Maya Women's Cross Generational Economic Development

Maya Women's Cross Generational Economic Development

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

Indigenous women in Guatemala are poor because they do not have skills to find jobs in the formal sector. Girls do not complete their education because, when family resources are limited, priority is given to educating boys. This cycle of women's poverty continues from generation to generation. MayaWorks trains women and creates work so they become financially independent and able to support their families. When women earn an income, they invest 90% of it in their families. Sending their daughters to school becomes a priority. When girls finish high school they have more options for the future: They have skills to enter the formal job sector and continue their studies at the college level. If a woman is educated, her children will also be educated and, thus, the cycle of poverty ends.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Guatemala’s long history of civil and armed conflict has created a disparity among the indigenous people and greater Guatemalan community. Indigenous communities are typically located in rural areas, limiting access to work, education, healthcare and other such valuable resources. The statistics indicating impoverishment are staggering: six out of ten indigenous women are illiterate; the majority of households survive on less than $1 per day; 48% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Indigenous women are particularly vulnerable to the complex and gendered inconsistencies that an isolated geographic location fosters. They suffer from high domestic and agricultural workloads, lack of access to education and information, and lack of access to productive resources such as land and other economic outlets like jobs. Domestic violence also is prevalent but inaccessibility to independent financial support renders the women immobile. Thus a culture of inaccessibility, illiteracy, economic dependency, and discrimination is perpetuated. MayaWorks works with over 125 low income indigenous women in the central highlands of Guatemala. Their average age is 38 years old. 70% are Cakchiquel and 30% are Tzutujil. Seventy percent are from extremely poor and remote hamlets of the Chimaltenango and Sololá areas. MayaWorks artisans tend to marry very young and, on average, have six children. Many are single mothers working to support large families on their own. Most have not completed their primary education. Forty percent are illiterate.

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

MayaWorks is innovative and makes a contribution to women’s economic development for the following reasons: 1. MayaWorks operates within the principals of Fair Trade. Women are paid at or above the minimum wage in the local context and take part in decision making. The Guatemala operation is managed by indigenous women who understand the complexities of doing business in Guatemala, speak the artisans’ native language and live in the same communities. 2. MayaWorks has developed niche markets within the Jewish and Christian communities to include products such as kippot, tallitot, and clerical stoles. Meeting these market needs in the U.S. and abroad, has enabled MayaWorks to increase sales significantly and provide steady work for artisans. 3. The primary distribution channel for MayaWorks products is a nationwide network of 150 volunteers who want to help their sisters in the developing world achieve economic security. Not only do they generate 45% of sales revenue but they spread the word in their communities about our mission, recruit additional volunteers, provide consulting services and help secure grant funding. 4. MayaWorks directly manages and funds educational and microcredit opportunities for artisans and their families. Women receive workshops to develop business and leadership skills and are provided a 3-year literacy training program. Their daughters receive academic support such as tutoring and scholarships. MayaWorks also offers low-interest microloans so that artisans develop into entrepreneurs and have an alternative source of income.
Impact: How does it Work

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

MayaWorks creates work for indigenous women artisans in Guatemala. The MayaWorks social venture exists to open markets in the U.S. for the sale of traditional Guatemalan handicrafts. By selling their woven products, indigenous women have a source of income generated directly by their skills. This income allows women to provide better food for their families, send their children to school and take them to the doctor when they are sick. Being a fully contributing member of their household serves to increase artisans’ self-esteem as they ultimately improve the economic and social conditions of their communities. All MayaWorks artisans work from their homes. This allows them to be available to care for their children and elderly family members. On average women weave five hours per day making over 165 products for distribution through MayaWorks in the United States. Products are distributed through three primary channels: wholesale, retail online and through a network of U.S. women volunteers who sell on consignment in their communities. MayaWorks offers additional programming to support the economic development of indigenous women. Our microcredit program aids women in developing into entrepreneurs through microloans to start small businesses. Our comprehensive education program that includes literacy development, business administration and skills training, community tutoring centers as well as scholarships for artisans’ daughters provides women the skills they need to succeed in the workforce.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact

, CM

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

In 1992, a Maya woman who trusted MayaWorks founder, Pat Krause, came to her and said, “We know how to weave but we have no place to sell our goods. Could you help us?” Pat said she would try. She took a suitcase of woven placemats back to her church in Connecticut with the hope of opening a market for the work of poor Maya women in Guatemala. The weavings in that suitcase sold quickly and soon many suitcases were being carried back to the U.S. by various travelers to Guatemala.

