The past year has been an exciting time for all of us in the US. With the growing momentum for "Made in America", we have seen exciting products launch, new companies come out of the woodwork and old companies rebuild. It's a well-spirited momentum in the US - people are talking, people are engaged. While this movement is expanding and growing in popularity, it's easy for our international work to trail off into the dust.
So, why Africa?
Dsenyo has partnerships with artisans in both Malawi and Zambia - two neighboring countries with two similar characteristics:
Landlocked and over 85% of their labor force is agriculture
Below is a list of some of the many reasons why Africa is near-and-dear to our work.
1. Being landlocked has it's challenges particularly with international trade. Prices for shipping are expensive (as we have experienced), which impacts trade. So while other parts of the world are racing forward with trade, countries like Malawi are struggling to join the network.
2. Majority of labor force focused on agriculture leaves a country vulnerable to climate changes and trends. In Malawi, half of their exports are tobacco, and so with the decline in international tobacco prices and pressures to limit tobacco production, this crop is impacted. Zambia is dependent on the mining of copper. Their economy has experience growth, but there remains a vulnerability to changes in value for copper.
3. Malawi's economy heavily depends on economic assistance from organizations like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other individual donor nations. Malawi is 1 of 39 countries in the heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC), who are eligible to receive assistance from the IMF.
We won't be as bold to say that we are making vast changes in Malawi's economy, but our mission is to introduce artisans to the international markets and provide opportunities for social and economic change. Through the sale of fair trade gifts, artisans (particularly women) are becoming economically empowered.
4. Poverty is high in both Zambia and Malawi. Zambia is ranked #9 in the world with 60.5% of the population below the poverty line, while Malawi is ranked #12 at 54% of the population.
5. HIV/AIDS is a major killer. Malawi is ranked #9 in the world with a prevalence rate of 10.8% for HIV/AIDS, and over 1.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS; a position that leaves women in Malawi economically disempowered and socially excluded. In a recent blog, we talked about Mwayiwathu, a group of artisans afflicted by HIV/AIDS either personally or within their family. Dsenyo has worked with this group since Dsenyo's beginning, and we've seen promising results from our partnership. The women are able to purchase food for the family, send their children to school and more.
6. The people. Our founder fell in love with Malawi after living there for a year. When she returned to the U.S., she began Dsenyo to celebrate African textile and the culture that she experienced while living there. The same holds true with Zambia as we have established a beautiful relationship with partner organization Mulberry Mongoose.
So while we continue to see the growth and excitement of "Made in America", we also want to remember the empowerment of generating economic opportunity through the global marketplace.
To learn more about Dsenyo's social impact in Africa: Social Impact Reports
To make a purchase and support these artisans: Fair Trade Store