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The artisan women of Maasai beading collective and Nest Artisan Accelerator business, Sidai Design, discuss personal transformation and financial independence through craft

Sidai, a small to medium sized artisan enterprise participating in Nest’s Artisan Accelerator program, works with Maasai women in Arusha, Tanzania, to create contemporary hand beaded jewelry based on traditional Maasai designs and techniques. Sidai’s collective includes eight full-time beaders based in Arusha, and an extended network of 120 piece-rate beaders who live in the surrounding rural areas. As part of the Nest Accelerator, Sidai participated in a year-long strategic growth assessment and planning for their business and charitable arm, Sidai Maasai Women Organization (SMWO).

Beadwork has provided the women who bead for Sidai with a unique opportunity to earn a livelihood without the heavy and often prohibitive upfront investments of capital demanded by alternative economic activities such as livestock cultivation and agricultural work. A guiding principle of Sidai’s model is to give women the chance to overcome such barriers, making the business an important participant in building a more sustainable, long-term solution to reducing poverty in Tanzania. Sidai has harnessed heritage Maasai beadwork as a unique means for achieving these goals, offering skills training to women in surrounding communities so that they may find both employment and personal fulfillment through craft-based work with Sidai.

Sidai artisan beads on to leather

Many of the beaders who work with Sidai began as beading neophytes. Through their training and work with Sidai they have become highly skilled in Maasai heritage beading techniques, including the less common and challenging practice of beading onto leather | Photo by Sidai

When women have job security and sustainable income, Sidai observes that there is a powerful positive ripple effect that can lead to meaningful personal transformation. With improved economic status comes the freedom to make decisions, educate their children, and break cycles of poverty. Recently, during an afternoon beading session taking place around a small table at Sidai’s central workshop, an eight-woman team of full-time beaders reflected on how these principles have materialized in their own lives, citing examples of positive changes in their personal life.

Dani Yannoulis, a marketing and communications volunteer working with Sidai through the Australian Volunteer (AVI) program, tells us: “It was a wonderful exercise for me to reflect on the fact that many women Sidai employs had never beaded prior to their work with Sidai. Leia, for example, came to us as a beading neophyte and has since learned the highly skilled work of beading onto leather. This is not something that every artisan is able to master and Leia has expressed the great pride she feels in having achieved such a high level of excellence through her craftwork with Sidai.”

Like Leia, Esther is another woman who came to Sidai with minimal beading experience. She had previously worked as a housekeeper who had been working in a home where Sidai’s CEO, Rebecca Olivia Moore, lived at the time. Rebecca was impressed with Esther’s work ethic and drawn to her kind disposition, and invited her to take on additional work by beading for Sidai. From then on, each morning, Esther would visit Rebecca and the two women sat together to learn Maasai beading techniques and share product samples of new designs Rebecca was developing for Sidai. Esther who proved a beading natural, eventually joined Sidai fulltime and is now a master beader leading an entire team below her. Working with Sidai has provided her financial security and savings to support her family and purchase several shambas (farms) where she grows and sells crops to supplement her income.

Pieces from Sidai's Sipolio collection

Pieces from Sidai’s Sipolio collection | Photo by Sidai

Naramatishu is Sidai’s newest full-time beader, who joined the team towards the close of 2018. Prior to her work with Sidai, she sold her own beadwork to tourists in the local market. Business was unpredictable and inconsistent, leaving Naramatishu struggling to earn a weekly living. Her friend, Obedi, one of Sidai’s two male beaders and a skilled leatherworker, urged Naramatishu to opportunities with the company. During the group’s most recent discussion, Naramatishu voiced that her decision to reach out to Sidai has dramatically changed her life. Consistent employment with Sidai has meant that Naramatishu has been able to amass savings that have enabled her to buy a cow and land, and move closer to Arusha in a home by herself, where she pays her rent independently. She now earns secondary income by selling her cow’s milk in the community. As she told the group, this independence makes her ‘very happy.’

Says Rebecca: “Sitting together and remembering how things have changed for our team was a special experience. We are often so focused on growing our business that it’s important for us to stop and appreciate how our economic impact is translating to real change for the women who make Sidai possible. They are the heart and talent behind all that we do.”

To learn more about Nest’s Artisan Accelerator Program, click here.