The following piece is a guest post by Malerie Thiel from Global Goods Partners, an organization that works with artisan communities to bring beautiful handmade products to US consumers.
By Malerie Thiel
It’s no secret that poverty affects communities across the world, especially women and children in the Global South. This high rate of poverty can be explained by a lack of resources necessary to rise out of it, such as marketable skills, access to childcare, and even basic needs such as food and clean water. Some women are able to find work in artisan communities, but these groups are often unable to reach consumers who can afford to pay the artisans a living wage. This is where Global Goods Partners comes in.
Global Goods Partners is a non-profit organization that specializes in partnering with artisan communities in the Global South and providing access to the US market. We work with nearly 40 associations, cooperatives and social enterprises worldwide that integrate their commitment to community development—such as improvements in education, health, women’s rights, and employment opportunities—with socially responsible income-generating programs in craft development. GGP works exclusively through local organizations, so none of the work disrupts the community or negatively affects other artisans trying to make a living. This way the focus is entirely on the needs of the community; not building a foreign business that competes with other impoverished citizens.
Our development model centers on supporting local women leaders and democratically governed organizations; promoting empowerment through economic development; and reaching the most marginalized populations. GGP provides technical assistance, product development, operational expertise and small capacity building grants to our community based partners. With this support, GGP is empowering women to create sustainable change—advancing the health and wellbeing of their families and communities.
Each of the groups we work with must meet certain criteria before we enter into a partnership. Above all, they must follow fair trade practices, which means providing fair living wages and safe and healthy working conditions. In addition to offering sustainable jobs and income, we look for each of our partners to demonstrate fiduciary responsibility, high quality standards and effective management of their operations. Understandably, some of our partners need support in these areas and GGP provides a wide range of training targeted to our partners’ specific needs including technical assistance, product development, operational expertise and small capacity building grants. Every dollar that is not spent in marketing, shipping, and overhead, is cycled straight back into the community, providing economic empowerment and a healthy lifestyle for the deserving artisans.
GGP sponsors several communities dedicated to using traditional practices to create modern products, providing them with the chance to celebrate heritage while supporting themselves and their families. An example of this is the Tigmi Bag Association, located in the small, southern village of Tigmijjou, Morocco. Citizens of Tigmijjou found their primary source of income by weaving mats from water reed, a practice that goes back hundreds of years. However, with the invention of cheap plastic the market for woven mats disappeared, leaving the community with no outlet for their weaving and no income, until one member of the community figured out that the local weaving practice could be used to create fashionable market bags. This lead to the creation of the Tigmi Bag, which allowed artisans of Tigmijjou to continue using their traditional water reed weaving customs while creating a fashionable product and a new source of revenue.
Other communities incorporate traditional practices into their work as well, such as Rose Ann Hall Designs with grabado glass etching, the traditional weaving and dying practices of Maya Traditions, and African grass weaving of Gone Rural. Each of these partners form customary art into a marketable skill, creating a living for hundred of artisans.
Without income, without being economically empowered, women’s potential goes unrealized. Research shows and our experience supports the well-known truism that women direct their earning power to their family’s well-being, using almost of all the money they earn to advance their children’s health, nutrition and education. The inspiration to launch GGP came from the talented and tireless women we have met across the globe. We saw the opportunity to serve as the bridge between the western marketplace and the poor, often isolated communities where beautiful handmade products are made.
To shop our handmade, fair trade products and support hundreds of talented women throughout the Global South, please visit GlobalGoodsPartners.org. Any questions or comments can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeted to @GlobalGoods.