Indego Africa

Improving Livelihoods and Building Sustainable Artisan Businesses in a New Context

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Between 2002 and 2008, international trade in artisan goods nearly doubled.

UNCTAD

The Challenge

Research has shown that developing countries have a comparative advantage in the artisan sector because of their rich cultural heritage and crafts. Forty-nine percent of world exports of creative goods come from developing economies.

Despite this enormous potential, the sector remains fragmented and untapped as a source of income generation, job creation, and economic growth for impoverished communities around the globe.

Given rising international demand for artisan-made goods, Ghana — with its rich and diverse artisan sector — is well positioned to capitalize on this global trend. Artisans in Ghana, however, need access to markets, business skills, financial tools, quality control, and design training to fully participate in global value chains.

Addressing the Challenge

Indego Africa expanded from Rwanda into Ghana in 2015–2016 to help artisans bring their handmade goods to market on a fair-trade basis, improve their livelihoods, and develop sustainable businesses.

Indego Africa first conducted detailed research, analysis, and due diligence to identify the most promising craft-making regions and techniques, and then launched its Market Access program.

While many of the constraints to developing the artisan sector were similar between Rwanda and Ghana (making market access and education components transferable and scalable), there were also some key differences between the two countries. While in Rwanda Indego Africa had benefitted from pre-existing, export-ready artisan cooperatives established by the government, in Ghana, artisans tended to work more on their own or in loosely structured groups. This posed a challenge to Indego Africa’s model, which necessitated additional and intensive work to encourage artisans to work together in cohesive groups to fulfill high-volume orders, streamline the production process, and mitigate quality control issues.

The case example described below demonstrates how Indego Africa partnered with one woman, Mavis Adongo, to help her start and run an artisan business in Kumasi, Ghana. It serves as a micro-study of Indego Africa’s country expansion process, which involved adapting and iterating its model to achieve intended outcomes. Ultimately, through a combination of export market access, technical and quality control training, business education, and start-up resource provision, Indego Africa helped eight young women in Ghana secure steady employment and improve their livelihoods.

Building an Artisan Cooperative

When conducting market research about Ghanaian crafts, Indego Africa determined that woven bolga baskets would likely appeal to and help expand its international customer base. However, Indego Africa could not find any existing bolga basket weaving groups in the Kumasi area. They did, however, find Mavis Adongo, who could serve as a champion and leader of a bolga basket weaving cooperative. Mavis was working at a broad-looming workshop to earn income to support her family, but she said it wasn’t the work she wanted to do.

While Mavis wanted to start her own bolga weaving cooperative, she was struggling to amass enough capital to start her own business, as well as to find other individuals interested in working with her.

Mavis began her work with Indego Africa one piece at a time, making sample baskets designed by Indego Africa’s Creative Director. Indego Africa was impressed by Mavis’ skills and her finished products, and Mavis became a full production partner. However, as a lone individual, Mavis was unable to produce at the speed or volume needed to fill Indego Africa’s orders. So, the organization worked with Mavis to help her start her own bolga basket weaving cooperative in Kumasi.

Indego Africa provided Mavis with the essential start-up resources needed to get her weaving cooperative off the ground, including a year’s worth of rent and pre-treated bolga straw (the process of treating bolga straw for weaving is highly time-consuming and involves rolling out each individual strand to make it pliable).

With these resources, and the promise of Indego Africa’s orders, Mavis set out to recruit other young women to join her bolga weaving cooperative.

Forming an Artisan Business

In July 2016, Mavis recruited five other young women to join her artisan cooperative. Of these women, the majority (four) had originally migrated to Kumasi from Bolgatanga in search of better work opportunities. What they found, however, was an oversaturated job market with few wage-earning opportunities, especially for individuals without higher education.

When asked about the work opportunities available to women in Ghana, members of the bolga cooperative listed hairdressing, hawking goods (predominantly foodstuffs) in the street, and dishwashing as the primary options. These activities do not provide consistent income and are insufficient for women to support themselves or their families.

The women had been unable to find a job and many had attempted to sell goods, including pastries and soap, on their own. Others had been entirely unemployed. While most had learned the craft of bolga weaving as children, none had ever considered it as a marketable skill or viable career path.

When asked why she chose to join the cooperative, co-op member Linda Alorizi said,

“Mavis Adongo introduced the group to me and immediately I was motivated to join because I already had the skills I needed to make baskets. I realized I could make some money to survive. I could not sustain the pastry-making business I had tried to start because I lacked the necessary funds.”

- Cooperative member Linda Alorizi, on why she chose to join the basket-weaving group.

