of a village, introduce themselves, describe what they’re doing and the benefits it could bring, and ask for a list of people who’d be interested in learning. The training — which shows participants how to make rope and a few products — lasts around a week. To date, Idachaba has helped teach more than 250 artisans.

The usual reaction of Nigerians when shown products made from water hyacinths: disbelief. The residents of Bayeku, a community in the southern part of the country, “never thought anything good could come out of the weed,” Idachaba says. “But we proved them wrong at the end of the training.” In fact, because there was so much enthusiasm, she ended up teaching 60 people. “We had kids climbing through the windows,” she laughs. “They’d gather up the scraps from the training afterwards and make things with it.” Idachaba has been particularly gratified by the generous impulse of trainees to share their skills with friends and neighbors. In 2015, she and her colleagues trained 33 women in Idah, a town in north central Nigeria. Later, when she began sourcing rope from them, she says, “I noticed that people who weren’t at the training were weaving.” She learned that two students from the original session had taught others. “They could easily have kept it to themselves,” she says, “but they didn’t look at it that way.”

After training, the artisans become workers that Idachaba’s company can contact as orders for products come in. MitiMeth sells goods through a variety of channels: at duty-free shops and other retail stores; and through local and international exhibitions, as well as e-commerce sites like Konga and etsy. Last year, they rang up more than NGN 7.5-million in sales. And 44 percent goes to the workers, who are also encouraged to find their own ways to sell their products.

Idachaba is extending training to reach different groups of people in need. In 2016, she was contacted by the Tolaram Foundation, which runs the ISHK Limb Centre, a nonprofit that provides free prosthetics to people in Lagos. “A number of the men and women they’ve given prosthetics to are indigent and unemployed,” she says. The terrain in parts of Nigeria can be tough to navigate, even for the able-bodied, and it’s especially rough for those with a disability to travel to remote jobs. People who know how to weave, however, could earn money while working at home. In late July, Idachaba conducted an initial training session with people from the Limb Centre. The participants were excited to learn, she says, and picked up the skills quickly.

Even as her company grows, Idachaba remains committed to her original purpose: turning water hyacinth into something that can help people rather than hurt them. She slowly sees this shift happening — and it’s reflected in the changing names for the plant. “It was gbe’borun, or ‘gossip,’ and now people call it olusotan, or ‘storyteller,’” she says. “And it’s gone from a kp’iye kp’oma, or ‘killer of mother and child,’ to ya du j’ewn w’Iye kp’oma, or ‘provider of food for mother and child.’”

Artisan Connect: Lessons from my Social Impact Venture

Gina Rogari


This case study was published by Amanda North, founder of Artisan Connect, on April 25, 2017. Read the original piece on LinkedIn.

"Three years ago I founded an impact venture providing market access for global artisans to help them thrive. I'm sharing this case study hoping it may be helpful to others supporting the artisan sector and social ventures more broadly."

Problem Statement: Each year millions of people in the developing world leave their villages in hopes of better income opportunities. The cities lack infrastructure to support this swelling population. Women are particularly aversely affected, falling into trafficking and other horrific outcomes. At the same time, cultural traditions are being lost due to this mass migration. But the villages do contain important potential sources of income, including crafts. Although some artisan groups have received capacity building support, their key issue is identifying and reaching consumers who will properly value their products. They do not want handouts or donations—the artisans want ongoing revenue streams and entrepreneurial opportunities for the next generation.

Founder’s Background:  I served for over thirty years in executive marketing roles for technology companies. Then I was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, April 15 2013, which catalyzed me to pursue my passions and purpose. I founded Artisan Connect in July 2013, initially supported as an Entrepreneur in Residence through Santa Clara University’s Miller Center where I had served as a volunteer mentor. To this venture, I brought my background in strategic partnering, brand building and marketing with fast growth organizations.

Concept: I had observed through my volunteer work at the Miller Center that the artisan sector has focused on capacity building and not enough on market connection and that the sector is fragmented, preventing scaling. With Artisan Connect, I sought to build a common platform to support artisan groups around the world, enabling their own brand stories to be showcased, but providing the ease of purchase required by US customers.

Business Structure: Counsel advised me to structure Artisan Connect as a C Corporation, incorporated in Delaware. From the outset, we were mission driven and moved aggressively to B Corp certification, which we gained in August 2014. Our articles of incorporation contained reference to our social mission.

Organization: My initial team comprised volunteers and contractors, to minimize spend and buy time to ascertain what roles were required for this kind of business. SCU supported me with three students who worked with me during the Fall of 2013 to research and develop the business plan. An externship funded by Bain & Company enabled a recent Stanford GSB graduate to work with us for six months.

