Industree Foundation strives to enable cross-cultural exchange within the creative manufacturing sector whenever possible. To that end, in July 2017, Industree hosted a study tour for 15 women artisans from Rwanda, in partnership with Women for Women International. This was part of Women for Women Rwanda’s social and economic empowerment program, which gives marginalised women opportunities to learn business and vocational skills. These women receive valuable support to start saving money, establish cooperatives, and build associations. Working alongside their peers means they can share their experiences and build solutions together for common challenges.
The purpose of the study tour was to enable these women to learn new skills and gain exposure to international markets. For many of them, this was also the first time they had ever left Rwanda, so there was a lot of information to process upon arrival in Bangalore!
Of course, the women came to India with their own rich skills, including weaving, bead work, tailoring, and sculpture. They also had their own approach to digital financial literacy. As they often cater to international customers, most of them have learned how to look up the latest exchange rates on their mobile phones and convert their prices into U.S. dollars, and were surprised that in India this was not a common practice.
In Karnataka, the women explored crafts as diverse as wooden toys in Channapatna and embroidery in Mandya, at the women producer-owned unit that Industree Foundation has recently incubated and trained. Especially in Mandya, the artisans were eager to exchange their deep knowledge of different crafts. Some of the women from Rwanda even sat down and started embroidering alongside the locals!
A visit to the Rural Development Trust in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, was equally inspiring, as Rwandan woman learned from differently abled women working to create and sell handmade products to support themselves. Many of the women at RDT were stigmatized in their home villages because of disabilities ranging from missing limbs to Down’s syndrome to speech impediments, but at RDT, they have an opportunity to flourish. Some have even started sending money home to help support their families.
They were excited to share their craft knowledge with the visitors from Rwanda; so much so that it was difficult to end the visit! The women exchanged gifts with one another, and on the long bus ride back to Bangalore the artisans from Rwanda were abuzz with ideas about what they had seen at RDT, and how they planned to share the stories they had uncovered once they returned home.
It was a privilege for Industree Foundation to have hosted this incredible cross-cultural exchange. The opportunity to interact and share crafts and stories on an international scale is often restricted to a select few, which is why this was such a unique moment for everyone involved. The women in Mandya and Anantapur also got the chance to interact with people from a similar socioeconomic background, but who come from another continent. The study tour proved to be a true example of what collaboration across the Global South could look like, and gave everyone a glimpse of the possibilities of sharing strategies for inclusive growth across borders.
In the long term, Industree is planning to strengthen its relationships with organisations across East Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, where the focus will be on leveraging existing cotton value chains for inclusive growth.