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Crafting for a Cause

August 3, 2012

A general lack of education in developing countries leads many entrepreneurs to engage in economic activities that require minimum capital investment, activities such as craftsmanship. Jewelry making, for example, allows individuals to create beautiful products for domestic and international markets. However, in a developing country there are many hurdles to overcome before one can be successful in the craftsman industry. There may be a lack of domestic demand for the crafty goods due to market saturation or a lack of expandable income to buy such products. While the option to sell the good internationally exists, gaining access to the international market for arts and crafts is a complicated task.

To reach the export market, a producer must first make the product, then transport it to an exporter, and trust the exporter to package and market the product to retailers. This is a simple procedure for a westerner who has constant internet access and a reliable exporter, but for an individual in a developing country who has limited business knowledge and few connections, the process can be daunting.

Some NGOs seek to ease these constraints and are now supporting small-scale entrepreneurs in developing countries. Project Have Hope is one such NGO that connects craftsmen to markets with a demand for the craftsman’s goods. Project Have Hope links women in Uganda, who have created beautiful handmade jewelry, to American buyers who are interested in making thoughtful purchases. There are many similar NGOs, such as Aid to Artisans, with missions to connect arts and crafts makers to foreign buyers whose purchases will help jewelry-makers, painters, and weavers support their families and gain greater economic independence.

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Even in tough economic times, it has proven difficult for a potential buyer to say “no” to a beautiful piece of jewelry, especially when it is relatively low-cost and the buyer knows that the profit made through the purchase is going to a good cause. According to a 2011 UN report, trade in the creative economy has remained strong even amidst the financial crisis. In 2008, global trade of creative products and services maintained an annual growth average of 14%, despite the fact that global commerce declined by 12 % that same year. Creative-good exports from developing countries grew at an annual rate of 13.5 % from 2002 to 2008 and $176 billion of developing countries’ export revenue was attributed to the export of creative goods in 2008.

Dr. Josephine Ojiambo, a founding member of the Women’s Democracy Network in Kenya, believes that the creative economy opens doors for women in developing countries and creates a “dynamic solution for some of the most critical issues the world is facing today”. Different NGOs allocate profits within their programs differently. Some will send 100% of proceeds to artisans, while others may use a portion of the money to invest in education, entrepreneurship or health programs for the artisans and their families.

What inspires people to make these positive purchases in the first place? Sure, the aesthetics of the art in question is alluring, but according to the Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability website, 70% of Americans are more likely to buy from companies/vendors that are mindful or have a positive impact on society.

The price of a bracelet or painting may seem relatively small to us, but when an American buys from an arts & crafts vendor who is truly supporting the interests of artisans in a developing country, the purchase puts the artisan on the track to greater economic independence.

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