Leadership team: One of my greatest challenges was that I was unable to identify a business partner with complementary skills to my own. Twice I hired people very experienced in retail but they were not a good fit for the start-up world. Another challenge was that I never had a formal board of directors—I was holding off until we raised our first institutional round of funding. My seed investors, though supportive, were generally hands-off.

Funding: Having developed the high-level concept for Artisan Connect, in the Fall of 2013 I approached longtime friends/colleagues for seed funding. I closed $250,000 in convertible debt by the end of 2013 enabling us to commence operations in January 2014. In total I raised $1,350,000 in convertible debt.

Business Model: Artisan Connect acted as an intermediary between artisan groups and consumers. I decided not to work with individual artisans because generally they don’t have the quality control, unit quantities, shipping abilities or business front end that are provided by artisan collectives and other social impact groups serving artisans. We purchased product from the artisan groups at prices they determined. We required transparency on how the payment is split between artisan wages, social services and administrative costs. Artisan Connect’s retail prices reflected 1/3 to these groups, 1/3 to shipping costs, 1/3 to Artisan Connect.

Channels: We chose eCommerce as our principal channel for its scalability. But we found that this platform alone is not ideal for artisan-based businesses for the following reasons:

  • Generally, prices/margins are driven lower online than in person
  • eCommerce customers expect deep discounts, free shipping and robust customer service
  • They are comparison shoppers—Artisan Connect products were compared with look-alike products from large retailers, mass produced
  • It is hard to communicate authenticity, quality and “story” online
  • Social media built followers, but did not translate to sales

Based on these insights, we evolved our model to multichannel, using in person events to engage customers, then remarketing to them through weekly emails. This succeeded in slowly building a loyal customer base

Marketing: Driving people to our website was more challenging than we anticipated given the congestion in the eCommerce space. This spurred us to promote our products through other online channels that already had built a base of relevant customers. We experienced an increase in sales but our margins suffered significantly, and this strategy did not enable us to build our brand. A more successful strategy was our co-marketing with affiliated groups, such as Global Fund for Women, that share our core mission.

Target customers: our original target was millenials because we believed they would resonate with our social impact mission. However, they do not appear to be spending significant money on our class of product (home décor and gifts) though they are purchasing other social impact sectors such as consumables (food and body care/cosmetics). Our principal customers turned out to be women 40-60, often purchasing for their millennial offspring or friends

Growth: By the end of 2015 Artisan Connect was partnering with 30 artisan groups in 16 countries across the developing world.  Five of these organizations were our lead partners in terms of sales. We built a database of 2,000 active supporters including 500 customers, many of whom had purchased multiple times. Our average transaction size was $175. We had a team of four full time staff plus an outsourced bookkeeper and graphics designer. Occasionally, we used an outside web developer. We had a six-  member advisory board.

We closed 2015 at $125,000 in revenues which was far lower than original projections due to low site visitor/sales conversion rates. Because of our small order quantities, shipping costs still amounted to 30% of our COGS, which significantly reduced our margins, preventing us from being able to sell wholesale. Recognizing that revenues were not increasing at the pace we had anticipated, we brought down our burn rate to extend our runway.

Business Model Evolution: Working capital was a huge expense in our initial model because we purchased product directly from artisans. They required the entire purchase order to be paid upfront so they could buy materials to produce the orders for us. There was a long lead time before we could start generating revenues from the products: 6-8 weeks for product production, 2-3 weeks for shipment to the US via air, then another week for loading information onto our website and promoting the products.

Recognizing this significant working capital expense and inventory risk, we decided to partner primarily with artisan groups who are drop shippers (they already have their products warehoused in the US). Instead of being a retailer, we became a true marketplace, offering these artisans 70% of the retail price—a better margin than they had previously received, while Artisan Connect took a commission of 30% for our marketing and ecommerce support. They were responsible for shipping to the end customers.

Challenges with Additional Funding: During the first half of 2015 I spoke with over 40 individuals and institutions about providing follow-on funding, but with no success. Scale was our biggest issue—several of the organizations liked our mission but only would invest once we had reached a $1 Million annual run rate. Many other social impact investors did not understand the importance of our role as an intermediary. Their charter was to provide funding directly to needy people in-country. In addition, many funders focus on specific geographic areas, such as sub-Saharan Africa or India, so our reach across the developing world was not a fit.

Strategic Alternatives for Growth: By the Fall of 2015 it was apparent we would not secure next round (institutional) funding. I refocused on trying to land a significant strategic partner/acquirer where Artisan Connect could be a semi-autonomous group, tapping into the parent company’s customer base, funding and infrastructure. We had productive conversations with a number of successful online marketplaces but ultimately they decided we were too small to be worth the effort. I also pursued some out-of-the-box ideas, like pitching an artisan TV series (where viewers could buy the products online) and approaching the Olympics about doing artisan showcases/shops.

