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Real-Time Product Innovation Distinguishes Nest Artisan Accelerator Participant, Ubuntu at Work

In Namibia, Joellen Nicholson, Nest’s Director of Artisan Engagement and Fellowships, had the opportunity to meet with Ubuntu at Work, one of the ten artisan businesses participating in Nest’s Artisan Accelerator program. As a program participant, Ubuntu is part of a small cohort of Artisan Guild businesses receiving 360-degree intensive business development support from Nest over the course of this year. During the first several months of 2018, the Nest programming team flew around the world to meet with each of these ten businesses to conduct strategic growth assessments aimed at evaluating the businesses’ key needs and opportunities for growth.

Joellen was looking specifically at Ubuntu’s basket weaving activities, which comprise just one component of the nonprofit’s overall efforts to provide confidence-building, training, and market access to local women facing poverty in the community. In working through Nest’s strategic growth assessment with the Ubuntu leadership team, Joellen was able to map out a more nuanced understanding of the organization’s current operational structures that support production and order deliveries.

“What I found most fascinating,” recounts Joellen, “was the realtime product development that I was able to watch unfold. The culture at Ubuntu is one in which new ideas are eagerly embraced. That spirit of innovation is important when you consider its role in cultural preservation.” At one point, Vihba, Ubuntu’s founder presented a handbag to the women who weave with her, noting that its construction could be rendered similarly with handwoven palm reeds. Energetic dialogue followed as women contributed ideas about how to achieve the merging of material and design in a new product.

Joellen was equally struck by the sense of community that Ubuntu is able to foster through craftsmanship. The collective pride that craftsmanship has the ability to engender – pride in utilizing culturally embedded skills to render new and unthought-of designs – distinguishes this type of “handwork” from others. “The ancillary benefits of craft production, particularly for women who face gender discrimination on a daily basis, reach beyond its economic potentials to spark change in women as individuals and as a collective,” Joellen reflects.

Nest’s next steps are well underway as we distill learnings from the growth assessment into an Advancement Plan for Ubuntu at Work. The plan will guide our development activities moving forward, so that we can identify appropriate Fellows for providing onsite mentorship, and mobilize the appropriate resources available to Ubuntu through the Nest Connect digital learning hub. We look forward to updating the Nest community on our progress alongside Ubuntu and we thank Winn Family Foundation and Swarosvki Foundation for supporting the Artisan Accelerator initiative.