Catama Borneo

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Catama Borneo: Contemporary Craft Development for Indigenous Rural Communities in Borneo

Rural Communities, MalaysiaKuching, Malaysia
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Catama Borneo works with indigenous communities to develop contemporary accessories and interior design products using traditional craft practices.
We aim for preservation through innovation, empowering communities with pride in their indigenous knowledge and ultimately improving quality of lives.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we could preserve indigenous craft through contemporary design innovation and ensure economic stability for the Artisans
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Rural communities in Borneo are facing economic hardship, their indigenous craft and knowledge is being endangered and are struggling to sustain their cultural identity. Craft production can provide entrepreneurial opportunities but urban migration, deforestation, and knowledge loss jeopardise sustainability of rural communities. A lack of high quality products and imported cheap low-quality tourist craft in turn deny them access to the market.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Catama Borneo address these issues by working with rural communities to develop contemporary craft products which utilise their traditional skills. The exquisite accessories and luxurious interior design range are targeted at the high-end international commercial market. - Product development: Trend setting, R&D, Introduce new designs, materials, functions - Community Development: Training/skill development, Encourage knowledge transfer, Provide economic incentive. Recognition of artisan status - Market Development: Network with commercial and hospitality industry- generate sales and contract orders Niche market- high-quality, luxurious products, avoid tourist market - Branding and Marketing: Develop brand ‘narrative’.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Its early evening and laughter can be heard from the old longhouse- a traditional wooden dwelling home to 13 families. Women sit preparing the natural fibres they collected from the jungle earlier that day. They plait the fibres together, slowly threading and interlacing the strands to make intricate, beautiful craft designs passed down from their mothers and their mothers’ mother before them. This craft was endangered but now they make contemporary design products to be sold in boutiques around the world. They laugh and smile, content to know that they can send their children to school, buy books and clothing and one day pass these traditional skills on to their children and ensure that their story continues for many generations to come.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Catama Borneo already has a number of craftmakers working with us and has the potential to positively affect the lives of many more rural communities in Borneo. Already community members say they are happy to be utilising their skills, creating new innovative products and receiving training and skills development. Key indicators to ensure we are making positive change for these communities include number of weavers (before/ after), income from craft production (before/after), skill set, number/ scale of products, figure for urban migration/ return to communities Working alongside craft makers we are developing strong, trusting relationships and have seen the positive impact of empowering communities through their cultural heritage. In time we hope to expand our activities to other communities and enable them to enjoy the benefits of utilising traditional crafts for contemporary design.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

There is huge potential within Borneo to develop Artisan crafts. Working with our communities we have developed specialised strategies and methodologies, which we hope to adapt for other rural communities in Borneo. By proving the economic potential and social advantages of developing indigenous crafts we hope to assisting in positively changing local and national policy towards craft development in rural communities. Creating esteem for Borneo arts can encourage knowledge transferal and ultimately the survival of a dying craft, whilst actively discouraging urban migration.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Our research has identified a niche in market and we are creating prototype accessories and interior design products. Using online platforms, social media and blogs and media we are already B to C selling our first product range. We are also developing our B to B distribution chains in the hospitality industry, specifically for boutique hotels and service apartments as well as high-end Malaysian department stores to get larger sustainable orders.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are a number of craft agencies and producers working in Borneo however these companies target the low-to-mid range tourist sector and don’t value the importance of trend forecasting or exploiting technical platforms to sell online and build a customer base. Catama has a fashion-forward high-end market focus, understand the importance of the brand ‘narrative’, customers needs and strategies to maximise reach. We profit share with our Artisans and provide training allowance, materials and skill development to ensure empowerment and support from our most valuable assets our craftmakers.

Founding Story

Trekking through the dense forests and mountains of Borneo you come across isolated indigenous communities. By modern standards they do not have many worldly goods- they live in sparsely furnished wooden communal dwellings, without easy access to shops, medical assistance and other infrastructure we take for granted. And yet of all the places I’ve travelled, these rural communities are some of the most generous, loving and open people I’ve ever met. They are also extremely talented craftspeople, acutely aware that their way of life is changing and wanting to preserve it. We realised with the right support and development we could help these communities make beautiful, commercially viable products and help them to keep their art alive.


We are a small organisation, our founders work full-time with freelance collaborators. As we grow we hope to recruit more staff who share our passion and vision Catriona Maddocks, Founder: Product & Community Development Amalina Arip, Founder: Business Management, PR & Market Development Kampung Siba, Indigenous Craft Community: 20 female Craftsmakers Freelance: Tailor, Product Development, Travel/Logistics Coordinator, Research/Translator.
About You
Catama Borneo
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Catama Borneo

How long has your organization been operating?

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Organization Country

, SR, Kuching

Country where this project is creating social impact

, SR, Rural Communities

Funding: How is your project financial supported?


Awards: What awards or honors has the project received?

In 2014 we were awarded the British Council- Arthur Guinness Projects 'Social Entrepreneur for Good' Award in Malaysia.

Where have you learnt about the competition?

I was invited to attend the Makers of More conference in London.

Tell us about your partnerships:

Craft Partners:
Product makers
Craft specialists
Government agencies
NGOs (Comm Dev. Heritage preservation, craft regeneration, fair trade)
Trade show organisers
Research facilitators
Education institutes

Product partners:
Designers/ Product specialists
Interior design firms
Hospitality industry
Retailers/ Department stores

Media Partners:
Online commercial platforms, social media, bloggers,
Media, PR firms

Challenges: What challenges might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Product timeframe/deadlines:
Hand-made production is time consuming. Implement strong quality control strategies so issues are resolved at earliest opportunity to ensure high-quality and streamlined production process.
Knowledge transfer:
By demonstrating economic security and financial incentives, younger generations can see entrepreneurial opportunities of craft.
Future strategies to be implemented:
Planting programme:
Ensure long term sustainability of natural resources.
Arts residency tourism programme:
Continuous skill upgrading and knowledge sharing and diversify economic channel