WASHINGTON — The artisan enterprise industry occupies just a small sliver of the global market share. Compared with industries like cosmetics, valued around $265 billion per year, the artisan enterprise industry is valued at just $32 to $34 billion per year.
And yet, according to the U.S. State Department, “the economic impact of the artisan sector is undervalued.” While the artisan enterprise sector is not considered a key influencer in macroeconomics just yet, there is a reason to believe that this sector is poised for growth.
To help promote the artisan sector, in 2012 former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton launched the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise (AAE).
The AAE, a branch of the Aspen Institute, is an amalgamation of more than 64 nonprofits, corporations and individual entrepreneurs. Their mission is “to support the power and potential of the artisan sector, to create jobs, increase incomes, enhance cultural heritage and promote development that respects the uniqueness of people and place.”
To achieve this goal, the AAE provides various tools and resources dedicated to overcoming the obstacles faced by artisans around the globe.
One problem encountered by the artisan sector is inconsistent and unreliable economic data. Not having an accurate picture of the market makes it difficult for new businesses to navigate. To address this issue the AAE partners with research groups, such as UNESCO, to fill in the gaps of data.
With better data, the AAE is able to create informative resources such as the Artisan Value Chain Toolkit. Designed to build a common understanding between artisans and stakeholders, the Toolkit is a comprehensive map individually tailored to meet one’s geographic and sociocultural needs within the larger economy.
By using visual images instead of words, the Toolkit is able to overcome the barrier of illiteracy in the developing world. Launched in 2015 in Rwanda and the Philippines, the Toolkit now enables previously uneducated people to make informed business decisions.
Another impediment to artisans is a lack of financing, which is crucial to grow and scale a new business.
To address this issue, the AAE partnered with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Weissberg Foundation, the U.S. Department of State and Kiva to provide innovative financial solutions for aspiring entrepreneurs. These financial solutions are offered as microfinance loans distributed by Kiva.
In addition to working directly with artisans, the AAE also campaigns for large-scale policy change. The policies that the AAE pursues aim to make global markets more accessible for small enterprises.
One such policy is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The AGOA allows increased market access to the U.S. for qualifying Sub-Saharan countries. Earlier this year President Obama signed into law an extension of AGOA to 2025.
Because 65 percent of artisan crafts are produced in developing countries, unlocking the sector’s full potential for growth also has the capability to lift hundreds of thousands out of poverty.
“It’s time to demonstrate the value of this sector that has been misunderstood and under-resourced for too long,” says Peggy Clark, Director of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise and Vice President at the Aspen Institute. “There is so much untapped potential for global development in the artisan sector, especially as we focus on women and girls. Now is the moment.”
Sources: The African Growth and Opportunity Act, Alliance for Artisan Enterprise 1, Alliance for Artisan Enterprise 2, Alliance for Artisan Enterprise 3, Alliance for Artisan Enterprise 4, Alliance for Artisan Enterprise 5, Aspen Institute, Cosmetics Design, U.S. Department of State