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Improving women’s wellbeing through the informal craft sector

Special Interest Programme / Partner story

Photo provided by Nest, Inc.

All around the world, craft work is done at home by millions of individuals. It includes work such as textile, clothing and food production, rope making, manual labour, beedi rolling, and carpet and cloth weaving. These craftsmen and women contribute immensely to the needs of their families and the communities in which they live. Unfortunately, their work goes unseen, is undervalued and poorly paid.

The majority of home-based craftworkers around the world generally work in unregulated conditions that make them vulnerable to exploitation, and this work is primarily done by women. In fact, craft is the second largest employer of women globally [1]. Nonetheless, handcraft work is particularly attractive to women since it gives them the ability to earn an income while caring for their children, and to keep earnings that would otherwise go to childcare and transportation.

The handcraft industry lags behind other sectors in terms of investment, innovation and development, and homeworkers typically lack the business acumen to grow their market presence. Rebecca van Bergen, founder and executive director of Nest, a US-based not-for-profit organisation that seeks to increase global workforce inclusivity, saw the potential to expand the opportunities of home-based craftworkers around the world.  Having grown up with a great-grandmother and grandmother who were quilters and sewers, Rebecca was drawn to craftsmanship as a means of self-expression, and an opportunity to help correct gender- and income-imbalances in the world.

“In 2020 and 2021, as we continue to work from our bedroom offices or kitchen tables, we must not forget the multitude of hands that have been working like this for generations,” says Rebecca. “We must emulate their resiliency, determination, and perseverance. And we must work harder for them.”

By bringing artisans, business solutions, and educational tools from leading industry experts, Nest provides artisans with the information needed to achieve economic viability and sustainability. With an emphasis on supporting communities in developing economies, Nest helps create a pipeline of export-ready businesses in these countries. At the same time, it partners with global companies to help them adopt policies to bring ethically produced, home-based production into their supply chains.

In March 2020, as Covid-19 began spreading around the world, it quickly became clear that the pandemic would have a significant impact on the artisan sector. In addition to the health and safety concerns surrounding production, brands and retailers started cancelling orders and artisan businesses were facing furloughs, layoffs, and shutdowns. Nest responded quickly launching a multi-pronged Covid-19-relief international effort. It launched relief support in the form of financing mask and personal protective equipment (PPE) production. Through this programme, 200,000 masks were donated to frontline workers. It also purchased nearly USD 50,000 worth of deadstock products from 17 artisan businesses. These purchases eased financial strains for businesses, and purchased products were donated to essential workers.

This grant falls under our Special Interest Progamme (SIP), which reflects the Trustees’ interests in making dynamic, diverse, large, innovative, and challenging grants. You can find out more about SIP here. You can find out about our 2020 Covid-19-focused grants here. Watch this video on Nest here  and check out its website here.

[1] Nest, Inc., The State of the Handworker Economy 2018 (Accessed 09-11-2021)