Launching the Artisan Toolkit in Kabul

Kathleen Holland "training the trainers" on Artisan Toolkit content 

At the beginning of April I traveled to Kabul to launch the Artisan Toolkit, a richly-illustrated crafts business manual that will teach artisans how to start and grow their own business using a skill they have. With the Artisan Toolkit, I hoped to solve a problem I identified in my seven years working with artisans in Afghanistan, which is that no matter how skilled an artisan may be, isolation and lack of information prevents artisans from accessing markets for their goods. I knew this Toolkit could be an extremely useful resource for the thousands of Afghan artisans who need access to this information, but planning a launch in Kabul from Toronto was no easy task and I was anxious to see how it would be received.

My nerves subsided on the first day, when our first training session was overbooked, and I looked around the room to see 50 women with their hands up, all asking questions at one time.  In my seven years in Afghanistan I have never seen this kind of engagement. The eagerness to answer questions and provide feedback was incredible and gave me further evidence of just how ready Afghans - in particular Afghan women - are to move ahead… if they get the chance. For many women here, especially the 80% of Afghan women who are illiterate, craft presents a huge opportunity. They may not read and write but the stitch their mother taught them could become an important source of income to support their families.

Women at our "Train the Trainer" Workshop

Much of how we approach any challenge in life  depends on the skills we have acquired through many years of education and experience. But how do you structure your business if you never learned how?  Afghanistan was once the centre of the Silk Road, and it is a trading nation at heart, with rich craft traditions including carpet making, embroidery, jewelry making, and woodworking. The entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive in its people, but years of conflict have left the country economically isolated and left many people with skill and ambition but no opportunities. With the Artisan Toolkit, we hope to give their drive some structure and process so they can succeed.

When speaking to the artisans who came to our sessions, it was interesting to see what they found useful - things that every business must keep in mind, but may not be immediately obvious. A few things that were mentioned were:

  • That checking quality is not just not something you do at the end - it is part of every step in a planned process.
  • That tracking sales (weekly, monthly, annually) is crucial to a growing a businesses - if you know your numbers you know where you are. To all our 75 in the first training this was a completely new concept.
  • Goal setting, developing a plan to achieve goals, and tracking to see if you are on target was something they had never done.

  • Price setting and understanding the supply chain and costs at each level of the chain and how this affects the final price was a new concept too.

When we asked them why they enjoyed the training and its format they said that although most of the concepts were new, they were clearly communicated and easy to apply to their business. They said they felt they were taken seriously and that perhaps they had a real shot of building a small business. Most of all, many of them could not believe that having a “Handmade in Afghanistan” tag on the product (if they product was high quality and well priced) could be a selling point. If people go without opportunities for too long they start believing that they might not be worth anything. We have to change this!

Hear Impressions of Toolkit Training from People who Attended

Hedvig Christine Alexander
Hedvig Christine Alexander


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