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Weaving a Path to Peace through Women's Artisanship

The marginalization and challenges faced by refugee women and women in conflict zones ranging from Afghanistan to Ukraine are far greater and systemically entrenched. The effects of war and conflict continue for years after the fighting ends, as many women are left widowed, and many children are orphaned, and communities are facing the challenging realities of reconstructions.


There is a glimmer of hope: recent studies have shown the transformative power of artisanship: handicrafts provide a space of multicultural recognition, represent memorialization for second and third generation migrants, hold potential for trauma expression, and a vessel to communicate a unified message that we are all part of one human family – all this while creating a platform for women to sustain themselves economically. This program describes how Women Forward International (WFI), a nonprofit that partners graduate students with organizations to make their research of service to humanity applicable today, is making the economic empowerment of refugee women possible.

Helping Ukrainian Women Artisans: An Action Research Project

Building on the experience gained from two WFI action-research projects conducted through 2020-2022 on the political participation and economic empowerment of migrant and refugee women in Europe, WFI will reorient the focus specifically to the economic empowerment and social inclusion of recently integrated Ukrainian refugee artisans in Europe.

WFI will expand its collaboration with the Paris Institute of Political Studies’ (Sciences Po) Research and Educational Programme on Gender Studies (PRESAGE) and Nest to support Ukrainian migrant and refugee women’s economic and social inclusion through craftwork. This program will lead to the creation of a report mapping the craft landscape within migrant and refugee programs in Europe for Nest, a nonprofit building a new handworker economy to increase global workforce inclusivity.


The Sciences Po graduate student team will conduct research and outreach with networks serving Ukrainian refugee and migrant women to identify those that can benefit from Nest’s Guild, a network providing artisans with free tools and resources to help their businesses thrive. Once identified, these businesses will participate in a survey that allows them to join Guild. The report will also provide key information about Ukrainian refugee and migrant women artisans in Europe to help Nest identify overarching trends that could allow Nest to devise programmatic and/or outreach efforts supporting this community as a whole. The program will also look to providing immediate, emergency resources to Ukrainian craftswomen who require it to start or continue their business operations.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine on 24 February 2022 has forced more than one-third of Ukrainians from their homes. More than 6.5 million people fled the country, 90% of whom are women and children. Some 8 million people have been displaced internally within Ukraine (UNHCR, Flash Update #14). This is the largest human displacement crisis in the world today. Immediately after the assault, EU member states simplified the rules of entry for Ukrainian and Ukraine-residents refugees to facilitate the emergency mobility of people looking for shelter.


To this day, Poland remains the main country of arrival for refugees from Ukraine, with more than 3.5 million having entered the country since the start of the war (UNHCR). Research suggests that the pre-existence of dense Ukrainian migration networks in Poland could be a major contributing factor (Toruńczyk-Ruiz, 2014), especially for migrant women whose economic integration relies predominantly on social capital due in part to the non-convertible character of their cultural capital and to familial obligations (Kindler and Szulecka, 2014). According to researchers, the ability to learn Polish is a precondition to establishing ties with Poles: thanks to a cultural proximity between Ukrainian and Polish (both Slavic languages), this precondition appears accessible for Ukrainian migrants. At the end of 2020, 601 200 Ukrainians held residence permits in the European Union, 81% of them issued by Poland (Eurostat).


This action-research project, led in partnership with Nest, a nonprofit supporting the responsible growth and creative engagement of the artisan and maker economy, will bring into focus the specific situation of displaced Ukrainian women artisans. Looking at their migration patterns, listening to their first-hand testimonies, the project will try and gain a better understanding of the following: what are their actual needs? How do they feel in the host society? What gaps are identified in terms of women's rights and emancipation? What are the levers to improve their well-being? What are their perspectives for the future?



  • a landscape mapping Poland-based women-focused migrant artisan businesses and organizations that support these groups

  • a report on the situation of displaced Ukrainian Women Artisans in Poland based on a desk search, qualitative analysis of interviews conducted on the ground in Poland and survey analysis

  • a set of recommendations for Nest and the European and international communities related to the specific barriers and challenges met by these women

Growing Markets for Global Women Artisans: A Case Study for Wholesale/Retail Distribution of Handcrafted Luxury Good with the Ibu Movement

Many social enterprises have attempted to bring artisanal goods crafted in lean economies into the competitive retail market of the United States, Europe, and other more robust economies. The aim is to expand markets for these goods, providing income for many who have exceptional skills but no outlet for their crafts.


