Interview: Grace Matovolwa
Grace's passion is design, which she studied at the Heart College in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. Then she came into contact with Rachel, who at that time had her own art gallery. Grace did the management of the gallery and after her pregnancy she came back into contact with Rachel, who had started a new project at that moment: World of Weaving. In WOW, where she is the production manager, Grace could combine her passion for design with working on social development in Tanzania. World of Weaving integrates social development in its business model by outsourcing the production of her products to women from rural Tanzania. An interesting concept, which In2Afrika wants to know more about. In Nafasi Art Space in Dar es Salaam, we speak with Grace about art, design, and the synergy of successful business and social development.
An interview with Grace, WOW's production manager:
I General Information
a. Can you shortly describe the genesis / history of the World of Weaving-project?
"I knew Rachel from when she had a gallery, and here I started working for her. That was just after my studies. When I was on maternity leave in 2012, the gallery closed. A few months later Rachel had a new project, World of Weaving, and she asked me if I wanted to join. World of Weaving is a company that offers a line of sustainable, high-end textile-products, with the production performed by a group of women in rural Tanzania to empower them by learning new skill while earning a good, stable income. My first assignment was to go to a village in rural Tanzania, 500km from Dar es Salaam, Ifakara. The women who live here produce handwoven work on traditional Danish looms, and Rachel already exhibited their work in her gallery. These women were already organized in the IWWA (Ifakara Womans Weavers Association). I went to the village to do an assessment for World of Weaving. The intention was to teach the women additional weaving techniques, allowing them to work for World of Weaving for the long term. At the same time I coached a number of Dutch and Belgian designers and students in this village, as they join me to train the weavers. At this moment we are in the final stages of developing our first line of products, which we've done together with European designers, here in our R&D Center in Dar es Salaam. At present we are working hard to get get more orders, and to tap into for example, a European market. The greater our brand becomes, the more women we can help to make a living. "
b. What has the impact of the project since then, on the target group and local community and surroundings?
"The main impact we had was in the community of weavers: because the women learn new skills and expand their skill set, not only their skills grow, but also their mindset and mentality. Suddenly they see what they are capable of, what it is possible for them."
c. What has motivated you, personally, to start your development project?
"First of all I have a big passion for design. Especially the designing attracted me a lot in this project: inventing new colors, patterns and products. This is my background, it's what I love. I also think that I have a skill in management, because it is sometimes very difficult to work with the weavers in the village: they constantly change their minds, are very fickle. It is very difficult to to convince creative people of anything because they always know better, but until now in the end I always made it happen. This is also a motivation for me, to show that I'm doing well. "
d. What is, according to you, the strongest point of the project?
"The unique design, the clothes and patterns are our greatest strength as a product, as a brand. A lot of time and money go into this, but this makes our products high-end and unique, and that is what we strive for. I also believe that the people who work for us benefit enormously from WOW. They not only earn a good income with very good working conditions, they moreover get the opportunity in personal development. It's almost like a family business. The combination between a good business model and social development is very powerful."
e. What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / point of improvement for the project?
"So far, the development of the project went quite well. There are obstacles such as communication with the weavers and expanding of the market, but sofar the project was always able to overcome these relatively easy. Real big issues did not occur until this point."
II. Development (aid) - north / south relations
a. What is your idea on development?
"For me, development needs to concern the very basic living conditions for all people: to ensure that people can actually get the necessary things they need to lead an honorable life. Development is providing sustainability, durable living. I'm talking particularly about issues such as healthcare and education. Development is that people are provided with these things, they can do these things without big problems."
b. There is a lot of Western organizations starting development projects in Africa. What is your general vision on this development-aid?
"There is a good side to Western influence in Africa, but sometimes I feel that Western people only come to Africa to steal the opportunities from us, to take the opportunities away from the Africans. This is a double problem because we Africans are not assertive enough to take these opportunities ourselves. Sometimes, however, the people from the West also deliberately take away our chances. You see this a lot in the private sector. "
c. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for Western organizations that want to develop other / foreign communities?
"A big pitfall is in my opinion that many Western companies who come to work here, take all the good results they book here back to the West. You can understand this very broadly. They settle here, make money, but take all the profits back to the West. In addition they also, for example do not let their children work here (after studying in Africa) and then let them become a doctor or an engineer in Europe instead of here. They choose the easy way, while they owe much to our country. I find that they should put more work and passion in contributing to the African society, also leave something behind instead of taking everything back to the West. They do not want to be in Africa because the conditions are not as good as in the West. But they should instead help us to improve these conditions!"
d. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for African's that want to develop their own communities?
"In my experience a big problem is that for Africans the threshold is much higher to apply for funding. There is little confidence in Africans, that they themselves can achieve things, that they are reliable. This is a big obstacle."
e. The In2Afrika Foundation takes the civil society as main principles, in which small scale and local practice are the two most important principles. What is your opinion on our startingpoint?
"I think these are two good principles, because many organizations immediately think (too) big. However, there is much to be done on a small scale because you can grow from small to large. It is worth more to grow from 1 to 5, then to start immediately at 5. At the same time you should not be afraid to grow when this is possible. This is also the way World of Weaving was built. We started small, now grow bit by bit, and the more we grow the more we can achieve in terms of social development."
III. Image of Africa
a. What is, according to you, the current prevailing Western image of the African continent?
"I spent quite some time in Europe. The image is mainly negative for my feeling: no food, water, electricity or roads and a lot of war, that is what people think. This might have been true once, and in a few places it is still reality, but Africa is changing! We now have the same problems as Western countries. These old ideas about Africa seem to be very deeply integrated in the West, but Western people do not go to Africa to see how it really is, what really happens! I'm sure you, if you go back to the Netherlands, have a very different picture of the continent and have many other stories than the ones you've heard before. "
b. What's your opinion on these images?
“If you want to argue or assume things about Africa, you better come up with the correct facts and first discover what is the truth! Only then you can make a judgment. Western ideas about Africa are often based on standard images that have been around for a very long time, but because people do not go and find out the truth themselves this false image remains.”
c. How should this image be changed?
"The problem is two-sided, and for an important part definitely lays with Africans themselves, in their mentality. Africans see western, white people as 'easy money' and express all their huge problems with them. This is something that must stop! The problems they tell are never entirely true, but create a typical image of Africa. We must stop seeing white people as ATM's.
At the same time it is also a problem of the Westerners. It is their responsibility to find out what is fact and what is fiction."
d. What does the World of Weaving-project do to create an image of the project and of the African continent in general?
"WOW radiates that Africa is not just 'poor' or 'limited'. We show the world that we and all our people have skills and we also prove to be able to build a successful existence, completely independent! Moreover, we show that we are a functioning, successful business can be build while supporting social development at the same time!"