Monday, June 15, 2009

Innovative ways to reduce poverty and unemployment

“Innovative ways to reduce poverty and unemployment: from the townships to the shoppingmalls”MWB Gonzalo Aramayo – South Africa 2008Unemployment is the major hurdle facing South Africa, leading to numerous other social ills inthe form of crime, poverty and the hampering of community growth and development. Despitethe efforts of the new government, the situation did not change significantly since 1994, and likeany other developing country, the people have been forced to develop a huge informal economyin order to try to generate income. In the major cities of the country there has been considerablegrowth in the developing of African hand made Craft, including; woodcarvings, hand madejewelry, ethnic furniture and toys. While the origin of this traditional craft is not known, mostlikely, it developed in Maputoland and Zululand in rural Northern Kwazulu-Natal, in thenortheast corner of South Africa.Wire art is a cottage industry based o hand-craft production and with the products mostly beingsold from open street markets and some formal tourist orientated shops and art galleries. Wire artinvolves crafting art out of wire, beads, tin cans, plastic, paper, and other found recycled items.The young boys of these regions lacking of resources to buy toys, fashioned their own out ofdiscarded hangers, used chicken wire, tin cans and whatever else they can get their hands on tomake ingenious toys. In villages and townships today, one can see boys playing with model carsthey made entirely from discarded materials. Recognizing children's ingenuity and the products’market potentiality, older inhabitants of the area began making their own wire creations andselling them to tourists on the streets of the cities. Today, ‘wiremasters' sell their creations notonly on street corners and at craft markets, but also in upmarket shops and galleries around theworld.Starting on the year 2000 a few South African Businesses started to create opportunities wherepreviously none existed, mixing innovation, creativity, marketing, and enthusiasm. Their mainobjective was to create sustainable, meaningful long-term employment for as many unemployedand needy South Africans as possible. The companies provide craft artists with a workplace,permanent employment, a sense of purpose and access to resources like skills training andpersonal development. This enables the artists to channel their natural creative abilities into themost African of all art forms. In order to achieve their objectives they had to invest their ownpersonal funds; developing production models, searching for new markets, and advertising theirproducts worldwide to assure a certain amount of monthly orders.This is the case of a visionary entrepreneur, who started a small company in 2000 with the mainidea of giving an opportunity to help unemployed men and women in Cape Town. Streetwireswas founded with 2 artists and 3 founders, and has demonstrated to contain a most unusualcombination of a profitable commercial organisation with a social development core. Streetwiresis a business with a social mission that is tackling the problems of unemployment and poverty inSouth Africa. The foundation of the company lies on the four cornerstones of job creation, craftinnovation, sound business practices and human capital development. On the one hand, it’s doingthe work of a non-profit organisation, providing jobs for local wire-and-bead art craftsmen andwomen. On the other hand, it’s a thriving business with a healthy financial situation and their listof clients includes Anthropologie, Isandi, Eza, and Claro are some of the overseas customers, inSouth Africa their customers include @ Home, Woolworths, Tigers Eye and Charles GreigJewellers among others.Using the core tenets of upliftment, sustainability and innovation as their guide, Streetwires isseeking to bringing their diverse skills together and working to build their future and the futureof South Africa. Part of the company’s success lies in the fact that it has created specific productranges for different markets. The primary materials used are wire and beads and the artists createanything from simple key rings to the most extraordinary one-off sculptural pieces – all based onorders received. Streetwires produces small custom ranges for events and corporate branding aswell as ranges for retail that provide the mainstay of the company’s income. The Streetwiresdesign collection sells to the high-end design and décor market. The company is establishing thenames of its best artists through the Signature range. The Fine Art collection enables top artiststo have solo exhibitions where they showcase collections under their own names.Like their people, each hand-crafted piece is special in its own way, and each one has its ownstory to tell, while the scope for training, development and upliftment is enormous. In addition,most wire art lends itself readily to being branded, thereby increasing the appeal of theseproducts for promotional purposes and corporate gifts, an area that Streetwires has pioneered.The craft industry is traditionally seen as a charity sector, notorious for poor systems and a lackof management and marketing skills. But a visit to Streetwires' buzzing Cape Town studioreveals a business based on systems and quality control. A design team works on creating newwire art designs and once these are approved, templates are passed on to the wire crafters whowork in teams to reproduce the product. A team leader ensures the template design is adhered toand the products pass through quality control before being released. The business is divided intounits based on the different sectors of local retail, such as key accounts, small stores, corporateand export. Streetwires has a unique sales strategy for each sector. This model is giving theopportunity to the team leaders to acquire the fundamentals of business, observe due dates,quality and product development. Another unique model that the company is using is the ‘cooperativemanagement, allowing the four managers to share the responsibility of a GeneralManager, guiding the company forward.Streetwires is the recipient of numerous awards. Schofield won the Cape Times Editor’s ChoiceBusiness Personality of the Year award and the 2008 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award,while the business won the Proudly South African Bridging the Gap award, and the Craft Iconaward from the Cape Craft & Design Institute.The dreams and wishes of hundreds of artist are behind these products, the hope for a betterfuture and prosperity is enclosed in each one of the beads that create a whole and wonderfulproduct. These visionaries have mixed design, art, and old African craft techniques to match theneeds of a demanding international market, giving an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest ofworld that business can do amazing things.

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