From the Ground Up: Capacity Building in Ethiopia
For our Fall 2015 line, we are excited to introduce a new jewelry partnership in Ethiopia. Our collection of upcycled artillery pieces from Ethiopia has been a Noonday favorite since the very beginning, and as demand has grown for these unique pieces we have been able to expand from working with one Ethiopian business to two!
The Ibrahim Necklace, one of the first pieces from our new Ethiopian partnership.
Last summer, we began the process of helping this new artisan business grow and develop through capacity building initiatives. Our Manager of Production and Sourcing, Tamara Aklilu, spent several weeks on the ground in Ethiopia and has been instrumental in providing the group with training and support. Read on to hear more from Tamara about how we work to grow artisan businesses like this one through fair trade principles.
As Noonday’s Manager of Production and Sourcing, one of my favorite things is getting to work with our artisan partners to help them create pieces our customers will love. We know that so many of our customers, Hostesses, and Ambassadors have personal connections to the beautiful country of Ethiopia – whether they’ve visited and fallen in love with the culture, adopted a child from Ethiopia, or know someone who has. Our new partnership is another great way for our community to support women in Ethiopia and help them build strong families!
The women who create our newest Ethiopian pieces are emerging from dire situations where they were at high risk for giving their children up for adoption. Today they have the opportunity to learn job skills and have steady employment, enabling them to keep their families together.
Our partnership began in the summer of 2014, when we started a conversation with a non-profit organization called Ellilta-Women at Risk (EWAR). EWAR works to create meaningful opportunities for women in vulnerable situations, with a focus on women working in the commercial sex industry. In the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa there are over 150,000 women working in prostitution. EWAR partners with these women to give them a way out through a job and life skills training program. The women also receive free counseling and emotional support as they transition out of life in the sex industry.
When we began partnering with EWAR, they were training women to become weavers. For our Fall 2015 collection, we teamed up with them to create our Amhara Scarf, which featuring traditional Ethiopian motifs. As we worked alongside EWAR, we saw the opportunity to partner with these women to expand our popular upcycled artillery collection. We began working with EWAR’s leadership to develop a brand new jewelry-making track in their program.
Working to train the new group of jewelry-makers in Addis
We knew that creating jewelry could be a great option for many of the women in the program. It requires less time to learn than the labor-intensive craft of weaving, and is easier for adults with no previous training to tackle. Weaving comes naturally to many of the Artisans around the world that we partner with – they learn the craft at a young age and it is deeply rooted in their culture. For many of the women coming through EWAR’s program, however, it proved to be a difficult skill to learn and required a serious time commitment.
So in the summer of 2014, I traveled with my husband Esayas, who is Ethiopian himself, to visit the business in Addis. We were already familiar with the materials and sources we would be working with because we had founded and developed Noonday’s first Ethiopian partner business to create opportunity for women living with HIV.
The women begin to learn the craft of jewelry making.
Our goals for the trip were to assess the business’ needs, explore the volume of orders we could make with them, and invest in local leaders, equipping them to manage the operations of the business. When we arrived in Addis, technical capacity building began. Noonday contributed tools and jewelry findings from the United States and funded the original set of Ethiopian artillery beads to begin skills training with 12 women.
Esayas and I quickly built rapport with the women, who laughed and enjoyed hearing me explain names of traditional beads and beading techniques in Amharic, the official Ethiopian language. For many of these city–dwellers, traditional beads from the rural areas were new. Many of these women had experienced frustration in learning to weave. They were thrilled that they could learn basic jewelry skills in a few days and create a full piece in an hour, whereas scarves take an entire day to make after you’ve mastered the skill. By the end of the week, all of the women had won prizes for various design competitions such as most creative designs, cleanest wire wrapping on earrings, tightest knotting, best dimension compliance, etc. It was a fun way to engage them in the training process and congratulate them on tackling a new skill!
Proud of their newfound skill! They worked hard to master the techniques we showed them.
In addition to training the women, one key aspect of the capacity building process was connecting the EWAR staff with the upcycled artillery bead suppliers in Ethiopia. We brought bead suppliers from the countryside together with EWAR staff to discuss how Noonday’s commitment to building a flourishing world extends to each link of the supply chain, from bead makers to jewelry assemblers to artisan business staff to Ambassadors to customers. We expressed the importance of clear and honest communication, being fair to each other in price negotiations, and supporting each other in our mutual goals.
When we sent our first full order to the business, they were able to add ten more women to their group on a part-time basis to help them complete Noonday’s orders! These women will be next in line to be offered full-time, permanent positions as the group continues to grow. It’s beautiful to see the original 12 women I spent time with become trainers to the new women who have come on. For many of these women, it is the first time in their lives they have believed that they were good at something; that they had something to offer. By empowering other women to succeed, they themselves are becoming empowered and confident in their own worth.
The women working hard to create a new life for themselves and their families.
We still have a long road to travel together as we work beside our Ethiopian partners. But the changes I have already seen among these women is amazing. They are seizing the opportunities offered to them and starting brand new lives. And we can’t wait to see what they are going to accomplish!
Thanks to Tamara for taking us behind the scenes to show us what capacity building looks like in practice. You can support the work these amazing women are doing by purchasing their pieces, hosting a Trunk Show, or becoming an Ambassador!