Technology is Gold: WACIP Artisans Take the Next Step to Autonomy with the Internet

The SIAO design seminar is about to begin

The WACIP artisans wait for the design seminar to begin.

After five years of work and commitment in support of USAID West African Cotton Improvement Program (WACIP) to add value to cotton products and the artisanal textile value chain in the C-4 countries, Aid to Artisans (ATA) successfully expanded income-generating opportunities for the craft sector in West Africa. By enhancing strategic market access, improving product collections and building business management capacity, 20 artisan enterprises from Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad, have generated a total of $1.9 million in sales. As ATA’s involvement comes to an end, the WACIP artisans learned how to maintain relationships with local and international buyers, develop product designs independently through the use of the internet.

Sophie Sauzéat and Ursula Kohnen, USAID/WACIP Programs Coordinator

Sophie Sauzéat and Ursula Kohnen, USAID/WACIP Programs Coordinator.

In an effort to guarantee sustainability of the program, ATA conducted a design innovation seminar led by Sophie Sauzéat, ATA’s design consultant, to provide product reviews and design development through basic internet training. Eight artisans groups participated in the seminar. USAID WACIP provided seven computers for the artisans to use during the seminar.

During the course of three days, Sauzéat held individual meetings with each participating group to recommend product development plans, identify potential market niches and outline possible marketing activities. Through a special Facebook page called Artisans Journal, she presented slideshows illustrating design and market trends and other relevant market information. The artisans were shown how to utilize the internet to find inspiration, visit museums virtually, create new concepts, build connections, share experiences and exhibit their work.

“As a designer in France, I have easy access to libraries, museums, stores, TV, fairs and so on to help develop my skills. In my 20 years of working in Africa, I’ve observed that some of the artisans started going to cyber cafes or investing in technological tools for day to day communications. I then decided to use the internet to help them obtain the resources they need to enlarge their design and product portfolio. I created Artisans Journal so that the artisans could easily have access to up-to-date information on trends and designs from distance as the program comes to an end.”

A preview of the Artisans Journal

A preview of the Artisans Journal.

Through Facebook, the artisans created their own profiles to visit Artisans Journal. Sauzéat believes that this will encourage the artisans to stay current, exchange ideas, and improve product collections.  Because connection to the internet is often costly, Artisans Journal serves as a convenient, efficient, and user-friendly way to access information online.

Since then, the artisans have developed more than 150 new designs independently that generated about $95,000 in sales in 2013. Some even decided to invest in technological gadgets like iPads, laptops, and cellphones and plan on taking additional computer courses back at home. The artisans are confident that with the “gold” they’ve obtained in the past five years they have the means to make great strides in their business success and improvement of their communities independently.

 

For more information about the ATA’s involvement in the USAID West African Cotton Improvement Program (WACIP), please contact our Senior Program Manager, Maud Mabika: maudm@creativelearning.org