A Belly Landing: In January, 2016 I informed my investors that, although we still had money in the bank, we were not able to carry the company forward. I found new jobs for our employees, liquidated inventory, transferred our office lease to another B Corp, shut down our warehouse, and put our eCommerce website on hold. By May, 2016 the company effectively had shut down.

I was reluctant to dissolve the company, especially since we were making progress against our social impact objectives, although not at the pace to continue operations. I decided instead to merge the company with a non-profit organization in New York that also focuses on supporting global artisans. At the end of 2016, my investors converted their notes to stock and donated the shares to this non-profit entity, enabling them to write off their investments in Artisan Connect.

Lessons Learned: I managed Artisan Connect through a graceful wind down, with no outstanding liabilities or obligations. My investors were supportive and say “they would back me again.” From my conversations with peers in the industry, it appears we’ve all faced similar issues. Scale is certainly one of the problems—there are too many competing companies splitting investment funds and customers. The artisan sector would be better served with a consolidated platform—which is what I had set out to do with Artisan Connect…

If I could start Artisan Connect today, here are some things I’d do differently:

  • Organize initially as a non-profit and convert to for profit when at scale
  • Aggregate the sector so we could pool customers, achieve discounted shipping rates, improve margins
  • Focus on B2B and use this revenue stream to build the consumer brand
  • Provide in person as well as online engagement through pop up stores
  • Identify a business partner from the outset to complement my skillsets
  • Engage more active support—through a formal board

Through my experience founding and leading Artisan Connect, I have become committed to the social impact sector, broadly defined. I am inspired by the people I’ve interacted with, and the mission-driven spirit of collaboration. I believe strongly in “business for good” but now recognize that the sector is at a much earlier stage than I had thought, in terms of investment capital and infrastructure. Wherever my next steps lead, I hope I can contribute to moving the sector forward.

Do you have a case study or other lessons learned from running an artisan enterprise? Let us know! Please email with your content. 

Highlighting the Basic Record Book at the 2017 International Folk Art Market | Santa Fe

Gina Rogari

Every July, nearly 20,000 visitors head up Santa Fe's Museum Hill for the International Folk Art Market | Santa Fe, the world's largest annual folk art festival. This year, over 160 master artisans from 53 countries showcased and sold their work, bringing together Santa Fe residents, folk art enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, academics, and more. The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise is a proud partner of the International Folk Art Alliance, offering annual training sessions for Folk Art Market artists and access to the Alliance-Kiva Artisan Loan Program

At this year's market, the Alliance unveiled its newest resource developed exclusively for artisan entrepreneurs: the Artisan Business Coaching program. 

Artisan entrepreneurs around the world struggle to sustain themselves as small businesses and provide steady income to artisan producers. Many artisan businesses participate in the informal economy and have no access to formal business training. In collaboration with key partners, the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise developed Artisan Business Coaching, a set of business training resources adapted from the International Labor Organization's Start and Improve Your Business Programme. The series of modules begins with Basic Record Keeping, and will grow to include additional resources on Business Planning, Marketing, Costing & Pricing, and more! Illustrated stories and guided examples provide an easy entry-point for artisan entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds and experiences to understand the benefits of keeping basic business records.

In the first-ever Artisan Business Coaching session, Alliance trainers introduced the Basic Record Book to 20 representatives from artisan businesses working across the globe. Participants were introduced to the basics of record keeping, and practiced completing a Basic Record Book and Customers' Accounts Record.  

"I am excited to use this training with the artisans I work with," said one participant from Guatemala. "We don't keep many records right now, but know that they are important for our business."

There is an urgent need to continue building support systems for artisan entrepreneurs around the world, and recognize the extraordinary economic potential of artisan businesses. Please join us as we continue this important work. Learn more about the Artisan Business Coaching on our website, and do not hesitate to reach out to the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise with any feedback or additional training opportunities. 

In fall and winter 2017, the Alliance plans to host additional Record Keeping training sessions in Peru, New Orleans, and more. Email Gina Rogari at to learn more, or if your business is interested in participating in a future Artisan Business Coaching session! 


Introducing the Aspen Global Innovators Group

Gina Rogari

Leaf with white space.jpg

The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise is a proud initiative of the Aspen Global Innovators Group, formerly Aspen Global Health and Development, at the Aspen Institute. Read more about our name change and new brand identity below, originally published on the Aspen Institute blog by Peggy Clark. 

It takes a diverse network of innovators to tackle the challenges facing people living at the world’s margins. Over the years we’ve been fortunate to build a formidable one — it includes Western policymakers alongside experts from developing countries, representatives from public and private sectors, and people of different backgrounds, life experiences, genders, and generations. We’ve learned that the meaningful differences  in our perspectives have helped us generate meaningful change. That’s why we’ve recently chosen to identify ourselves as The Aspen Global Innovators Group.

