31 Bits is a business using fashion and design to empower women to rise above poverty by equipping them with the tools to earn a sustainable income. They currently work with 108 women in Gulu, Uganda. They work with each woman by purchasing jewellery from her on a monthly basis, providing a consistent income. They will work with the woman until she has graduated from the from the programme and attained a sustainable means of income in her community. The programme includes finance training, vocational training, community groups, AIDS and health education and English and literacy lessons.
A reader, Vivi, is working on launching a dream project and wanted advice for budding entrepreneurs in the ‘Afri-sphere’. As the blog gradually moves from focusing on providing creative inspiration to also providing business inspiration and resources, I thought I’d share my response to Vivi in the form of a post.
Great things happen when women come together
In a little over a week, the 2013 Women of the World Festival at London's Southbank Centre begins. Last year was my first experience of WOW and I listened to a myriad stimulating talks, I spoke and shared ideas, learned that I'm funny and embraced my reticent inner fashionista! I'm incredibly excited about doing it all again and this year's line-up of events is even more enticing than before.
Having spent a few weeks at home in Nairobi, Kenya; having seen all the potential and opportunities for handicraft enterprises and; having seen that the opportunities are primarily exploited by foreigners, I can't be happier to share news of Craft Afrika's new business incubation program.
The Southbank Centre's Women of the World Festival returns this month to coincide with International Women's Day on Thursday 8th March. Celebrating the formidable strength and inventiveness of women, there is an even more exciting line-up of activities, talks, debates and performances than last year.
I have to admit, I have never really watched a Nollywood movie. At least not from start to finish. I first came across them whilst at university where Nigerian friends (and Kenyan ones who had already fallen under the influence) would pass me some from their vast collections. Increasingly since then, I have noticed them in more and more places. They come as part of my home TV satellite package; they are part of the in-flight entertainment on my flights to and from Kenya; they are one of the most popular sources of entertainment in Kenya ; and now in the UK (and I suspect in the US and many other countries) they are also breaking into the mainstream.
Last week I attended the inaugral Manchester Design Symposium (MDS), an event great for inspiration and rejuvenating creativity. As far as I could see though, I was the only black person in an auditorium of hundreds and it’s likely that I was the only African too.
It had me questioning why. Is it geography? Are there just not enough black/African designers and people interested in design who live in Manchester/who heard about the event/who were willing to pay for the event? Or does it have something more to do with our culture? Are there just not that many black/African people who are exposed to design as being a viable profession or worse, are there just not enough black/African people willing to go against the grain enough to pursue a career in the creative industry?
Last week, weareasilia.com launched. The product of a successful working partnership with a friend, a commitment by both of us to do what we love and, in many ways, the cumulation of our respective experience, learning and ambitions up to this point.
My favourite part of launch preparation, aside from knowing that my passion for creating and communicating is what will sustain me, was putting together our credo. Defining our own rules and creating the opportunity for ourselves to do things differently.
From our 'informal' work culture … our team resides in different locations with 2 out of 3 of us working from home. That means that we have incredible flexibility, making it easier to balance work and life. My business partner and I probably do work longer hours than we did when employed but, because we enjoy it and because it's on our own terms, it feels less like work and more like an enjoyable pastime. To our firm stance when it comes to working with people who share our values. We have already had to turn down clients who we felt were not considerate enough for us to be able to successfully work together in achieving their goals. It was a difficult decision but, when we weighed the stress we'd have to go through against the value the experience would add to us – as people and as a business – it wasn't worth it.
One thing I do wonder about is when the test will come that will threaten to compromise our values and our approach. I try to imagine what form it will take. Will it be a project that will seem too good to refuse, only for us to discover the hidden costs to our wellbeing (and that of others)? Will it be the otherwise amazing client who expects to see us in suits?
I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes: "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes."
Thoreau testifying that not staying true to yourself may have unsavoury consequences.
Asilia is just that. An opportunity for me to be myself and give others the opportunity to assert themselves, spread their gifts and share their passions with the world. There is a school of thought that believes that enterprise, business, is the most effective path to development. I'm inclined to agree with the proviso that we're talking about considered and considerate business. Considerate to all involved: staff, suppliers, customers, clients, users, contractors, family, environment and never forgetting, self. Then we're looking at the whole picture of development.
Imagine a continent of self-loving, considerate and enterprising Africans …
Images: the Asilia team – Kevin, Lulu and Andrew. Illustrations by Lulu, copyright Asilia.