WomenCraft is a community-driven social enterprise that designs, produces and exports hand-woven home décor items made from natural fibers and vibrant fabrics of East Africa.
Operating from Ngara, Tanzania, within the post-conflict tri-border area of Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania, WomenCraft employs more than 300 rural East African women, who express their culture and talents to create products that are beautiful, functional, and durable. Our artisans advance themselves, raise stronger families, stimulate their local economies and inspire the world around them.
MISSION. and principles
WomenCraft’s mission is to increase economic opportunity in the post-conflict, refugee-impacted area of Northwestern Tanzania by bringing rural women together through a social enterprise, facilitating their growth and connecting their artistry to the global marketplace. Here are the principles that guide our mission every day:
Artisan-powered. Artisans are the driving force behind WomenCraft and the ultimate reason it exists. As artisan leaders gain skills, knowledge and economic independence, they assume greater levels of responsibility in the enterprise. Ultimately, WomenCraft aims to be completely artisan-owned and operated.
Fair. WomenCraft is a social enterprise operating under fair-trade principles. WomenCraft goes beyond fair trade wage scales to pay its artisans livable wages. WomenCraft is designed so that any profit from our sales is utilized for Social Impact projects, which benefit the artisans, their families and the communities in which they live.
Ethical. Our natural, hand-made products preserve cultural traditions and the local environment. The grasses and banana stalk used in production are cultivated locally; the fabrics are purchased in the local markets. WomenCraft revives the importance of basket weaving in the area by enabling women to pass on the basket weaving tradition to their daughters as an income generating opportunity.
Market-Driven. WomenCraft’s business model and product line are based on many years of experience of working in the global artisan sector and constant monitoring of market trends. We design, produce, market, and deliver high-quality, ethically made products that are functional and beautiful.
Peace-Centered. Rural women from three countries work as one organization with one common goal. These relationships reduce tensions between former refugees and refugee-hosting communities and build unity in a post-conflict region.
WHERE. we work
Our products are handmade in Mafigamatatu, East Africa – the tri-border area of Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. This extraordinary, rarely-visited part of the world is defined by green hills, river valleys and its distinctive culture. The two civil wars that plagued the area have resulted in refugee-impacted areas in need of development, and former refugees that yearn to rebuild their lives. Our operations are based out of Ngara district, Tanzania.
HOW. we started
WomenCraft began as an implementing partner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In 2004, UNHCR and its international development partners, through the generous support of the European Union, began a pilot project to map the needs of refugees in Tanzania, and to determine how to address those needs.
The Needs Assessment revealed a need “to improve the freedom of movement and the ability to achieve self-reliance” for refugee women and the need for “refugees to be given access to skills, capital and equipment” to enable them to establish “small scale industries within the settlements.”
WomenCraft’s founder, Ms. Heidi Christ, had been working with the UNHCR and with Lutheran World Federation to assist Burundian and Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. She found that local Tanzanian women faced the same economic and social challenges as refugee women: they had no way to earn a livable wage, yet felt the pressures of taking care of their families. They shouldered the responsibilities for their children’s education, the family’s health, farming, food preparation, and childcare. Decades of conflict and civil wars in the region had affected not only the refugees, but also had created local tension and obstructed local development. Yet, Burundian refugees and the Tanzanian host community possessed commonalities- a similar spoken language, similar cultural heritage and traditions and talented weaving skills.
During this work, the vision for WomenCraft was born: to bring the Burundian and Tanzanian women together through the shared goal of economic empowerment. The design capitalized on the weaving talents of both populations and built on their commonalities of language and culture while reducing post-conflict tensions. Women would build WomenCraft into their own social enterprise that would bring income, self-development and support for one another. The end result would be a better standard of living for themselves, their families and their communities.
With the financial assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Kingdom, WomenCraft got its start in August 2007. Since then, WomenCraft has grown into a dynamic, not-for-profit enterprise registered in Tanzania.