Increased Earnings

  • By herself, Mavis could produce, on average, five baskets per month. As of April 2017, her cooperative produced 28–30 baskets per month.
  • In 2017, the bolga basket weaving cooperative earned close to US$2,200. In the first 11 months of 2018, the cooperative has earned approximately US$2,700.
  • Mavis’ cooperative now has eight members and in January 2017, Indego Africa helped launch a second bolga weaving cooperative. Together, the two groups are producing about 20 different product designs.
  • Currently, Indego Africa partners with 33 wholesale clients that carry Indego’s bolga products, including Goop, One Kings Lane, and Midland.

Before partnering with Indego Africa, the members of the bolga weaving cooperative were earning, on average, 40 Ghanaian cedis, or US$9.30 per month through part-time, unreliable work. They were struggling to find consistent employment and were unable to comfortably support themselves and their families. By April 2017, they were steadily employed and fulfilling consistent orders for Indego Africa, earning US$74 per month on average, which since then,  has increased to US$245 per month.

“Working with Indego has been great and very helpful. We have constant orders coming in and this helps us get more money. As a result of this partnership, I now have a steady job and am able to work even though I have a small baby.”

- Gloria Ayinpoka, cooperative member

“I have learned how to work on a team and I now realize that bolga baskets can be made in various designs and colours that make them attractive and marketable.”

- Nsoh Adompoka, cooperative member

Indego Africa is supplementing this on-the-job business learning by helping the artisans of the bolga weaving cooperative enroll in its Basic Business Training program in Kumasi. So far, three of the artisans have enrolled and are applying the lessons they learn to improve the management and productivity of their co-op.

Bringing New Groups to Scale

Indego Africa faced some challenges with bringing its bolga cooperative partnership to scale.

  • The bolga co-op has struggling to fulfill orders fast enough to meet growing international demand due to the craft’s highly time-intensive nature and the cooperative’s relatively small size.
  • Because the bolga co-op was still relatively new, its members were hesitant to commit to working at the co-op full-time to mitigate perceived risk. Even though the bolga cooperative is able to provide steady employment to its members, some of the women have chosen to keep their side jobs.
  • Throughout the partnership, Mavis struggled to find more young women  willing to join the cooperative. Many women from Bolgatanga are not interested in pursuing weaving as a career. They saw it as a remnant of their Northern upbringing, which they left behind to pursue new opportunities in Kumasi.

Indego Africa will need to help Mavis to amplify her recruitment efforts to ensure her business can be sustainable in the long term. Since the partnership has ended, Mavis’ cooperative has grown to eight members. She is also training an additional group of 100 women in Kumasi. Indego Africa will also continue to provide market access and vocational training to further build the artisans’ skills so they can participate in the export market through Indego Africa and, eventually, on their own.

Indego Africa found that it was both possible and highly effective to support artisans in Ghana to access international markets.

Outcomes

The success of the project stemmed from Indego Africa’s combination of export market access, US-based design, technical and quality control training, and start-up resource provision. Establishing a close working relationship between Indego Africa’s Ghanaian staff and artisan partners throughout the project meant that as issues arose, Indego Africa’s team could quickly address them as trust had been built.

In just a short period of time, the artisans significantly improved their livelihoods and generated substantial and growing international demand for their products.

US$245

Present earnings per month (November 2018)

US$9.30

Prior to joining cooperative (August 2016)

The story of Mavis and her bolga cooperative is an example of how Indego Africa has adapted its model to the Ghanaian context and successfully built up artisan enterprises. It sheds light on the kinds of training, support, and resource provisions required to successfully work with locally led businesses to enable them to secure and fulfill orders for international export markets.

Since the fall of 2015, Indego Africa has designed and tested 60 different Ghanaian-made products for its product line. In 2016, products made in Ghana generated US$29,418 in sales, seven percent of Indego Africa’s total sales. In the first four months of 2017, products made in Ghana tallied US$14,583, representing 11 percent of Indego Africa’s total sales.

Indego Africa’s bolga cooperative project proves that artisans in Ghana can attract the attention of major buyers and generate handicraft export orders.

This case study is one piece of Indego Africa’s larger mission and programs in Ghana. The organization is also planning to form new artisan cooperatives in the Kumasi area and other regions in Ghana based on market demand and artisan needs — starting with a new sewing cooperative in Tamale, Northern Ghana.

In the long term, Indego Africa plans to scale up its programs and number of beneficiaries in Ghana to make a sizeable impact on the artisan sector, unlock its potential for income generation and employment in marginalized communities, and ensure national export and poverty reduction goals are met.