The Aspen Global Innovators Group is linked by one common aspiration: We want to widen the access to health and prosperity for people living at the world’s margins. 

The Aspen Global Innovators Group is concerned with the issues right under our noses that are not getting enough attention. Our charge is to get closer to those issues and contribute to making them more apparent to others. As Bryan Stevenson reminds us, “When we’re not proximate, we cannot change the world.”

Each of the initiatives of the Aspen Global Innovators Group brings an overlooked challenge in health and development into plain sight:

  • The New Voices Fellowship develops voices of innovators we might not normally hear from – experts, women, and young leaders in developing countries
  • The Aspen Management Partnership (AMP) for Health supports health care leaders in the overlooked public sector in under-resourced countries who are advancing community health care systems at the last mile
  • The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise recognizes underserved craftspeople disconnected from formal economies who are creating jobs and preserving cultures
  • The Aspen Ideas Incubator brings the best minds in global health to uncover priorities that we cannot afford to overlook

New Voices fellows have secured more than 2,500 global media placements, including TED and TEDx, New York Times op-eds, NPR, and the BBC. AMP Health has strengthened the management capacity of Ministries of Health in Malawi, Sierra Leone, and Kenya. The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise has grown from an idea to a community of over 130 members in 100 countries, and has been recognized as one of the top public-private partnerships at the US Department of State. Spotlight Health began with a conversation, and has become a go-to health conference.

Our work calls for us to bring more than our genius to bear on a problem, but to bring our fullest human selves in relationship with one another.

The trust we place in one another inspires us to give your best selves, which can trigger the forces of good in others to create real impact.

I remember seeing the power of it, sitting under a tree in Malawi with Precious Phiri, along with the AMP Health team and a community health worker. Precious was taking the time to praise that health worker for saving six people and their families from malaria. The support system was in plain sight right under that tree — that community health worker showed up for the sick—Precious was there to support the health worker — and the AMP team was there to support Precious.

And then there’s Heshima Kenya, an organization that protects the lives of refugee girls in East Africa. Through the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, they were connected to UNHCR Livelihoods, and are now extending their work to Kakuma, a refugee camp in northern Kenya. They will provide training and help foster an income-generating program for another 50+ displaced refugee artisans.

Our relationships are the circulatory systems for our work. And we need the lifeblood they provide to support each other.

Bringing out our best selves depends entirely on discovering the power we overlook in ourselves. We each have to reconnect with the intuition we already carry deep within our souls—that our greatest hope for the future is being human with one another, in community. And that takes a disciplined mind, an open heart, and a willingness to be generous with one another.

How Can Artisan Movements Empower Communities?

Gina Rogari

Courtney Martin, the author of "The New Better Off," keeps one thing in mind when her 3-year-old is throwing a tantrum: The root of all tantrums is about belonging or significance. But this is easily translated to perhaps the root of much of human behavior, Martin said.

Questions of belonging – and of mattering – are at the root of the empowerment that is spread and created in artisan movements. Indeed, artisan enterprise around the world increases local incomes, preserves ancient cultures, and provides employment for hundreds of thousands of people around the world, especially for women. At the Aspen Institute, the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise community is building a support system for artisan entrepreneurs across the globe.

 “The artisan sector creates peace, it signals to women that they are significant, and it helps people find belonging in their own communities and economic sectors around the world,” said Martin.

A holistic empowerment

Building artisan capacity is one of the most holistic ways to empower vulnerable communities, said Alisa Roadcup, executive director of Heshima Kenya. Heshima, which means “dignity and respect” in Swahili -  works with orphaned and unaccompanied refugee girls to provide a lifeline of support and hope after they have been through harrowing traumas and egregious circumstances. Many development programs that Roadcup saw in East Africa were focused on one aspect of response to these traumas: education, for example, or resettlement.  But Heshima works with girls who might, for example, have fled a life of servitude in the militia in the Congo: The organization assesses the case on a variety of factors. These include education levels, psychosocial needs, legal and medical issues, education, and childcare, as many of the girls have fled with their children. One of the most crucial aspects, though, is the social enterprise component of their programs. Through an aspect of their work called the Maisha Collective, young women make handbags and scarves which are sold on Etsy. The majority of girls who are involved in this collective – about 70 percent – go onto become economically independent, a statistic well above the average. The independence and skill-building that involvement in the artisan craft sector fosters in the girls and women that Heshima works with are an often overlooked part of international aid systems, but this should not be the case.

“A holistic approach is fundamental: healing, recovery, and self-actualization as leaders in their own right,” said Roadcup.

