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Our mission is to help impoverished communities in Africa launch or expand sustainable crafting enterprises. By offering seed grants together with access to global markets, we uncover untapped talent and create pathways to economic empowerment. We focus on building relationships. We nurture our relationship with the communities we serve and the relationships between the crafting communities and the buyers.
Janice Ashby founded Eco Africa Social Ventures in 2007 to help provide funding and humanitarian support for the women and their families who were part of the crafting enterprise that she started in 1995, which was transforming many lives.
Rewind 9 years prior: During a visit to the majestic Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe in 1998, Janice was rummaging through a nearby gift shop when she came upon a photo album made from unusual, textural paper that was obviously handmade by a local craftsperson. Her curiosity was piqued immediately. She sensed an opportunity for this crafting community: handcrafted paper products with a unique style. She knew her skills from her years of owning a design firm in South Africa and her marketing connections could be added to the idea. Back in New York where she lived, she got to work right away to design a line of products and to market them world wide. Orders soon started coming in so she headed back to Zimbabwe to find the right people and to set up shop.
Janice soon located the small pioneering group of papermakers creating unique African style handmade papers. She set up Eco-Africa Papercraft a social enterprise that would provide skills training and crafting work to hundreds of local women from the impoverished township of Chitungwiza. She rented workshops from the local parish and set up in two church halls on a working mission station. The reception in the community was significant: Hundreds of women streamed into the mission seeking work. More than four hundred were selected to become proud Eco Africa paper-crafters. Lives were changed.
By 2006 the political situation in Zimbabwe was rapidly deteriorating, and the economy was in turmoil. Janice realized that these strong and inspiring Eco Africa women crafters were facing huge challenges in their lives. They were struggling to take care of their families, feed and educate their children and stay healthy. In 2007, Janice founded Eco Africa Social Ventures based in New York, to raise funds to enable the artisans to continue their work and for upliftment projects to improve their lives.
- Mufaro Dube
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