"The program gave me a close-up view of political, business and social issues and trends, information that is invaluable to me as an entrepreneur and active participant in the success of our great state. The speakers were incredible� they inspired us and stretched our minds. The opportunity to connect with successful and dynamic California women leaders was a main highlight. Being part of Leadership California is like being part of a powerful sisterhood."

—Ursula C. Mentjes, M.S., ACC
President and Certified Business Coach
Potential Quest, Inc.
"I have enjoyed my involvement with Leadership California. Our trip to the state capitol was most enlightening. As a result I have gotten involved with the Los Angeles African American Women's Political Action Committee. Thank you, Leadership California, for sparking a genuine interest in the political process."

—Shawn Farrar
Director Corporate Diversity
Sempra Energy
"The CIT program brings together successful women from all over California, and gives them the opportunity to build a network with other successful women. It's a way to learn about the important issues in our state, and to get ready to take the next step in your professional life."

—Isela Vilchis Hoenigmann
"Leadership California has provided me a panoramic view of issues, challenges and opportunities for this lovely state that I live in. The program was my introduction to women of unbelievable talent, experience and passion who are set to make a difference. The feeling to want to be more, to accomplish more, is simply contagious. I hope to know these women for the rest of my life."

—Rosario Montes-Arena
Manager, IBM Software Executive Briefing Program
Silicon Valley & Worldwide Briefing Program
"As a young immigrant woman working in the nonprofit sector, it was inspiring to see women leaders in action, to be able to network with them, and talk about the issues that are relevant to our communities and our state. I feel honored and privileged for the opportunity to participate in such an awesome program that weaves women leaders from different sectors and geographies of California to engage in a conversation about the social, political, and economic fabric of California."

—Winnie Hui-Min Yu
Development Associate
Asian Law Caucus
San Francisco
"I've spent half of my work life in the corporate world, and the past ten years in the nonprofit world, but neither taught me how to be who I am at work�the whole pastiche of talent and spirit. I found role models who excited me, the true state of our state of California (which frustrated me), work partners continually learning like me, and friends."

—Peta G. Penson, Ed. D.
Consultant
Oakland Unified School District
"Leadership California sessions feature influential speakers and lively discussion on timely issues shaping the economy and workforce. The session on work-life balance struck a chord with me, where key leaders advised us to map out a personal career plan. Networking with other women was invaluable. Leadership California is an engaging and downright fun experience."

—Roberta Tinajero-Frankel
Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dept.
Healthy Eating, Active Living Project Manager
"Simply put, Leadership California is time well spent that will benefit me personally and professionally for years to come. I've not only kept in contact with my fellow classmates on a social level, but have had opportunities to work with some of them on business projects as our professional paths crossed. The sessions gave in-depth looks at the critical social issues that many Californians face, inspiring me to get more involved in my community�s outreach programs."

—Teena Massingill
Manager of Corporate Public Affairs
Safeway Inc.
   
 
 

 
   

MASAI WOMEN put their craft talents together in this beadwork cooperative venture near Tarangire National Park in Tanzania.

 

Women Turn Craft Skills into
Business Enterprises in East Africa


Carol Caley Visits African Women’s Work Cooperatives


September 29, 2015

 

I slept in a tent while leopards and hyenas sang me to sleep.

 
     

ON A THREE-WEEK TRIP TO EAST AFRICA, on a photo safari in four countries, I witnessed the majestic spectacle of wild animals in their native habitat. I slept in a tent while leopards and hyenas sang me to sleep. I looked out my window to see the snows of Kilimanjaro. I tasted the wonders of exotic and colorful foods of the region. I had a wonderful opportunity to meet the diverse people of these faraway lands: Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya.

I ALSO FOLLOWED UP ON MY SPECIAL INTEREST in women at work. I met prosperous women tourists who brought their children to explore the natural wonders of their own country. I met women who work for safari companies, bush tent camps, bush air taxis and national parks, whose livelihood depends on tourism. I also met women who work with their hands in traditional folk crafts, who sustain their families by working in a sisterhood of cooperative effort.

“Gorillas in the Mist” Support her Business Co-Op

NADINE NYIRANEZA PICKED UP THE CALL JUST BEFORE OPENING TIME. Tourists—gorilla trekkers specifically— were waiting, asking for her to open her shop. She arrived minutes later, perfectly coiffed and dressed in a chic long skirt, ruffled blouse and smart black business jacket, and paid the driver of the motorbike—she’d ridden side-saddle on the back seat of it, as many Africans do when they shop or do errands. She produced a key, opened the heavy wooden door, and quickly readied her shop for a day of sales from her women’s craft collective, Cooperative de Productaire Artisanal de Kinigi.

A steady stream of trekkers come to the mountain, and Nadine is here to make sure that the women artisans of Kinigi and surrounding villages will send some of their wares home with them.