Empowerment for generations

Building capacity through the economic empowerment of artisan craftship does not only holistically empower the female artisan, according to Karen Sherman, executive director of the Akilah Institute for Women. The Akilah Institute is an education-to-workforce model that helps women to access the workforce, another form of pushing for women’s access to income-generation. She has found that working in crafts-based production like the artisan sector has shown to be a lifeline for vulnerable women.  One of the women she worked with found solace and a way to support herself through knitting. Her life was completely uprooted during the war in Bosnia: this woman went from living with her husband, children, and her parents to being forced to flee her home after her husband was taken away for hard labor. She had been kidnapped and tortured by soldiers. But she connected with Women for Women International, and decided that she would use knitting for an income – and look to the future with optimism. “Those soldiers – I want them to see that I am still alive. They did not kill me – not my body, not my soul,” she said.

In a different country, Rwanda, a 9-year-old girl named Bridget was taking care of her three younger siblings when their parents were killed in the Rwandan genocide. After spending more than three years in a refugee camp, she was working to make clothes in order to pay rent and buy food. After joining ABC, a social enterprise started by Kate Spade, she learned to produce handbags and other brands. Since she began working there, she has opened a bank account, been promoted twice, and took out a loan to buy land and build a house.

“These two stories may seem completely different, but they’re actually the same. Both of these women survived war and genocide. Both of them picked themselves up through their own means, and were able not only to transform their lives but invest in their children and family,” said Sherman.

Building communities

Bolstering artisan networks also has powerful effects on the community, not just the individual. Enaam Barrishi, Director General of the Jordan River Foundation, works in Jordan through the Jordan River Foundation to empower women in remote areas of Jordan with knowledge, skills, and training in entrepreneurship and handicrafts production. Behind these goals is the overarching idea to enhance the socioeconomic status of the women – with the ultimate end of enhancing their families and whole communities. The Foundation does this through three components: a project focused on wool weaving where women produce carpets and wall hangings; an embroidery collective; and a component where women use banana leaves – which typically are burned in the communities – to produce baskets and other items.

Jordan is under enormous infrastructure pressure due to an influx of Syrian refugees, which UNHCR estimates is registered at 650,000. Including the unregistered refugees, however, puts estimates at over 1 million. Only 20 percent of these refugees live in camps, and others are relocated to host communities, which Barrishi said can put a large amount of pressure on resources, and creates competition between Syrian and Jordanian women.  

“We look at this project as a way to address this crisis so that it becomes a development opportunity – not only providing women with access to employment, but to address social cohesion. We encourage women to work together, to build skills with people of different experience and backgrounds,” Barrishi said.

By working together to build a product, the women empower their communities – together.

Dismantling perception

Artisan work also has the power to transform the perception of refugees and vulnerable communities around the world. A new initiative through UNHCR plans to create a marketing platform and help to build the livelihood of refugees through facilitating growth in the artisan sector. The artisan sector, along with the agricultural sector and teleworking, has been identified as a safe value chain for refugees to enter.  But unlike these sectors, the artisan sector also has the ability to transform perceptions of refugee work. Looking at the handcrafted goods created by refugees helps people to change their stereotypes of how they believe refugees behave in a country. The UNHCR initiative plans to work with strategic technical partners – like social enterprises in different countries, designers, and logistic specialists – to provide seed funding and design input.

“By working and creating these products, we will be able to unite refugees themselves,” said Sasibai Kimis, with Earth Heir.

This conversation took place during the conversation "The Power of Handmade in Waging Peace" at the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise event Handmade is Human.


Handmade is Human at the Aspen Institute

Gina Rogari

"Handmade reveals our deepest humanity," Peggy Clark posited on December 2, 2016 to launch this year's annual meeting of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, Handmade is Human. Now more than ever, we need to think about how to integrate artisans into global commerce, recognize the makers behind our products, and recognize what ties together people, cultures, and places around the world.

Every year, the Alliance hosts a gathering of members and friends in a vibrant, welcoming space to explore key learnings and innovations in the artisan sector. On December 2, 2016, over 75 artisan business leaders, partners, and advocates joined the Alliance team at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC for Handmade is Human.

At Handmade is Human, discussions ranged from how to unlock economic value in the artisan sector and the power of handmade in waging peace to questioning "how should we talk about handmade?" Ambassador Catherine Russell reflected on our accomplishments and challenges, Morgan Stanley's Alejandro Calderon introduced the idea of a Donor-Advised Fund for Artisans, and new and old faces took the stage to share their work and passion. Sector leaders and innovators met with artisans and business owners, building new connections and exploring how the process of hand craftsmanship reveals our deepest humanity.

