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Case Study: Making Handicrafts for Christ

Big or little. Shinny, bright or dull handicrafts can cover a broad range of products that can be created by a broad range of people and countries. But how can they be used as opportunities to glorify God?

The purpose of this post is to continue sharing observations, reflections and lessons learned as we visit and interact with different Business as Mission practitioners. We hope this sharing will spark youto get involvedThe Business as Mission (BAM) Journey is a program of immersion and observation. Participants are language and culture students. We then meet weekly to go through foundational Book passages and recent and relevant books on BAM. We discuss the theory in the books and then bi-weekly go out and visit BAM practitioners and businesses. We get to see, ask questions, observe and get a taste of the real challenge of making it work in this world - and then come back and discuss what we've seen. This note then relfects the case studies we write up after our visits. Our vision is that through this process our Father might raise up the next generation of entrepreneurs to set up profitable, sustaianbly and transformational businesses among the least-reached.

Market: Expats in-country, western and national tourists
Structure: Wholly owned foreign enterprise (WOFE). Husband/wife partners and one full-time and one part-time local employee. Indirect support from sending agency.
Champion: European with traditional M background but entrepreneurial bent. Lived in region for 10 years, four of them in rural areas directly with nomadic peoples. Presently live in capital city. Fluent in four languages
Business formation: Started 6-years ago when living among nomads. Brought in Swedish woman who was specialist with handicrafts and she set up initial structure, training and focus of program. Two years later, they took over running the program and made adjustments. Two years ago decided to make it an official business and registered a WOFE. Rules dictated that amount of investment capital required for registration was reduced by one-third if more than one investor, so both husband and wife invested. Goods are primarily marketed locally through a coffee shop that they catalyzed (helped start up but is locally owned and run) and a second one that just opened in another province (also locally owned and run). Primary market is expats in the area or expat or local tourists. Considering expanding to internet sales. Price margins for handicrafts very low, better margin on other items they generate (postcards, enlarged pictures, calendars).

Vision: Value-add business that fits in rural setting, allows access to nomadic peoples, generates real income for them and trains and equips transformed nationals to have value in these rural communities. The champions see themselves as starter-upper type people, do not necessarily want to grow it.

Story: While living and building relationships among nomadic people they came to understand their situation and needs. Saw an opportunity to improve their economic situation while using skills they already possessed. Brought in a specialist to set up the foundation of the project. Presently they work with 60 nomadic families. Program presently has them approaching the government officials for a region (Civil Affairs and Poverty Alleviation Bureaus) and presenting the project to them. The project design creates a natural focus on nomadic peoples (skills required, amount of income it generates). Government draws in potential participants, company holds a week-long training program that explains the conditions for participation, what is provided to the participants (raw wool, special materials, designs at cost), quality guidelines and process for collection and payment. Integral to the training is the sharing of chronological redemptive stories (orally- preferenced culture). Those who successfully complete the training are given a certification and told that they will only purchase goods from their certified people. If offered other handicraft goods, they refer them to other people who market handicrafts. With every new product idea, they have another opportunity to return to that community and do an additional training, and share more stories. Have full-time staff (transformed national from same people group as nomads) do the training. Have not yet seen fruit.

Lessons learned:
  • Product and interaction has to be perceived as valuable to the people and area
  • Intentional proclamation through chronological stories has been received and accepted as part of the training program
  • Importance of language for doing business, but deferring transformational story telling as national to national
  • Project design is critical with staying focused (generates only a little bit of income (so only attractive to poor), requires some wool handiwork experience/skills (so prefers nomads)).
  • Consistent, real business conducted through government channels has led to a positive relationship with authorities and even a validation that they are doing good things (they were recently invited by the government to participate in an exhibition)
  • Resistant people groups need long-term, value-added access
Future plans: Not sure of their role in this business in the future. Presently have a good balance between the demands of the business and their other obligations. Realize they are not gifted for maintaining and building up the business further.

Results: Recognized good work, good value to communities with which they desire to have access; from the government down to the participants. Allowed long-term access to these people and communities. Providing real economic value for 60 poor, nomadic families. Providing visionary work for one transformed nationalCatalyzed start-up of two nationally owned and operated coffee houses

Observations: Sounder design and implementation of a handicraft project than most – but still with no clear sales and marketing strategy No clear articulation of BAM philosophy, but heart objectives intentionally implemented in the project design No vision or desire to grow (contrary to our entrepreneurs who say – “if access and relationships with 60 is good, wouldn’t access to 100 or more be better?”). Seems to be primarily held back by not having staff whom are wired to grow and further organize the business. Smart project design intentionally and naturally allows them to stay focused on nomadic peoples – even working through the government. Have no idea on the economic sustainability of the coffee shops but applaud their efforts in catalyzing their formation without owning.

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posted by Justin Forman | 2.03.2009 - 5:54 PM


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