Indigenous Entrepreneurs

Tierra Viva’s job creation via weaving

Think of today's entrepreneurs and the first thought that might come to mind are privileged hipsters with access to capital and resources, and not the women from the Warao, Wayuu and Yek’wana communities in Venezuela. 

In 1992, Fundación Tierra Viva, a Venezuelan private non-profit organization opened its doors with the mission to implement sustainable development projects to improve the quality of life for people in the region. Educational and training programs were created that produced informative materials, promoting socio-economic projects, which included producing and marketing handcrafts along with community-based tourism with the intention to generate an income for communities while also respecting the natural resource wealth of the region.

Tierra Viva kicked-off ”Mujer Indígena Emprendedor,” and partnered with Chevron in 2010. By 2014, the organization received European Union funding. The program promotes entrepreneurship for indigenous women of the Warao, Wayuu and Yek'wana communities from the Delta Amacuro, Bolivar, and Zulia states that provide them with the tools and the instruction to implement marketing and sales strategies that meet fair trade criteria, but also promote their cultures and traditions. Currently, there are 210 women in the program.

In the Warao, Wayuu and Yek'wana communities, weaving is considered an important textile tradition that is passed down from generation to generation--grandmothers to mothers to daughters. Each woven piece tells a vivid and unique story, but it also where art, skills, and heritage plays a role in recollection and processes.  Whereas, for contemporary designs, clients who want hand-made products, the process of developing new products is directly related to the customer's requirements. Once the design is approved the featured artisans train other artisans to complete the order, according to Soliria Menegatti, special projects manager.    

For this year’s NY NOW’s Artisan Resource, the women from the Warao community will be exhibiting an extensive collection of woven baskets, bags, jewelry made from the moriche palm, a sacred tree for the Warao people as well as incorporating the bora fibers—an aquatic plant found in the river streams. Participants from the Wayuu community will have on display some colorful embroidered textiles made from cotton.

Apart from the success of having the women from the three different communities involved in the entrepreneurial program, Ms. Menegatti says, “We designed new products, implemented an online store and have developed relationships with corporate clients in Venezuela. Also, we sold more than 20,000 products sold in 2015. Our next big goal is to participate in EEUU markets.”

Fundacion Tierra Viva will be attending NY NOW’s Artisan Resource at the Jacob Javits Center from January 31 to February 3, 2016. For more information about the organization, visit http://www.tierraviva.org.

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