"Working and creating with your hands is the oldest expression of man. The know-how of tradition is passed down from generation to generation for centuries, even millenia; it is part of our DNA, in our ancestral memory" - Marta Cucchia, Laboratorio Giuditta Brozzetti

Review the full agenda and speaker bios, and stay in touch with the Alliance on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for further updates!

Polish Ceramics: Ancient As Greek?

Gina Rogari

This guest post was provided by Kinga Szydzinska of My Poland. Read more about traditional Polish crafts on the My Poland website!

Polish grey ceramics can be traced back to 1300-500 B.C.

Grey ceramics is the most unique pottery and has the oldest traditions in Poland. Grey pots - in other words dishes manufactured with the use of that technique - appeared on the Polish soil in ancient times. They can be traced by to Luzyce culture (1300-500 B.C.), Celtic times (3rd century B.C.), and Roman times (0-400 A.D.). As you can see - gray ceramics are as old as the famous Greek pots, and equally beautiful - even though they are not as richly ornamented. 

Polished ornamental adornments can be found on dishes from Roman times that are identical to contemporary ones. It proves that the gray pots technique has changed only slightly over centuries. Research proves that grey ceramics were popular all over Poland. Gradually, due to the development of glazing ceramics, the ancient technique was pushed out of different Polish regions, remaining solely in eastern Poland. Now, grey pottery is produced solely in one village in Poland.

Traditional Workshops

Pottery workshops in Poland have been cultivating the 18th century traditions of grey pottery using the same adornments and shapes in accordance with traditions passed on from past generations of potters. Every potter his his own pattern and adornments.

The making of grey pots is customarily called "grey pots suffocating." Dishes are rolled on a potter's wheel. Once they are formed, they are adorned. Next, they dry for up to a dozen days. Following, the potter prepares a mixture of ground lead and sand. A pot is covered with this mixture to ensure adequate coating density. Then, dishes are locked in a furnace for 13-14 hours. The burning temperature can reach up to 950 degrees Celcius. Only traditional furnaces can be used for the production of grey pottery, where charcoal is used as fuel. The grey hue is achieved through oxygen reduction from iron compounds contained in clay. The smooth surface and shine is owed to a smoothing process, which involves the grinding of a partly-dried dish with an ordinary flint stone. 

y Poland offers original Polish handicraft and takes care of its worldwide promotion. Their passion is discovering real pearls of handicraft. My Poland offers authentic and unique products made by masters - licensed folk artists and reputed craftsmen. The organization cooperates with individual consumers, diplomatic posts, and companies. My Poland products are delivered worldwide; shop online!

Interested in contributing a guest post on the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise blog? Email gina.rogari@aspeninst.orgtoday!

Scaling Fair Trade: Lessons from GlobeIn

Gina Rogari

This guest post was provided by Liza Moiseeva of GlobeIn. Read more from Liza on the GlobeIn blog!

It started with a box. A social business startup dreamt of connecting artisans in developing countries to the global marketplace using a subscription model. This became GlobeIn's Artisan Box. In one year, GlobeIn grew its business by sixteen times to over $1 million in annual revenue. Here are the lessons learnt along the way...

Recently, I started hearing more and more from amazing, driven women who want to start companies that work with artisans, farmers, human trafficking victims, and so forth.

These women are GlobeIn customers who have been inspired to make a difference in the world. I applaud you. And, I am happy to share our experience so that your social business journey is an easy one (just kidding – that never happens). This post is for you and for anyone passionate about creating a sustainable positive impact in the world.

Below are the key 5 lessons we at GlobeIn learned while growing, pivoting, and scaling up our business over the last 3 years.


GlobeIn started as an “Etsy” for the developing world. There was an obvious consumer demand for artisan made crafts, but not all crafts are created equal. When we launched the alpha version of the Artisan Box, we sent our customers a box full of 3-5 products from a new country every month.

But, there was a problem.

These products were typical products you’d find in a bazaar in Ghana, Mexico, or Guatemala. These were tchotchke, souvenir-type items that one doesn’t need in everyday life.

Only when we drastically improved our curation process, established higher quality standards, and focused on practical products that an average American woman could fit into her lifestyle, we saw our subscriber base growing.

The best example of this approach is TOMS. The company managed to grow its business to $625 million valuation not just by using its heart-warming and ever-so-simple business model “One for One,” but by making a product that clearly appealed to their audience in design, quality, and price.

Here’s the piece of advice that stuck with me the most from this year’s Fair Trade Federation Conference said by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s: If you don't design for US market, don't expect to own even a minuscule percentage of that market.


I know, I know. Fair trade is all about helping artisans and farmers lift themselves out of poverty. It is why I am here. It is why GlobeIn is here.

