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Supporting Women-run Social Enterprises: Helping Entrepreneurs to Help their Communities

When is a trade fair more than a trade fair?

In September, Trade + Impact held its first Summit in Morocco, bringing together women-run social enterprises, international buyers and potential investors. The Summit featured products from two key sectors: handicrafts and agribusiness for cosmetics. These sectors were chosen because they employ significant numbers of women, and additionally, have huge growth potential. Markets for each of the sectors are estimated at USD 30 billion, and global demand is growing.

Morocco show pic

Like many sectors, handicrafts and natural cosmetics face significant barriers to profitability and growth. Structural barriers, such as tariffs and taxes on inter-African trade, present challenges. Reliability of shipping and transportation cause delays in deliveries and increased costs. In addition, these sectors are very fragmented, with large numbers of small producers working in relative isolation. Access to materials is an ongoing challenge, particularly sustainable materials. Producers working in handicrafts and cosmetics face challenges in accessing financing, and very few of those attending the Summit had ever accessed a loan, outside of money borrowed from friends or family members.

So why should we care about these sectors? Quite simply, the potential is huge, particularly for women. There is a large international market for beautiful, handmade products, and the predominance of social enterprises in crafts and cosmetics means that consumers can engage with the products on multiple levels. The products must be able to sell based on their quality, but they also come with a story – a story about entrepreneurs who are investing in their communities. Some are promoting the rights of their workers to fair wages, others support health initiatives and still others protect delicate ecosystems. In many cases, the social entrepreneurs at the Summit list these as reasons they were inspired to start their businesses.

When is a business more than a business?

MEDA is working with Trade + Impact to document stories of these entrepreneurs. We will be releasing a more detailed set of stories in the new year, but in the meantime, meet some of the women running these social enterprises. 

Jacqueline BurgeJaqueline Burge of Rarity HandbagsJaqueline Burge describes herself as an “accidental entrepreneur.” She started making handbags as a hobby in the spare room of her apartment in South Africa, and now employs 16 people at Rarity Handbags. Her products are all made of natural, ethically sourced materials, such as hides from animals which are culled to maintain biodiversity. In addition, she is driven by her vision of creating a workplace that values and respects her employees, with a safe, supportive and flexible working environment. It’s paid off: in 15 years of business, only one person has left the company.

"I started this business as a dream to celebrate Africa and its amazing people and diversity. My products are a vision of how amazing all this is, and to share our story with everyone.” - Jaqueline Burge

Jennifer MulliJennifer Mulli of Katchy KollectionsIn Kenya, Jennifer Mulli began Katchy Kollections a decade ago while she was working for USAID. Inspired by the women who had helped her grow in her career, Jennifer eventually quit her full-time job to run the company, devoting herself to creating beautiful beaded products, but also to supporting the women who create jewelry and handbags. When asked what constitutes success for her and her business, Jennifer recalled her workers telling her “Now I don’t have to ask my husband for money for soap, or for oil.” These items costs 100 Kenyan shillings, approximately a dollar. She notes that “Such a small amount of money can make a huge difference in a woman’s life.” It can allow her to move from one level of her livelihood to the next.

"Such a small amount of money can make a huge difference in a woman’s life.” - Jennifer Mulli

Through her company Errtaj, Saida Oueld El Hachemi is realizing her dream of working in the Argan oil industry. This is a dream rooted in her family’s traditions, but also the realization of years of study: she is a biochemist with degrees in soil science and a focus on Argan trees in particular. Argan nuts are used to produce an oil which is beneficial for hair and skin, and which can also be eaten. The trees are only found in Morocco, and are beginning to disappear due to environmental degradation and overuse. Part of Saida’s work focuses on sustainable harvest of nuts and environmentally responsible production of Argan oil, as she advocates with other producers to see the long-term benefits of such practices. Errtaj uses a hydraulic pressure system to extract the oils, an updated version of the traditional cold extraction methods which use only pressure and gravity. In addition to being environmentally friendly, this process preserves the Argan oil’s rich vitamins and fatty acids.

Errtaj 2Errtaj's Argan Nuts Errtaj 4Errtaj's Argan Nuts








 "Our story with the Argan oil in Morocco is one that is as long as time. The production of the oil is a practice that has been passed through the generations from my mother to daughter to granddaughter." - Saida Oueld El Hachemi

In addition, she supports her workers, who are part of a women’s cooperative, with fair wages and the opportunity to be part of the decision making process. As the women earn money through these activities, they gain financial independence. Many buy clothes and books for themselves and their children, access medical services, and even attend literacy classes. As Errtaj grows and enters new markets, Saida hopes to provide full-time employment for her workers, as well as spreading the benefits of Morocco’s Argan oil as widely as possible.

Stay tuned for the upcoming document from MEDA and Trade + Impact, in which we will share more detail on these and other stories of women making a difference through their businesses.

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