Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact
Nomadic families in Niger earn less than $200 per year. Since 2007, RAIN's two artisan cooperatives have earned over $8,000 for their schools, which are attended by 250 students. They have purchased uniforms, medical care, shoes, mattresses and blankets, as well as paying salaries of school personnel not on the government payroll. The women themselves have earned varying amounts of money -- in the large Tuareg leather co-op the women pay the artisans who actually made the goods sold a higher portion of profits than the others. Those who are co-op members but not skilled artisans -- they may garden, grind grain or take part in other cooperative activities -- share in a smaller percentage of profits. The Wodaabe cooperative includes talented embroiderers only and all profits are shared equally. All the women have earned enough to contribute much-needed food to their families. The Wodaabe cooperative has operated for 2 years. This January the women spent over $800 to support their school -- they purchased medicines, paid salaries of a teacher and cook, and purchased books. The Tuareg women's leather cooperative this year spent $1,000 on food aid and scholarships.
The program is reinvigorating traditional crafts. Without profitable markets, younger women were not learning skills.
Save for a few younger women who have attended primary school, all the members of both cooperatives are illiterate. They had never used a ruler, known how to center a design or make a 90-degree angle. Many have never left their home regions, gone to market, taken part in commercial life. RAIN offers literacy classes in Tifinagh and French. The women go shopping for materials with RAIN, are learning the how to judge their costs to produce goods and calculate profits. They are astonished to see how their school savings funds grow and allow them to provide substantial assistance to their schools. Tarbane, a member of the Tuareg cooperative, came by bus from her home in the Agadez region to Niamey, Niger's capital. It took her two days. There she met Halima and Djumare, Wodaabe embroiderers. Tarbane had never seen Niamey and had never met a Wodaabe person -- though these nomads share tradition, nomadic lifestyles and live in neighboring, sometimes overlapping areas. When introduced she proudly wrote her name in the sand. The technology of a bus ride may not seem significant but bringing women together is empowering. Technology for the rural people of Niger -- who live without electricity or cars, whose days are often filled with walking miles to pull water from a well for their families and animals, who pound millet for daily meals -- can be as simple as a ruler or a bus or learning the value of money and is life changing.
Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing
1.Women in nomadic societies are in charge of home and children but have little political or economic power.
2. Fewer than 10% have attended school. Neither the Tuareg nor Wodaabe women can speak the national language, French. The majority of Tuareg women in our program do not speak Hausa, the most widespread language in Niger, used in almost all commerce. The RAIN program is bringing them out of isolation. 3. None of the women have been fairly treated in the marketplace. Nigerien merchants and foreign organizations and business people alike have paid them low 'local' prices for goods that are sold for far more in the United States or Europe. They now receive all the profits of their labors.
4. The women had only rudimentary tools and worked outdoors with children, dust and dirt interfering with their work. They are improving their skills with the help of simple tools and guidance from expert artisans. RAIN provides working space.
5. The women have not been treated as respected artisans, but laborers. We told a group of Wodaabe women we would teach them to measure and to draw the designs they would embroider. They had never done this. A man would draw the design, they would then embroider it. No one wanted to learn to measure or draw until I said: "My goal is for you to be independent, to make goods and earn money without having to wait for someone else to draw the design or measure for you. Many hands went up:'yes, we'll learn.'
Summary: Through honing their skills, having access to markets, interacting with those outside their villages, RAIN artisans are gaining knowledge and independence, they are earning money for their families' health and well-being, they are providing substantial support to the schools their children and their communties' children attend. Djumare said: 'our husbands don't understand the importance of health and education for our children.' These mothers do; they are proud to be helping their communities.
Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. What might prevent that success?
RAIN continually provides training. We are teaching artisans the importance of making well-designed and beautifully executed products. The growth of their school accounts and ability to support schools motivates them greatly. They are often shy; we make sure that their communities understand and acknowledge their contributions and support their efforts. We offer literacy classes for their general well-being and to enable the women to become more accomplished in producing and marketing their products. We constantly work toward knowledge, skill and independence.
Niger has suffered political insecurity making work for the Tuareg women very difficult; their production the last two years was very reduced. The insurrection in their region is over but travel is still difficult. Niger is subject to political and food security that can hinder production.
Our second challenge comes from local merchants. We are seen as hindering their ability to buy crafts cheaply for resale. One local men's group in particular has attempted to dissuade the leather workers. Local chiefs and community members help by putting social pressure on the men to stop. The Wodaabe women were recently approached by a foreign merchant who offered to buy their goods but insisted they must have exclusive access. The women refused, they had been poorly treated by this person in the past. We are confident that the fair treatment and payment offered by RAIN, knowing that they receive all profits from their labors and the reward of supporting schools will serve to attract many more to RAIN's cooperative programs.
Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible
Year 1. Members of the Tuareg cooperative are now returning to their homes in regions that were closed for two years due to political insecurity. We will work with them to rejuvenate their school and artisan activities. The Wodaabe women are developing a line of embroidered goods and learning to reliably produce specific products to enable us to broaden our markets and online sales. Our cooperatives are well-known in the Agadez region. To meet the demands we have from women seeking to earn, RAIN has recently initiated enterprise programs with other women volunteers, most notably the women who serve as mentors to schoolgirls. We have recently increased this program from five to thirteen schools and seek to introduce it throughout rural Niger. In 2010 we started our first enterprise to support the mentors of Arlit and generate funds to buy materials for the traditional skills classes they offer to schoolgirls each week. This pilot enterprise is a herding program known in Tamasheq (the Tuareg language) as Temoko -- a start up herd is given, then people share the offspring to create herds for others, who in turn give offspring, and so it continues.
Year 2. As the women gains skills and literacy they will take on more of the design, quality control and marketing of their products. We seek to hire a Niger woman to work with the cooperatives on a full-time basis and develop markets within West Africa. RAIN will start new cooperatives -- artisanal and other -- to generate livelihodods for women and support for schools. As a result of these actions we expect sales and profits to increase significantly -- thereby increasing the support the women offer their schools, providing long-term stable bases of annual support.
Year 3. We expect the artisans' cooperatives to gain independence, though RAIN will continue to provide access to U.S. markets for a longer time. We plan to significantly increase the number of cooperatives and organize like cooperative businesses into countywide groups to bring women of different regions and peoples together for sharing, learning and empowerment.
If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?
Niger is the recipient of much foreign aid. We seek to see our enterprise model of generating funds advocated by the government, redirecting some aid from large donors to this domain.