 
   

HERE IN KINIGI, IN THE HIGH MOUNTAINS OF RWANDA, it's not far from the tomb of Dian Fossey and the gorilla research center she established. “Gorillas in the mist” still dwell here, in the cool green forest on the slopes of an extinct volcano. There are few gorillas left in Africa, only around 350 here in Volcanoes National Park. But those few bring a steady stream of trekkers to the mountain, and Nadine is here to make sure that the women artisans of Kinigi and surrounding villages will send some of their wares home with them. She’s part of a craft cooperative composed of 40 women.

THE CRAFTERS MEET IN THE OPEN AIR, on the grounds of a church. They gather every other day to work together on their beadwork and jewelry making, basket weaving and sewing projects. They assist one another on their designs and collaborate to develop wares that will sell better. They share information on suppliers and ideas on how to better market their work. Their small shop is a testament to the power of the collective, with Nadine as its personable proprietor, to bring the colorful, practical and memorable craftwork of East Africa to a larger world.

       

   

 

Nadine Nyiraneza minds the cooperative store where forty women market their crafts near Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

       

Masai Womens' Beading Skills Support Families

IN TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK IN TANZANIA, WHERE LEOPARDS SLEEP IN BAOBAB TREES, and zebras and elephants roam, you won’t leave without watching lions, ostriches, wildebeest, giraffes, warthogs and baboons in action. And when you do leave the park, you’ll drive on a rough road past a Masai women’s craft cooperative, the Mgungani Women’s Group, where expert bead workers sell their wares of bracelets, necklaces and ornaments.

 

I thought of the many hours it must have taken to create even one of those bead baskets.

 
     

THESE BAUBLES HANG FROM CLOTHESLINES in a dusty yard in front of a corrugated tin shed. That’s their shop, and its concrete floor is completely covered with two hundred small baskets in bright colors, completely made of beads that have been laboriously wired together in bold combinations and patterns. The walls are covered with circular collars, necklaces, and beaded mats. I thought of the many hours it must have taken to create even one of those bead baskets. But for Masai women, this is their specialty. They, and their families—their husbands and sons particularly—daily wear beautiful, elaborate beadwork necklaces and cuffs on wrists and ankles, often with their name woven into the design.

IT DIDN'T LOOK LIKE MANY CUSTOMERS HAD STOPPED BY THAT DAY—I suspected that we might have been the first, and perhaps the last. The women dressed me in a plate-like collar, much like the ones they were wearing, and posed with me for photos. We couldn’t communicate, except with gestures. I bought some handmade treasures, bead baskets and mats, then headed back to the truck. The women ululated as we drove off, celebrating not the sale, I later learned. They were sharing the joy of the new owner in possessing something new. The women in our group ululated in return as we drove off. I admired their hard work and their skill in designing these striking crafts, and their entrepreneurial spirit shone through the dust of this remote place.

       

   

 

Workers glaze ceramic beads at the Kazuri factory in Nairobi, Kenya.

       

“Small and Beautiful” becomes a Global Business

NAIROBI, KENYA IS HOME TO THE KAZURI BEAD FACTORY, located in what used to be part of the Karen Blixen estate of “Out of Africa” fame. The company was started in 1975 by two Kenyan women, and soon grew to include women workers from surrounding villages, most of them single mothers, who needed jobs to support their children. Kazuri, which means “small and beautiful” in Swahili, started as a tiny workshop making hand-crafted ceramic beads. Each bead and each piece of Kazuri jewelry, now sold worldwide, is unique.

WE TOURED KAZURI AND VISITED WORKSHOPS where women sat together at long tables, rolling the damp clay into bead shapes, painting on glazes, stacking kilns, and finally sorting and stringing the finished beads into bracelets and necklaces. The company still employs mostly women, and maintains the mission of providing and sustaining employment opportunities for single mothers and disadvantaged members of Kenyan society.

       

   

 

Women pilots have found a niche flying  tourists on safari in East Africa to destinations in the bush. Many of the 12-seater planes are piloted by women.

       

A Thread Runs Through It

BEING PRODUCTIVE; MAKING SOMETHING USEFUL valuable and worthwhile; sustaining ourselves and our families in the community—that’s the thread that runs through these women’s endeavors in East Africa, and the same is true for all of us as women at work, wherever we are in the world.

       

   

Women rangers are now joining the ranks of workers in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Rangers risk their lives to protect the rare and endangered gorillas from poachers, and also work to prevent habitat destruction by domestic animals that wander into the park.

       

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  Carol Caley is the director of marketing and communications for Leadership California, where she is chief storyteller, responsible for conveying the organization's values and mission across channels including web, video, print and social media, to express Leadership California's character, heart and goals. She is a consulting communications professional for other nonprofit organizations, a writer and a graphic designer.
Carol Caley    

 

 

 

 



 

 
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