Many benefits ripple from this exchange, particularly for women who have passed down heritage craft skills for generations, mother to daughter, without compensation. When income rewards their skills for the first time, women find a new self-respect, as well as the respect of their community. They invest their earnings in their children and families, in health and education, clean water and care for the environment. They often find a voice to lead their communities and participate in decision making in ways that benefit all.


To create a business model for these kinds of social enterprises is challenging. Traditionally, profitable retail is built - not by raising retail prices - but by lowering wholesale costs, negotiating and competitively buying product at the lowest bid. A social enterprise is built on the opposite value, that of paying the artisan well for their craft, paying a living wage. Retailers also profit by scaling their business, selling the greatest number of units to reduce the cost per unit. This is also contrary to the nature of the social enterprise for artisan work, which deems each work of art valuable for its handmade quality and allows the necessary time to create one piece. Large quantities may be impossible to produce. For those attempting to offer luxury artisanal goods, the challenge is even greater, for in offering the finest of the artisan skills, each product takes even greater time to produce and is harder to scale.


Most social enterprises of this nature in the United States have failed. It is simply too difficult to break even without the benefit of traditional practices mentioned above: buying low, scaling high. Without profit, investors are reluctant to put money behind a business of this nature. The Ibu Movement has worked in this space for the past nine years, offering women's luxury craft handmade by over 100 women's artisan groups in 40 countries. An Ibu design team, headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, works with 50 of these groups to produce unique elevated fashion and accessories for women. By offering design collaboration with artisans, Ibu is able to translate traditional craft into new product that speaks to a higher-end market with spending power, and market it appropriately. From another 50 groups, Ibu buys directly handcrafted product already designed and made by women in a traditional wholesale/retail model.

The Need:


There is a significant need to create viable and sustainable marketplaces for artisanal work in the US and Europe. Ibu offers a valuable case study for cracking the code which many have not. Millions of women could be employed if a successful business model could be created to respond to the unique conditions of artisan trade. A granular look at the business of Ibu would shed light on the challenges and possibilities: how and how much to scale, what is the best platform for sales, how to incorporate design into the pricing structure, how to allocate resources, how to identify and cultivate the market for particular goods, how to collaborate with corporate groups to raise volume of product and advance the livelihood of more women.

The Project:


WFI will provide a small team of graduate students in the field of Business to examine the finances and organization of Ibu. Working with staff and nine years of data, the team will look at the unique conditions of artisan trade and develop a business plan tailored to this sector, specifically to this brand, which is on the cusp of expanding to the next level of growth, and in need of a plan to do so. One week in Charleston would prove beneficial for students to get to know Ibu operations, staff, retail space and tourist market. In addition, travel to the site of one of Ibu's artisan partners is also possible, allowing a close look at the work on the ground and providing one case study by which to understand the model at work. Sefrou, Morocco; Lima, Peru; Zaria City, Nigeria, and The Lewa Conservancy, Kenya; are all potential locations where Ibu's artisan partners could host a small team of students.


The Deliverables:

  • A business plan for conducting retail with the global artisan sector, with a focus on women

  • A template by which other new businesses and social enterprises might navigate

  • A five year plan for the Ibu Movement to grow to the next level, elevating the lives of more women each year with livelihood, respect, and self-authorized lives.


Empowering Women Artisans in Myanmar and Afghanistan


WFI is partnering a university team with fashion company, Blumera, and women artisans on the ground around the world to create a new collection of clothing, accessories, and home goods utilizing innovative upcycled materials while providing dignified employment to women – who are often peacebuilders. 

In partnering with Women Forward International, Blumera broadens its ability to hire and support local artisans worldwide, and seeks to empower female artisans in all territories with an emphasis on women in crisis zones. It is the Blumera mission to support these women and aid in providing infrastructure that affects not only their immediate families but also their community at large. Through Blumera's work with WFI and their university students and programs, and in providing gainful employment to the artisans, the aim is to uplift these communities holistically through mental, emotional, and physical healthcare and wellbeing, education, and other modalities that are tailored specifically to the needs of each individual community. 


This project will result in a collection of wearable works of art and support artistic, technical and economic opportunities, especially for female artisans, in which they can grow and rise in responsibility, income, skills, and management while transmitting beauty and love into the world.

