By Ellie Bogue
The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.)
Creative Women of the World, a nonprofit to help establish artisan-based businesses for women in Third World countries, is growing again.
The business helps artisans to look at what resources are available, discover what they can use the resources for and train them to see things with an American eye. That way their art will be marketable in the United States.
Established in 2011 they have ties with 40 different countries and have helped women in 10 countries to begin their own artisan-based businesses.
In the past year alone they have expanded their training into India, Indonesia, Japan and Uganda. Lorelei VerLee, executive director said their rapid growth is continuing.
With a full-time staff of only five and around 200 volunteers VerLee said they will be hiring more trainers down the road. These are the people who go into countries and train the artisan groups through a six-module process. Sometimes a group may only need consultation on a module, other times they need the full six. When CWOW chooses a group to work with they look for people who already have an organization on the ground that they are working with for guidance and support.
VerLee said they are looking to publish their training manuals, which are currently held in six notebooks. Once they get that done it will be easier to train new people.
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She also plans to get the materials translated into the native language of each country they work with. That way once they leave, the women in the artisan groups will have a reference text.
For the past three years the organization has had a boutique downtown, 125 W. Wayne St. Last year during the holiday season Nicole Moore, director of retail operations, said they had a pop-up gallery on the north side of Fort Wayne. It brought in a whole new clientele base to their store and has helped them broaden their connections. In the past they have relied on fundraisers and individual donations for trips to fund their operation. This year, said VerLee, they are aggressively going after grant money as well as fundraisers. They have good reasons to seek more money this year. They have been invited to three more countries; Malawi, an extremely poor country, is one.
She said it was very hard to tell them CWOW could not come until they raised more money for the trip. Moore said the women in Malawi had offered to feed and lodge them. This sort of a sacrifice by people who are so desperately impoverished shows how much they would like to start an artisan-based business, Moore said. They have also had a group from Nepal and another form northern Mongolia reach out to them.
On April 15 they will be holding their biggest fundraiser of the year, “Empower Her World 2015,” with the hope that they will be able to travel to these three new countries. The event will be multicultural with Mon dancers and musical guests.
There will be a visual celebration of global occasion wear; local design competition finalists sponsored by Hand Jive will show off their pieces as they compete for a $500 grand prize; a global marketplace; and an auction for CWOW’s new spring line, all fair trade.
The spring line will have dresses from India and a line out of Ghana from a collective that works with women in poverty. The clothing has bright and funky block prints in both women and children’s wear. This year for the first time they will have sandals made with colored ribbons that hold them and are interchangeable so they can be changed depending on the color of the wearer’s outfit. The sandals are made by SSEKO out of Uganda, which was started five years ago to help girls go onto university. They employ young women right out of secondary school to make the sandals. The company gives each girl half her wage, saves the other half and at the end of her employment will match the savings. This goes toward her university tuition.
“They are the second largest employer of women in Uganda and they are expanding to Kenya and Ethiopia, too,” Moore said.