Before long, larger shipments were arriving to be processed through customs and then distributed to volunteers for selling. As U.S. sales increased, additional weavers were employed and the range of artisan products broadened. By 1994, sales had increased to $23,000. Buyers in the U.S. were excited that their purchases directly supported the development of poor Mayan communities.

Each succeeding year brought more volunteer vendors to MayaWorks, generating sales all over the U.S. In 1996 a Board of Directors was established and MayaWorks was incorporated as a 501(c)3 corporation. By 1997, MayaWorks was able to support two part-time paid staff: a Guatemala based coordinator and a U.S. based operations manager. The volume of sales generated enough income to pay artisans a fair market price for their products, generated on-going work for them, and created funding for special products. Today, MayaWorks generates $360,000 in sales annually, supports tutoring centers in five communities, provides 125 scholarships annually, and funds 26 microloans for alternative income generating projects.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

Success is measured by our ability to provide ongoing work for indigenous women. MayaWorks has built a business model that has evolved over time from solely volunteer-driven sales to also include wholesale distribution and online retail sales. MayaWorks also has developed niche markets within the Jewish and Christian communities to include products such as kippot, tallitot, and clerical stoles. These broader market opportunities have enabled MayaWorks to increase sales significantly and to provide over $2,000,000 in earnings to 125 artisans in Guatemala and $200,000 in support of charitable activities in artisans’ local communities.

In addition to providing ongoing work, MayaWorks core objectives include the following:
• Provide at least 2 skill building trainings to artisans annually.
• Provide literacy training so that 85% of all women attain a 6th grade reading level by 2015.
• Structure microloan projects so that 75% are sustainable and profitable within a 2-year cycle.
• Provide business trainings for all microloan recipients.
• Provide 100 scholarships to daughters of artisans annually.
• Graduate 75% of eligible high school students annually.
• Provide quality tutoring services so that 70% of scholarship recipients attain the equivalent of a C average.

MayaWorks believes it’s more valuable to know how artisans feel success is measured. Women consistently respond, because they have ongoing work, they are able to provide more meat meals for their family, send their daughters to school, buy medicine when their children are ill, and build additions on to the family compound.

How many people have been impacted by your project?


How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

101- 1,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

First, MayaWorks will create more work because we will sell more products. We will carry functional products at a favorable price and expand niche products. Second, MayaWorks artisans will improve technical skills through new product training. By improving their skills, women will expand their work capacity. Third, MayaWorks artisans will become literate. 85% of women will read at a sixth grade level. Finally, MayaWorks will fund more scholarships so more girls complete their education and enter the formal employment sector. Ultimately, MayWorks will employ more women, expand community development projects and prepare indigenous women to enter the formal employment sector.

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

Due to the recession, consumer consumption has decreased significantly over the past few years. With decreasing demand, MayaWorks has struggled to maintain the level of work for its artisans that we’ve been able to provide in the past. If consumers continue to spend cautiously, it will negatively affect our ability to sustain level purchases from our artisan groups. In response, we are preparing to access new markets for MayaWorks products and improve our infrastructure to reach these markets, namely by redeveloping our e-commerce website.

The volatility in the cotton market could also pose a barrier to our success. This past year, rising cotton prices, as well as rising production and labor costs, have affected the worldwide textile industry and MayaWorks' ability to bring product to market.

The company from which MayaWorks sources first quality cotton thread ceased production for several months causing a thread scarcity in Guatemala. We immediately began working with other local thread cooperatives as a short term solution; however, long-term production solutions were created in partnership with the Guatemalan staff and MayaWorks artisans.

First, MayaWorks has begun to collaborate with local companies to source natural, reusable, and eco-friendly materials available in Guatemala. We are also collaborating with local talent, including design consultants and university students to keep design costs down. Other solutions include discontinuing production of larger woven items, and investing in smaller, functional products that can be sold at a favorable price point.

