Women Entrepreneurs Through Crafts in Bolivia
In Bolivia's Tropics of the Chapare, Prima Zerda, an indigenous Quechua woman, has formed a crafts association with her neighbors. They meet regularly to produce items made out of a native straw called Jipi Japa. But the group has struggled in its efforts to find sustainable markets for the home-based enterprise.
The experience of Ms. Zerda's crafts association is not all that uncommon. Unfortunately, many artisans in Bolivia and around the world lack the entrepreneurial resources to substantially increase their income through the sale of traditional crafts.
CHF International, a humanitarian and international development organization, has recognized the need for long-term economic assistance and job creation in the Chapare. The organization helps communities expand entrepreneurial activity in a number of sectors, including the handicraft sector, in an effort to present economic opportunities to poor regions throughout the world.
Handmade objects are an expression of cultural identity and heritage for artisans around the world. The production and distribution of handmade objects has immense commercial potential when harnessed effectively. However, many small-scale producer groups face many challenges because of the lack of integrated crafts sector development programs and extremely limited access to local, regional, and international markets through international trade. The Crafts Center at CHF International continues to enhance the capacity of such artisans to gain market access, which would eventually generate income for poor communities in the developing world.
CHF International's 54 years of experience in improving communities, coupled with its expertise in economic and business services, ensures a holistic approach to improving the earning power of artisans. CHF says that its programs create better lives and livelihoods for participants, and bring about positive change for entire communities. The Crafts Center at CHF International mentors artisans to become true entrepreneurs, by providing the resources needed to support all types of crafts-from concept to final sale. The Crafts Center implements integrated development programs that encompass technical support activities aimed at promoting trade, such as: claim
The Crafts Center is currently providing technical crafts assistance and support to 110 artisans like Prima Zerda living in the Chapare region of Bolivia. The artisans (all of whom are women) are learning bookkeeping, product development and marketing through in-depth grassroots training. The women are also learning important business skills that will help them to access international trade markets, including quality control, packaging, customer service, market research, and identifying trends. Key to this technical support is ensuring the sustainability of the artisans' markets, by helping them identify, create and maintain national and international market linkages.
The trained artisans sell their products-which include high-quality home decorating products such as baskets, coasters and small boxes-directly to local and regional stores. Several of the artisan groups now have the capacity to export to international markets that include England, Germany, and the United States. About 25% of their sales are in these countries, with average revenue of $1500.00 per month. The products being sold to the international market include jipi japa hats, orange peel jewelry boxes, and banana bark gift boxes. By helping the artisan groups to diversify their market base, the Crafts Center is enabling the artisans to become less reliant on the seasonal tourism market, while broadening their product line to reach new markets. As a result, the women are now beginning to produce garments, bags, and stationary made from recycled paper, which are being targeted to supermarkets and clothing stores. To increase their competence in navigating the international market, the artisans are trained to calculate a competitive price point that includes all of their direct and indirect expenses. The Crafts Center initiates the first round of international market research, which involves sending product samples to buyers and paying for the first shipment of orders, in order to guide the artisan through the process of exporting.
In the six months that
the Crafts Center has been working with these artisans, the income of roughly
half of the artisans has increased 100%, to 600 bolivianos a month (about
US$50). The other half has increased their income by at least 50% to 300 bolivianos
a month (about US$25). The Crafts Center at CHF International has chosen to
work with a limited number of artisans, to ensure the women's acquired skills
and markets are sustainable, and that the training has a significant economic
impact on their families-which it has. With their revenue, the women are helping
to pay for their family's food and their children's school fees and supplies.
As a single mother, who is now helping to produce hats being sold at the 2006
FIFA World Cup, Prima Zerda explained, "I am very happy. With the money
I earned I will be able to pay for my son's education this year and offer
him things I could have never given him before."
Jennifer Marcy is the program officer for the Crafts Center at CHF International.