Artisans Rise to the COVID Challenge

Thursday, November 19, 2020


When COVID-19 hit communities across the world earlier this year, there was an immediate and overwhelming demand for PPE everywhere. While everyone struggled to find PPE for health workers and citizens, developing nations were hardest hit given the high costs of importing PPE, manufactured largely in China. In response, local small-scale manufactures across the world rose to meet the challenge, transforming small scale textile factories into PPE production centers. Many of these producers are artisan businesses who were struggling to hold onto jobs with economic shutdowns. This creative response of hundreds of resilient small artisan businesses is providing needed PPE, as well as providing life-saving jobs and income to families that need it most.

The Artisan Alliance is committed to supporting artisan businesses around the world. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Artisan Alliance partners have produced over 1 million PPE of different types, including cloth masks, surgical masks, and surgical gowns and employed more than 2,500 artisan producers. On Thursday, November 19th at 10:00am ET, join the Artisan Alliance to learn more about how artisan organizations are rising up to address the challenges of COVID-19 in their communities. Reema Nanavaty and Saira Baloch of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India, Virginia Mutheu of Shining Hope For Communities (SHOFCO) in Kenya, and Stephen Kithusi of RefuSHE in Kenya will join host Peggy Clark in conversation about the work their organizations have been doing in response to COVID-19.

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Reema Nanavaty

Reema Nanavaty has been working with the SEWA since over 35 years expanding its membership to over 1.5 million members, making it the single largest union of informal sector women workers. Reema facilitated rebuilding lives and livelihoods of 60000 earthquake affected rural women and 40000 riot-affected members. She is leading the rehabilitation programs in Afghanistan and in Srilanka; providing vocational training in rural livelihood security to war-affected widows. Reema oversees 4813 self-help groups (SHG), 160 co-operatives and 15 economic federations, pan India including 16 states, and also in 7 South-Asian countries, focusing on women’s economic empowerment by building women owned enterprises, building women led supply chains, introducing modern ICT-based tools and facilitating Green-Energy initiatives and livelihoods.

Saira Baloch

Saira Baloch has been a member of SEWA for the past thirty years. Saira’s story showcases her progress from a worker to a coordinator. Currently she looks after the Patan District – a hub of embroidery and stitching; and oversees 2500 embroidery artisans and 30 seamstress sisters. She looks after the entire apparel supply chain; the craft cycle right from cut to finish (both of stitching and embroidery); meets buyers and brings-in orders too! Besides this Saira also leads the young-generation clothing label – Harkhi; which prepares apparel, fabric, home furnishings and accessories spun from natural cotton making it an affordable and sustainable brand. Saira is an invitee member of the SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre – a company where artisans themselves are the producers, owners, shareholders and managers.

Virginia Mutheu

Virginia had been doing community development work for several years in Kibera before joining SHOFCO in 2012. She currently works with Women as a SHOFCO Women Empowerment Coordinator. She is a Livelihoods trainer and a mental health champion. Previously has worked with youths and in Group Savings & Loans for 4 years. She holds a higher diploma in Human Resources and a diploma in Project management. She is a member of the Association of Business Executives. She loves working with the community, particularly training adults. Her satisfaction comes from seeing changes in the community, which eradicate poverty and empower the people. She believes the best way to bring about these changes is from within the community itself. Outside of her career, Virginia enjoys Yoga, talking and adventure.

Stephen Kithusi

Stephen Kithusi is the Business Development Manager for the Artisan Collective, a RefuSHE social enterprise project that provides young refugee women in Nairobi an opportunity to learn vocational skills and produce unique artifacts for sell, for the local and international markets. In his current role, he is providing leadership in developing strategies for scaling up the RefuSHE social enterprise. Part of his work involves market traction/product visibility, new products development, client relationship development, Kenya and East Africa sales coordination, international sales exports, shipping management, and oversee production and systems of the Artisan Collective. Stephen also provides leadership in equipping the young women of RefuSHE on existing livelihood opportunities in microbusiness. This involves business education training, vocational training, social enterprise apprenticeship, partnership building with potential employers in the job market, and business coaching in the community.