Blumera is built on the ethos of LOVE which flows through every facet, stitch, etching, carving, and design of the brand. This is the soul of Blumera, and from which our sustainability practices spring from. The Blumera team of artisans are our family. They set their own wages, work schedule, and work from the comfort of their home (or temple, as is the case with our carver and Balinese Priest, Pak Mangku). They delight in seeing the positive impact that Blumera has made on our team. Due to this positive system of working, the team has been able to build their own dream homes and work spaces. Blumera believes that intention is paramount and that what goes into a creation is what comes out. Blumera designs, creates, and delivers with love, integrity, and heart. 


Expand our collaboration with Blumera that will tap deeper into the pool of women artisans in around the world to provide more women them with dignified employment and exposure within a broader network of designers and consumers.


Modernizing Tradition in the Service of Women Artisans in India

with ZariZar


The Need: The export of textiles is integral to the Indian economy, and skilled artisans are critical to that success. Given appropriate support, independent women weavers can continue to be the vital core of that workforce, maintaining a valued heritage as it provides livelihood for their families. This project demonstrates how a unique partnership can expand this cottage industry, which produces sustainable world class, “slow fashion” products, for the benefit of India, women, and style-conscious customers in the United States.


ZariZar: Founded by two entrepreneurs in the Aurangabad area of Maharashtra, ZariZar ( sells luxury had-woven shawls and a curated collection of minerals in the United States. The company builds on an established network of master weavers, mostly women, that, with their apprentices, has become one of the most renowned and honored in India. Their skill and patience enables them to spend days and even weeks at their looms, crafting a single magnificent shawl as a work of art. With ZariZar, this network of craftspeople is entering the globalized world of high fashion, using the most refined silk, Kashmiri wool, and Zari threads to weave luxurious patterns in the ancient art of Himroo shawls for a new market of customers.

High-end Himroo Fabrics business, ZariZar, creates traditional, hand woven silk shawls and other textiles. Skilled women weavers are contracted by ZariZar and provided gainful, steady employment and business acumen. 


WFI will partner the leading fashion institute in Mumbai, India and a leading fashion school in the United States with ZariZar to implement a strategic plan to open up new markets, especially in the United States, which will uplift ZarZars community of businesswomen artisans, their families, and their societies.  


Founded by two entrepreneurs in the Aurangabad area of Maharashtra, ZariZar sells luxury had-woven shawls in the United States. The company builds on an established a network of master weavers that, with their apprentices, has become one of the most renowned and honored in India. Their skill and patience enables them to spend days and even weeks at their looms, crafting a single magnificent shawl as a work of art With ZariZar, this network of craftspeople is entering the globalized world of high fashion, using the most refined silk, Kashmiri wool, and zari threads to weave luxurious patterns for customers with universal tastes. 

Kandahar Treasure

Kandahar Treasure transforms lives by empowering Afghan women artisans in the Kandahar area to lift themselves and their families out of poverty through ethical, artisan-based employment thereby changing the way they see the world and their place in it.  KT is an innovative model of social entrepreneurship with a mission to create economic stability for a region ravaged with war and violence.


Through the sale of beautifuly hand embroidered pieces, KT supports a holistic approach to sustainable poverty alleviation through artisan-based employment that empowers Afghan women. Women, earning fair labor wages, embroider weave pieces of art. KT strives to also drive transformational change by providing financial advising to help the women manage their household budgets for the first time.

Kandahar Treasure is a model of social entrepreneurship enabling Afghan women artisans and their families break the cycle of poverty by providing them with income and access financial assistance.


Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Rural South and Southeast Mexico

Pro Mujer and Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM)

Countless studies have shown that gender equality is smart economics. The untapped potential of women remains a lost opportunity for economic growth and development that Afghanistan cannot afford. Women’s economic participation promotes agricultural productivity, enterprise development at the micro, small, and medium enterprise levels, as well as enhances business management and returns on investment.

In addition to boosting economic growth, investing in women produces a multiplier effect – women reinvest a large portion of their income in their families and communities. Women also play key roles in creating peaceful and stable societies –important factors for economic growth. Unfortunately, in places like Afghanistan, these benefits have not been universally recognized and translated into women’s full economic participation. Women still face obstacles when trying to establish new businesses or expand existing ones. Among the biggest hurdles are discriminatory laws, regulations and business conditions, as well as women’s lack of access to property rights, finance, training, technology, markets, mentors, and networks.



In the Southeast of Mexico, the context presents a series of challenges, due to the deep social, economic, educational and equality lags. 60% of the Mexican southeast inhabitants live in poverty conditions. In some states, this figure goes up to 80%, while the national poverty rate is 40%. Regarding gender, the gap in economic participation between men and women is 36.24 points, and only 2.96% of women in the region own their own businesses.

