Kenyan women from the pastoral communities now have the pristine opportunity to commercialize their beadwork on an online digital USSD platform. The USSD platform offers them the chance to tap into far and wide markets with trend analysts assuring that the business will be an instant hit owing to the rapidly expanding middle-class population and the creativity growth rate in developing countries.
The USSD platform targets women in 127 cooperatives drawn from seven pastoralist counties such as West Pokot, Narok, Baringo, Samburu, Turkana, Marsabit and Kajiado.
The development of the digital marketing platform is a program run by the Kenyan government through the Ushanga Initiative under the Ministry of Sports and Culture.
The Ushanga Kenya Initiative is a government project that seeks to empower the pastoral women involved in beadwork by transforming their traditional art for significant economic benefit and sustainable livelihoods.
It seeks to use digital markets and social media as a means of evoking cultural pride, ensuring cultural adoption rewards the owner of the artifacts and the country as a whole, and transforming the livelihoods of bead workers.
In attendance at the launch of the USSD platform at Maasai Mara was Sports and Culture CS Ms Amina Mohammed. She spoke positively of the initiative assuring women that it would soon ve a vital tool for women and girl empowerment.
“This is a great milestone by my Ministry which boosts our mandate of preserving our culture through the bead, which we endeavor to protect zealously,”
Said Ms. Mohammed.
She says that the sale of beads both to local and international tourists have increased the country’s revenue greatly.
“Besides the economic value that embodies the bead, it also epitomizes our cultural identity and heritage, which are some of our values of undisputable national importance and pride; and which has won global recognition,”
Clients from all over the world adorn these women’s and girls’ beads of art across the globe and they will be traced directly right from the deepest of the country’s pastoral lands.
Traditionally, she says, the pieces of beads were highly treasured but earned nothing for the makers beyond ornamental beauty.
“But today, the USSD is a game-changer to the ladies from the cited communities. Access to markets and their narrative will be easy,”
Through USDD, the women’s products will access wider markets, increase income from the sale of their products digitally and will in return gain their economic independence and financial stability
The USSD will have a User Management Module that will have a database of the various women and co-operatives working with Ushanga Kenya, thus making it possible to trace products right from original producers. All relevant stakeholders will have role-based access to the system enabling a smooth running of operations.
The USSD platform is part of the government efforts to boost the sale of beadwork by women and girls by protecting the IP and legal rights relating to the bead and bead products as well as preservation of culture.
In Kenya, International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimates that tourists spent an average of $79 per tourist on handicraft purchases.
Hellen Nkaisery, the chairperson of the Ushanga Initiative termed the project as one of the greatest cross-cultural business innovations by the government for pastoral women since its inception five years ago.
“Commercialization of beadwork has steered financial independence, cultural preservation and eased social adversity for the pastoralist woman,”
Said Mrs. Nkaisery
She says that women have been enabled to create masterpieces to match various major events through training in value addition and using the latest techniques, and at the same time preserving the rich heritage.
“Through beadwork, women now will have their source of income to bring to the family basket. The women are now their bosses,”
Said Mrs. Nkaisery.
She reveals that so far the Ushanga Initiative has formed women cooperatives across seven counties with the smallest having 100 registered members.
To ensure that the artifacts meet international standards, Mrs. Nkaisery says that they have been doing capacity building for the women on modern designs, value addition, entrepreneurial skills as well as the use of tools and equipment.
Sports and Culture PS, Jospheta Mukobe described the platform as one through which potential local and international buyers can view, review and make orders for the items they want from local women.
“As we speak, the current world is fast moving towards the use of digital platforms as marketing tools. To realize this, we need to know our women, having the data of the original crafters of the authentic bead products,”
She says that more than 5,000 women have benefited from the capacity-building program and are now able to make contemporary pieces of beads that meet the diverse demands of global clients.
“I wish to report that during this year’s Deaflympics held in Brazil on June 2022, our country was greatly honored for showcasing more than 200 original pieces of beadwork and authentic work by our women from pastoral communities. The products were designed and crafted by our women. We take pride!”
Said Ms. Mukobe.