Tell us about your partnerships

These partnerships are vital to the MayaWorks mission:
1. Artisans: MayaWorks artisans are not organized by cooperatives but rather by local weaving groups. They share leadership and, together, decide who will be a part of their group and what products they will make. MayaWorks has worked with the same weaving groups since its inception.
2. Guatemala Staff: MayaWorks’ Guatemala operation is completely managed by indigenous women. These administrators understand the complexities of doing business in Guatemala, speak the artisans’ native language and live in the same communities. More importantly, they are driven by their desire to see indigenous women progress in a country where they are often regarded as less than second class citizens.
3. Volunteers: MayaWorks also works with 150 volunteers, mostly women, in 26 states around the U.S. They are the backbone of the organization. They range in age from early 20s to middle 70s. They tend to be Caucasian, middle class and highly educated. Two factors that unite them is their profound desire to work on behalf of women’s economic justice and their love of Guatemalan textile art. Volunteers sell MayaWorks products in their local communities.
4. Customers and donors: MayaWorks customers and donors are a vital partner in providing ongoing work and community programming for our artisans and their families. Without them, MayaWorks would not have an outlet for artisans’ handcrafted products and would not be able to provide scholarships, support tutoring centers and fund microcredit loans.

Explain your selections

80% of revenue is generated from sales of our handcrafted artisan products and 4% is raised from tour proceeds. Through MayaWorks tours, U.S. women are introduced to the Maya women who create the products sold in the U.S. In hearing the life stories of the Guatemalan women and visiting their villages and home, U.S. women strengthen their commitment and return home to promote MayaWorks by selling our products.

The remaining 16% of revenue is raised from donations. MayaWorks has attracted strong support from individual donors since its inception, and is working to build support from foundations and corporations. Currently, 80% of donations are made by individuals, 14% come from foundations, 3% are made by businesses and the remaining 3% come from church groups.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

The next three years, MayaWorks will respond to market conditions and develop organizational resources to provide more work for artisans and improve education and microcredit program services. Our efforts will focus on branding, messaging and increasing sales so that we can meet the significant challenges ahead. To strengthen the organization, MayaWorks has identified four priorities in its 2011 business plan:
I.Improve organizational infrastructure to provide increased work for artisans: MayaWorks will develop a new website as the major platform to convey mission, brand and message to the public and to expand its retail customer base. The new e-commerce site will incorporate search engine optimization to reach more customers and will allow us to improve inventory management.
II.Create a product development and production plan: MayaWorks will streamline product development and production to improve operations and expand product offerings. The plan will include product feasibility and development, production planning, financial analysis, product marketing, and artisan capacity building.
III.Expand MayaWorks’ wholesale market: MayaWorks will increase its capacity to reach wholesale customers and ultimately increase commercial sales by improving wholesale sales infrastructure.
IV. Create an associate board and expand volunteer opportunities: MayaWorks will create a working board of young professionals who will provide direct support in program evaluation and planning, marketing, and social networking. We will also create market-based projects for volunteers.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Restricted access to new markets


Lack of skills/training


Restrictive cultural norms

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Restricted access to markets: MayaWorks helps women transform skills they have into a means of financial support by creating markets for the crafts of Maya artisans in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia.
Lack of skills/training: MayaWorks partners with CONALFA, a Guatemalan NGO, to provide literacy training. Also, MayaWorks provides 3 capacity building trainings per year. Finally, MayaWorks allocates resources to provide artisans trainings that develop transferable business skills.
Restrictive cultural norms: Indigenous women struggle for equality. MayaWorks encourages women to be leaders by providing leadership training and developing opportunities to put their leadership skills into practice. Now, women are participating in their communities as decision makers.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services


Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

MayaWorks is embarking on a new phase in response to changing market demands. Consumer consumption has decreased significantly resulting in the need to access new markets for MayaWorks products. To do this, MayaWorks will expand the number of artisan with whom it works. In particular, we’ll seek to work with women who have the basic skills but need further development in the fabrication of gift items such as soaps and decorative candles.

MayaWorks will also scale its project by increasing the amount and number of scholarships it provides the daughters of artisans so that they attend school through high school. In addition, MayaWorks will develop opportunities for scholarship recipients who have graduated high school to give back to their communities through volunteer service.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)


If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

MayaWorks has long-standing collaborations in the US and Guatemala. The Fair Trade Federation and Chicago Fair Trade provide resources to expand our markets and improve organizational capacity. Specifically, they offer capacity building seminars, networking opportunities and market opportunities. MayaWorks also has relationships with non-governmental organizations in Guatemala. Soluciones Comunitarias partners with us to provide health services to artisans. In particular, this organization provides annual eye exams and glasses. Without this support, many artisans would not be able to weave or sew. Finally, Agexport provides support to Guatemalan exporting organizations. MayaWorks has benefitted from grant programs managed by Agexport such as design projects and trade show support.