But here’s a realization I quickly came to: if you don’t give your customers what they want and keep them happy, you won’t be of much help to your artisans: Artisans are why we started the business; customers are the reason why we are in business.

This transcends the first point of product first – you have to listen to your customers, to learn from them, and to provide exceptional customer service. You might be surprised but just the fact that you are a social business or a nonprofit doesn’t mean that your customers will let your slow customer service slide.

At GlobeIn our mission is two-fold – to curate amazing artisan products at the best-possible prices for our customers and by doing so to create sustainable recurring revenues for the artisans.


Since GlobeIn’s main product is the Artisan Box, many of our customers subscribe to other monthly boxes and. Unsurprisingly, they compare their Artisan Boxes to other lifestyle subscriptions like PopSugarMustHave or FabFitFun. I apologize if these names don’t mean anything to you, because, well, they have nothing to do with conscious consumption. These are lifestyle boxes full of cheap manufactured products.

It’s hard for GlobeIn to compete with product budgets of other boxes. We have to pay artisans fair wages when other subscription boxes can pay pennies. But, we have to constantly keep finding a solution to this puzzle – how to provide the best value to the customer while paying fair wages to artisans. It sounds difficult, but when you realize that solving this puzzle determines whether you make it as a business, you do it.

As you are competing with traditional for-profit businesses, make sure that you learn from them along the way. For example, my personal subscription to Le Tote taught me the ultimate importance of the tissue paper – the one that keeps your box so neat and tidy.

Look up to the best in business (social or not), set ambitious growth goals, and constantly work on improving your product or service.


If you are a retailer with any significant operations, you know what I mean. If you are a newcomer who wants to build a retail business (online or offline), just Google it.

A typical retail company starts planning its collections up to 9 months before it hits the store. That’s because they are ordering hundreds of thousands of products.

If you are a boutique fair trade store ordering a few hundred of any given product, you probably don’t have to plan that far in advance. However, if you are a social business that wants to scale, you will need to plan at least 6 months in advance, especially if you are dealing with handmade artisan goods.

This is when you get a loan that will help you finance your product sourcing long before you receive products (and even longer before you make any profit).

Even the most cash-rich e-commerce company wouldn’t be able to finance their inventory with profits.

Even better, as a social business or nonprofit you can get this type of loan from an impact investing company that would be much more understanding about your longer return horizons and much more appreciative of the social impact you create. RSF Social Finance is a good example of an impact investor providing such financial tools.


The majority of your sales (60-70 percent) will happen between October 15th and December 15th, so plan accordingly.

Are you a fair trade company or a social business? Are there any mistakes you’ve made along the way or piece of advice other changemakers can learn from? Please share in the comments below.

Every month, the GlobeIn Artisan Box delivers a fresh collection of useful and enthralling items from around the world. As an Artisan Box Subscriber, you learn about the products and the people who made them while discovering simpler ways to live a more fulfilled lifestyle. By subscribing to the GlobeIn Artisan Box, you can feel good about the products you use, the people you support and how your choices contribute to a better world.

Learn more and order the GlobeIn artisan box on their website! Interested in contributing a guest post on the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise blog? Email today!

Twelve Artisan Entrepreneurs Showcased at TEDWomen 2016

Gina Rogari

The artisan sector is the second largest employer in the developing world, yet it is overlooked and under-resourced by traditional development efforts. This October, the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise and twelve extraordinary artisan entrepreneurs took the TED stage to show the world why the artisan sector matters. October 26-27, the Alliance featured 12 artisan entrepreneurs in San Francisco at the Global Showcase, an immersive experience of people, place and product curated exclusively for TEDWomen - the premier women's conference in the world! 


The theme of the 2016 TEDWomen conference was "It's About Time." We agree! It's about time policymakers, investors, and influencers around the world recognize the impact of the artisan economy. Do you believe #ItsAboutTime we #ChooseArtisan? Share your messages on social media, and follow the Alliance on Facebook and Twitter


The 12 artisan businesses that participated in the TEDWomen Global Showcase represent the amazing diversity, commitment, and impact of the entire Alliance for Artisan Enterprise community. Together, they employ over 6,300 artisans, support tens of thousands of family members, and have rediscovered hundreds of ancient techniques across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. Explore all twelve of their stories, crafts, and cultures


At the Global Showcase, attendees explored and shopped an exclusive collection of handcrafted products, including woven textiles, beaded jewelry, and embroidered accessories. Did you miss this year's conference? Shop the showcase online:

