In the Millennium Village of Ruhiira (Uganda), a group of optimistic and determined women have started an initiative called Ekirooto, which means “dreaming” in Runyankore, a local language. The women are members of the Kabuyanda Innovation Center in Ruhiira, a place where women in the community can find a space to learn, socialize, and work.
The Innovation Center hosts several training programs, including the Glass Beads Weaving project that I started in May 2011 through an internship at Columbia University. As an industrial designer by trade, I see design as something accessible to everyone, a tool to improve lives regardless of the surrounding conditions. Design works with local resources to give appropriate solutions that respond to the limitations and opportunities of the environment. I chose to work with glass beads when opening the jewelry design program at the innovation center because they are an affordable, flexible, and accessible material offering endless creative applications.
In less than four months, with the help of skillful local instructors and intense work, the group of 30 women mastered more than 20 different designs ranging from earrings, necklaces, and bracelets to animal figurines.
The next step was market outreach. Once the group had received proper training and had developed a product portfolio, doors started to open. The response was astonishing. Not only were their products purchased by the best craft boutiques in Uganda and Kenya (including Banana Boat and Spinners Web), they are now selling through Issey Miyake’s HaaT stores in Japan.
An example of power of determination, this initiative started with an untrained group sitting in the grass with a handful of beads, and is now a professional source of work and income to a devoted group of women that believe in and aim for big dreams.