Pastoral women to market beadwork through USSD platform

Maasai women sell artifacts to tourists at the Sekenani Gate in Masai Mara Game Reserve. The beadwork sales now set to go digital as the USSD platform is launched

Photo credit: Robert Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

For the first time ever, beading women from pastoral communities will have an opportunity to market their products through a digital platform following the launch of a USSD platform.

The digital marketplace targets women in 127 cooperatives in seven pastoralist counties such as West Pokot, Narok, Baringo, Samburu, Turkana, Marsabit and Kajiado.

The project is facilitated by the government through the Ushanga Kenya initiative under the Ministry of Sports and Culture.

Ushanga Kenya is a national government’s flagship project that seeks to empower pastoral women involved in beadwork by transforming their traditional art into significant economic benefits and sustainable livelihoods.

The government seeks to use digital and social media as an avenue for evoking cultural pride, ensuring cultural adoption rewards the owner of the artefacts and the country as a whole, and transforming the livelihoods of bead workers.

Speaking during the launch of the programme in the Maasai Mara, Sports and Culture CS Ms Amina Mohamed hailed the initiative, saying the digital platform is a vital tool for empowering women and girls.

“This is a great milestone by my ministry which boosts our mandate of preserving our culture through the bead, which we endeavour to protect zealously,” said Ms Mohamed.

She said bead products had made a great contribution to the country’s development, especially among pastoral communities.

She added: “Besides the economic value that embodies the bead, it also epitomises our cultural identity and heritage, which are some of our values of undisputable national importance and pride, and which has won global recognition.”

Traditionally, she said, the pieces of beads were highly treasured but earned nothing for their makers beyond ornamental beauty.

“But today, the USSD is a game-changer for the ladies from the cited communities. Access to markets and their narrative will be easy,” she added.

The CS affirmed that through the USSD, their products will be available in wider markets, and earn money, economic independence and financial stability for the women.

The USSD will be a User Management Module that will have a database of the various women and cooperatives working with Ushanga Kenya, meaning the products can be traced right to their original producers. All relevant stakeholders will have role-based access to the system, enabling smooth operations.

The USSD platform is part of the government’s efforts to make the sale and upscaling of the beadwork of women and girls. It will also protect the intellectual property and legal rights of the makers of the products and their culture.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimates that in Kenya, tourists spent an average of $79 each on handicraft purchases.

With this trend, analysts predict a growing market for handicrafts. As middle-class populations expand, numerous opportunities are in store for artisans, especially in developing countries, to create products for these markets.

Mrs Hellen Nkaisery, the chairperson of Ushanga Kenya, described the initiative, introduced five years ago, as one of the greatest cross-cultural business innovations by the Kenyan government for pastoral women.

“Commercialisation of beadwork has steered financial independence, cultural preservation and eased social adversity for the pastoralist woman,” Mrs Nkaisery said.

She said women involved in beadwork had been enabled to create pieces to match various major events through training in value addition and using the latest techniques, while also preserving their rich heritage.

“Through beadwork, women now will have their own source of income to bring to the family basket. The women are now their own bosses,” said Mrs Nkaisery.

She said Ushanga Kenya has formed women’s cooperatives across seven counties, with the smallest having 100 registered members.

In order to ensure that the artefacts meet international standards, Mrs Nkaisery said they are helping the women to adopt modern designs, value addition and entrepreneurial skills and to use modern tools and equipment.

For her part, Sports and Culture PS Josephta 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 realise this, we need to know our women, having the data of the original crafters of the authentic bead products,” she said.

She said more than 5,000 women have benefited from the capacity-building programme and can make contemporary beadworks that meet the diverse demands for global clients.

“I wish to report that during this year’s Deaflympics held in Brazil in June 2022, our country was greatly honoured for showcasing more than 200 original pieces of beadwork and authentic work by our women from pastoral communities,” she said. 

“The products were designed and crafted by our women. We take pride!” 

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