The Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation

Kichwa Arts and Crafts Project

Grant Information
Categories Community , Environment
Location International
Cycle Year 2013
Organization Information
Organization Name (provided by applicant) Rainforest Partnership
Organization Name (provided by automatic EIN validation)
Contact Information
Contact Name Karen Magid
Phone 512-420-0101
505 Willow St
Additional Information
Used for We are seeking funding to further our work in the Ecuadorian rainforest community of Sani Isla, located on the Rio Napo between the Cuyabeno and Yasuni National Parks, in one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth. Rainforest Partnership is working with women in this indigenous community on the Kichwa Arts and Crafts Project to help train them to make and market high quality artisan goods and on the successful running of a cooperative business. Funds from the Dudley T. Dougherty Foundation would successfully establish the next phase of this project, providing both significant training and giving the women access to a full-time project coordinator that trains them in the community on topics such as small business development and environmental education, as well as links them to the markets in Quito and elsewhere so that they can learn to manage the business on their own.
Benefits Tropical rainforests are the lungs of the planet helping to filter carbon dioxide and create the air we all breathe. Rainforest Partnership helps communities develop self-sustaining incomes allowing them to protect their forests and say no to outside interests who want to cut down their forests. So, breathe a little easier with Rainforest Partnership because when rainforests remain standing, we all benefit.
Proposal Description Project Background –
Sani Isla is an indigenous rainforest community in the Ecuadorian Amazon, located at the borders of two protected areas, Yasuni National Park and Cuyabeno Nature Reserve. Sani Isla is among the most biologically diverse areas in the world and home to 302 indigenous Kichwa families.

In collaboration with Sani Isla community leaders and Ecuadorian NGO Conservación y Desarrollo, Rainforest Partnership (RP) developed a project plan in 2009 for an artisan craft business with the women of the community, based on traditional craft-making techniques. The older women led the others by teaching them how to collect seeds and plant fibers and to assemble them into bracelets, necklaces, handbags, and the beaded tops and palm skirts worn by their ancestors. With funding from a family foundation, RP was able to construct an artisan craft house to provide a home for the developing business, and the women established a nursery and demonstration plot outside, planting more than 2,000 native plants. RP staff also helped build an open-air market stand for the artisan goods, and helped to create two new tourist attractions next to the artisan house, a nursery and garden demonstration plot with native plant species and a sustainable fish pond with native species of fish and turtles to both draw tourists and produce food.

With this infrastructure construction and the revival of these craft-making skills, the women had a place of their own in which they could make crafts and new product to sell. The next steps were to find markets to enter and focus on business skills. RP organized workshops to help the women acquire the business skills necessary to manage their business, including supply chain management and communicating with tourists. Indigenous women came from neighboring communities to teach them additional craft skills, and the women opened a market stand in a nearby town. The first successes from this skill development phase reflect the focus on the communication and tour-guiding services. The women now receive tourists directly from their own community’s Sani Lodge for cultural tours and artisan sales, as well as from another nearby lodge and two Amazon cruises. Additional markets have been found with the help of the project coordinator, based part time in the community and part time in Quito. Over the summer of 2013, she greatly expanded the women’s reach by placing the products for sale in Quito in stores and local crafts markets. The women are just beginning to accompany her to Quito on occasion to maintain relationships with the vendors and check on their accounts.

To ensure that our projects are achieving the planned benefits, we track outcomes and impact in both qualitative and quantitative ways. The leading qualitative success of this project is how the women in the community feel empowered to speak out and be among the leaders in the fight protecting their land, and how the local community is empowered to make sustainable economic choices. Through their craft business, the Sani Isla women have strengthened their local environmentally sustainable and financially viable economy. They have also found their voices.

We measure impact quantitatively in some of the following ways:
-Providing 27 local women with opportunities to participate in the local economy for the first time.
-In May-September 2013, Sani Isla gave $5057 worth of tours to 999 adults and 25 youth.
-Sani Isla goods are often sold out in the Quito shops and markets.
-The women have had multiple days of craft sales of $300-$400 this year; last year only one day exceeded that amount.
-The diversification in income sources has allowed the community to protect over 20,000 hectares of rainforest land.

Reasons we work in Sani Isla –
As an organization, RP is committed to protecting tropical rainforests, which are critically important to the earth's ecosystem and to human life. We are especially committed to and honored to be working with the Sani Isla community to help protect them from the threat of oil.

Although the Sani community has voted unanimously to keep oil extraction off their land, on January 15, 2013, Ecuadorian oil company Petroamazonas threatened to begin prospecting in the indigenous owned land of Sani Isla. Fredy Galingua, the manager of the Sani Isla ecolodge and a community leader, commented on the oil threat: “The Sani people have experience watching the bad experiences from oil in our neighboring communities. We are so happy to continue working on our ecotourism project, which will help us to continue protecting and conserving forests for a long time.” Today the Sani women have been one of the strongest voices against oil extraction in their territory and the community as a whole continues to stand strong against the threat of oil extraction. The steady income they receive is a strong motivation to continue protecting their forests.

Goals and Objectives –
Rainforest communities want to protect their forests, but they also need to pay for health care, schools for their children, and other goods and services that require financial assets. Rainforest Partnership’s simple main objective is to help forest communities make it more valuable for them to protect and keep their forests standing than to have to damage their forests or sell the rights to them.

In Sani Isla, this main objective is only half of the story. The other half is about empowerment and independence. Through this project, the Sani women are taking ownership of their education and learning to self-manage their business. They also adopted a business model that allocates a percentage of sales from each artisan to go into the organization’s group fund. Rainforest Partnership funded a trip for women to visit Quito for a learning tour, where they interviewed and viewed craft vendors about pricing and craft supply chain management. Based on this experience, a new marketing plan was developed to expand their operations. This plan is what helped the current in-country project coordinator to expand their sales into three stores and two crafts markets in Quito and increased their ability to make sales on a monthly basis that will help ensure a reliable income.

Moving Forward –
Since the beginning of the project, RP has assisted the women in organizing their production and developing infrastructure. The artisan’s house was built first because the women had no space of their own in which to work. Having this space has been one of the most significant empowerments for the women, and started a critical shift in the culture of the community towards the women finding their voices. With space and product lines established, more recent, and still on-going work includes providing tutoring for the women in basic business skills, including arithmetic and accounting, communicating with tourists, and botany. These last two skills are valuable to provide explanation of the product components to visitors and tourists.

The detailed work plan for the coming months includes a focus on improving the guiding skills of the women for the tours they lead in the community. This includes working with the women on a script to better explain the jewelry-making process and components. Additionally, the women have requested advanced environmental training so that they can better understand the risks to their forest. The women leaders in the project, Guadalupe and Blanca, have specifically asked for this so that outsiders cannot confuse them again. This training would include tours to nearby areas showing the damage caused by oil drilling.

RP staff in Texas and the in-country project coordinator have this work plan to continue to strengthen these outcomes and develop crafts and business skills in the community. As the project work increased over the summer, we have seen that it is necessary to have the project coordinator working full-time on this project, instead of splitting her time with the Sani Lodge. Additional secured funding would make this possible. The project coordinator herself and the women’s group have also expressed the desire to have more time with her in the community. The research has been done and groundwork has been laid for another year of work in Sani Isla. The project coordinator has workshops planned to expand their product line, and increase their basic business skills to improve their business acumen, provide leadership trainings, and establish their ability to more on their own, without the help of the project coordinator in the long-term.