The region obtained the country’s lowest score in the Financial Literacy Index, obtaining 54.9 points in 2018. The numbers are significantly lower when we talk about indigenous and rural populations, and especially, about the women living in these communities.

With the aim to address some of these systemic shortcomings in 2022 we started a expansion to this region to offer Pro Mujer ́s suite of services, starting by Emprende Pro Mujer program to equip women with skills and knowledge to successfully manage and expand their businesses. Due to the characteristics of the region, a large part of the micro-entrepreneurs are from the artisan sector.

Proof of this is that “A large portion of support providers in rural South and Southeast Mexico direct their support to entrepreneurs in the culture sector, which includes tourism, media, and entertainment (67%), and the artisanal sector (49%)” (ANDE, 2020).

Through a study already carried out as the first step for the expansion of Pro Mujer to the southeast, today we have information on the existing entrepreneurial services supply and demand, at a macro level and with a focus on the organizations that provide these services.

However, we have little information on how women entrepreneurs receive information from such services: what are the messages they are seeing or listening to, how do they react to them, what is the social consensus in social networks etc.


To understand what is the information that indigenous or rural artisan-women are accessing by analyzing the conversations and trends that occur in social networks about capacity development services in entrepreneurship and access to credit.

The end-goal is to have a better decision making process around marketing of financials and non-financial products and services, because the difficulty in finding relevant products and services provided by trusted organizations is one of the key barriers in a costumer journey for women entrepreneurs in Southeast Mexico. (Dalberg, 2021)


1. Research piece development: Pro Mujer together with the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM), will work in the methodological framework to be able apply what is commonly known as social listening and social understanding tools based on Artificial Intelligence aimed at tracking conversations and mentions related to a given topic on social media platforms, and analyzing them for insights into what actions organizations can take to improve the consumer experience. This will be adapted to the context of Southern Mexico and with a scope in the artisanal sector. Activities include:

  • Defining key criteria to understand the entrepreneurial capacity-development and access to credit services.

  • Defining the scope of the project in terms of time, social networks to analyze and geography.

  • Data gathering and analysis

  • Report writing with key insights and recommendation

2. Research dissemination: Pro Mujer will hold a series of roundtables with kestakeholder in the artisanal sector working in at least 3 states of Southeast Mexico, to share key findings and discuss how to better adapt the communication and marketing process of financial and non-financial services targeting indigenous and/or rural women.We will also create a communication ́s campaign to broadly share the research report.

A Craftwomen's Collective and Community Building in Jamaica


Historically, the inner-city neighborhood of Rose Town in Kingston, Jamaica has been divided between North and South by two rival factions, arising from the political divisions and violence that grew in Jamaica in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the government took drastic action to curb the violence and razed the middle section of the neighborhood, demolishing houses and buildings to create a barren ‘no man’s land’ between the two communities. The violence continued however, with unemployment, food insecurity and poor sanitary conditions increasingly entrenched. Following a visit by HRH The Prince of Wales, The Prince’s Foundation began supporting the local community in their efforts to reconcile the divided neighborhood and improve the quality of life for all residents. 


WFI is collaborating with The Prince’s Foundation, Rose Town Foundation, and Kingston Creative on a three-year development plan focusing on the creation of a cohort of local artisans who will develop the craft skills necessary to earn a living selling unique high quality textile products to both a local market and an international fashion market. The artisans will create handmade crochet items, which may utilize natural dye techniques traditional to the Foundation at Dumfries House in conjunction with crop production from the Rose Town farm in the dye process. The program will engage females who are at risk of domestic violence or young mothers who may find the flexible working model that comes from being a self-employed crafts person appealing. The aim is to create employment that is long-lasting where the artisans can grow and rise in responsibility, income, skills, and management while transmitting beauty and love into the world.


  • Launch WFI’s first year of collaboration with the Rose Town Foundation & The Prince’s Foundation to set up and operationalize the “18 to 80” program which will provide women with the tools and training to create and sell their craftwork, and offer resources and workshops on self-defense, reproductive health, and financial management




Carpet of flowers
Soldiers and Tanks
Vyshyvanka Day
Clay Bowls for Sale
Buddha Statue
Traditional Spices in Market
Sunny Mosque
Artisanal Weaver
Crowded Street
Women in Jewelry Workshop
Mexico City
Tropical Beach
Pottery Wheel
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