To Dye for Change

Traditional mudcloth means jobs for women and youth.

Tall and regal with a commanding quiet presence, Boubacar Doumbia founded and manages what many consider one of the most successful social enterprises in Mali, and perhaps in West Africa. His double commitment to quality products and empowering youth and women has enabled Ndomo to garner numerous awards and accolades, including Belguim’s Harubuntu Award for social entrepreneurship, and the Ashoka Fellowship award and grant. He has also been named an Honorary Citizen of Segou for Social Entrepreneurship by the government of Mali.

Doumbia, and his social enterprise Ndomo, do not rest on their numerous laurels. The workshop is continually abuzz with production, meeting deadlines, hosting tourist visits, training women in the extended community, negotiating with international buyers, and designing new products.
What has made Ndomo’s social enterprise such a success? Since its inception in 1990 as Kasobani Segou, Doumbia pulled disenfranchised youth into the workshop to train them in the Malian traditional textile dying technique of bogolanfini (mudcloth) to help them earn sustainable livings.

Ndomo requires all trainees to open a savings account. At the end of each year they are expected to have saved a certain amount. If at the year-end meeting someone has fallen significantly short of the goal, peer pressure is strong for them to get on board with the program and to save for their future.

Ndomo also trains youth in literacy, entrepreneurship, management and accounting. Having started with just three trainees in 1990, to date over 100 trainees have gone through the Ndomo system. Currently 20 of them are full-time employees who both make bogolanfini and train others.

Hamidou Barro was an orphan who dropped out of school and found his way to Ndomo when he was 17, with no work, few skills, and little vision for his future. During the decade that he has been at Ndomo, Barro has been able to save for and purchase a home, marry and pay for the education of his wife and children, invest in his retirement fund, continue his own formal education, and purchase health insurance for his family. He is now a trainer and also leads the tourism program at Ndomo. Hamidou is only one example of the many who have been spared years of unemployment and instability. Barro, and the others like him, are models of success that help Ndomo’s influence spread throughout the larger community.

Outreach to the community is one of Ndomo’s goals. Ndomo pro-actively reaches out to women’s groups and trains them in not only the technique of making quality bogolanfini, but also in management and marketing. Once trained, Ndomo collaborates with the women’s groups and shares with them large portions of Ndomo’s international orders so that there is direct income generation. Over 50 women have been trained by Ndomo, and they in turn train the other women in their groups. Women leaders of these cooperatives have gone on to participate in numerous international fairs and tradeshows, getting even more orders for the women in their communities.

But social is only one half of any successful social enterprise. Running the business soundly is the other very important half. Because of Doumbia’s relentless insistence on quality, consistency and creativity with taste, Ndomo has been able to satisfy the stringent demands of the international market, increasing sales every year. Additionally, they are beginning to use primarily locally grown certified organic cotton to further increase their visibility as a socially responsible and green company. Their clients span the globe, from the U.S. to Europe to Japan.

To learn more about Ndomo, please visit www.ndomo.net.

Elaine Bellezza lives in Africa and has been working with African designers and artisans for the past 20 years, currently the Home Décor Advisor for the USAID West Africa Trade Hub. She focuses on product design and access to markets. www.watradehub.com, www.african-now.org.

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