  1. Gahaya Links | traditional handwoven Agaseke baskets
  2. Heshima Kenya | hand-dyed scarves and textiles
  3. ROOTS of South Sudan | hand-beaded jewelry
  4. Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco | handwoven clothing, homeware and other textiles
  5. Manos del Uruguay | handwoven textiles and yarn
  6. Mercado Global | handwoven accessories and homeware
  7. Paula Mendoza | handcrafted gold and emerald jewelry
  8. TRIA ETC | handcrafted accessories, jewelry, and homeware
  9. Fibre Tibet | hand-spun and handwoven scarves and textiles
  10. Kandahar Treasure | traditional Khamak embroidery
  11. Turquoise Mountain | handcrafted jewelry, painted  and traditional woodworking
  12. Yawanawa Handicrafts Initiative | hand-beaded jewelry telling stories of indigenous people


The Global Showcase was made possible through the generous support of the Artisan Partners Circle. We are so thankful for your efforts to increase the visibility of artisan entrepreneurs across the globe. Are you looking to get more involved with the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise? Learn more about the Global Showcase here, or email Gina Rogari at with questions or partnership requests. Artisan businesses, support organizations, and others, consider becoming a member of the Alliance community today!

International Folk Art Market Artists Consider Credit-Readiness

Gina Rogari

This July, the International Folk Art Alliance (IFAA), partners, and friends celebrated the 13th annual International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Over 180 artists and thousands of guests from around the world gathered on Museum Hill for the largest market in the organization's history. Gahaya Links shared its handwoven peace baskets, Kandahar Treasure unveiled new embroidered scarves and robes, and ROOTS of South Sudan received the Market's Community Impact Reward, honoring artists who are an extraordinary example of the IFAA mission by positively impacting social change in their communities.

The IFAA team celebrates and preserves living folk art traditions and creates economic opportunities for and with artists worldwide, impacting artists' lives beyond one weekend of sales. The weeks leading up to the annual market include workshops, activities, and other opportunities for artists to learn and build sustainable relationships with the IFAA team and with one another. Part of this year's programming included a full day of technical workshops. The Alliance joined artists from around the world in a workshop on the Alliance-Kiva Artisan Loan Program, "Am I Ready for an Artisan Business Loan?" 

Participants examined their yearly sales and expenses and determined how a loan could benefit their businesses. Artists from Mexico and Bolivia to Kyrgyzstan agreed their main business goals included maintaining craft traditions for the next generation. Succeeding in today's market ensures the viability of those traditions, and increases the desire for young people to learn traditional crafts and carry on family businesses.

To create a sustainable business, however, artists often lack capital and other financial resources to grow their product lines, client bases, and marketing materials. Artists explored the possibility of using a small loan to cover market fees (like their International Folk Art Market booths), raw material costs, and even hiring additional artisan workers. Still, artists around the world face unique barriers: uneven payment cycles, high raw material and shipping costs, and more. 

The Alliance-Kiva Artisan Loan Program allows Alliance members and partners to access 0% financing to succeed in today's market. Without capital, artists often work order-to-order, nurturing fragile businesses and lacking the skills and training to grow. Are you ready for an artisan business loan? Contact the Alliance team at to learn more about the resources available for the businesses in our network, or to think about the requirements for an artisan business loan. 

Miss this year's celebration? Mark your calendar for next year's market, July 14-17, 2017. Alliance members and artists - it's not too late to apply! Complete an online application by September 1, 2016 for the 2017 market. For the first time ever, the selection criteria includes innovation in traditional product design. Questions? Contact today.

Optimism and Opportunity at GES2016

Gina Rogari

In its 7th year, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit gathered entrepreneurs, investors, corporations, and government partners from over 170 countries around the world at Stanford University, the heart of Silicon Valley. The Alliance joined President Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Secretary of State John Kerry, and countless other innovators and thought leaders eager to make lasting, sustainable change in today's world.

"Simply put," Secretary of State John Kerry remarked, "what you and past generations of entrepreneurs have already achieved has brought about a revolution in our world right now." Other speakers echoed the need to take risks and abandon the status quo in pursuit of creating solutions to the biggest needs facing our world. 

The Summit is a place for men and women of a vast range of age and experience to share learnings and best practices, connect, and grow. President Obama recognized the ever-present need to put more "tools, more resources into the hands of these folks are changing the world." But, lasting change surpasses tools and funding. We must be building a community, "making sure that all of you know each other so that you can share best practices and ideas, and spread the word."

The Alliance for Artisan Enterprise recognizes our community of members as challenging the existing framework for artisan enterprises, cooperatives, and retailers across the globe. Our shared voice amplifies your unique messages, challenges, and cultures. Together, we can break down barriers that no single organization could take on alone. As President Obama noted, "I believe all of you represent the upside of an interconnected world, all the optimism and hope and opportunity that the interconnected world represents."

The Global Entrepreneurship Summit took place June 22-24, 2016 at Stanford University. Find more information, a full schedule, photos, and key recordings on the GES2016 website. Follow the Alliance on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for real-time updates!