THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL: ESTABLISHING A LOCAL MARKET FOR ARTISANS
At Obakki, we work with our artisan partners to help them reach their goals, which often emphasize better access to international markets. And as it happens, access to a global market is part of what we are readily able to provide. But one of the most important challenges for our artisans is in establishing a strong and sustainable local market at the same time.
The global market can be fickle and the income it provides can disappear in an instant – through no fault of the artisan. Yet, it is still a very important market for our artisan partners, providing sales opportunities that don’t exist at home. But it cannot be the only market.
Sustainable Investment Requires More Than Money
Before acting, we must first understand the needs and challenges of a village as well as the goals and business plans that have been determined. This can only happen through a series of meetings - so that’s what we do. With this information, can we be sure that we are part of the solution and not part of the problem.
There are many examples of communities suffering when international companies invest in local regions to feed global markets. Their intentions are good, but they end up creating a dependent relationship that leaves locals vulnerable when the funding disappears.
In rural South Sudan, a local community of women was hired to make shea butter lotion by an international company. They stopped farming and other small local enterprises to focus solely on the lucrative global market. When that company pulled their investment from the area, the entire village was destroyed, leaving the inhabitants impoverished.
Obakki makes long-term investments that prioritize the future of our artisan partners, as well as the local environments.
Artisans Need Local Markets to Survive
The women behind our collection of earthenware bowls in Uganda have beautiful products to sell. But in the past, their remote location and limited access to transportation constrained their ability to sell these products locally.
When these artisans met with our founder Treana Peake, they developed a new plan that enabled them to reach larger markets in their own region, while developing avenues for international sales. This provides the women with an economic autonomy that is sustainable and separate from the purchases we make.
We could have simply purchased an assortment of bowls to bring back with us (which is what most buyers do). But the women would be no further ahead in their goal of financial independence. In fact, such arrangements often create complete dependence because a community stops working on their own initiatives to put their time and energy toward a single external revenue source.
Recognizing Local Opportunities
Through the Obakki Foundation, we also partner with a crafting cooperative of women who escaped the civil war in South Sudan . These remarkable women are rebuilding their lives inside the largest refugee settlement area in the world by working with their hands. In addition to their one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces that we bring to international markets, we’ve helped the women open a local tailor shop and textile training facility to secure commercial sewing projects in the area.
With proper training and supplies, the women can produce school uniforms and bedsheets for local hotels. By serving the local market, they are setting themselves up for success. And when we partner with communities like this one, we work together to reach markets so our artisan partners can create sustainable sales avenues. And sustainable markets allow them to focus on their craft, their families and their children. On a long-term basis.
At Obakki, we take pride in our Think Global, Act Local strategy. Not only do our artisan partners enjoy a sustainable local income that directly supports their community, but our customers around the world know that their purchase makes a difference in someone’s life.
SHOP ARTISAN-MADE PRODUCTS
The Making of: Akiliba Pots
The rural village of Akiliba, in Northern Uganda, is well off the beaten path. And it is home to a determined group of craftswomen who are using pottery as a way to sustain their whole community. These are the Potters of Akiliba.
Notes from the Field: Chiapas, Mexico
The southernmost state of Chiapas was calling – rich with textiles and pottery and indigenous craftwork true to the ancestors. The further from major urban centres, the less likely these talents will be advanced, as it is extremely difficult for these artisans to survive without access to markets. But that’s what we’re here for. So off I went.
DESIGNER INTERVIEW SERIES: Suzanne Dimma
A great design sense can be developed and nurtured. It isn’t something you’re necessarily born with. Many talented architects and designers, including my husband, are the sole designers in their families, so clearly it isn’t only genetic. It’s more about having a deep interest and passion and great powers of observation and then building on experience.