Global Artisans Initiative

Our Project

Reca, Mary, and Angeline with yarns for Kiondo making – Tharaka-Nithi, Kenya

The Global Artisans Initiative (GAI) has grown out of long-standing relationships between project leaders and communities in Ecuador, Mexico, Kenya, India, and Nepal. At these sites, leaders seek to empower artisans and their families through the promotion of their handicrafts, which supports community wellbeing and strengthens cultural heritage. They do this by providing resources to address common challenges in productivity and marketability. GAI convenes UW-Madison students and scholars with artisans from around the world for a horizontal learning exchange that brings about collaborative projects and unique undergraduate courses. GAI leaders – and the students participating in their courses and internships – collaborate with artisans to 1) enhance product design and source raw material; 2) host events to sell artisan products and engage the public; and 3) create and maintain feedback loops with artisans.

Artisans – often women who may have fewer opportunities to participate in income generation – use their increased earnings and newfound skills to pay for healthcare and education, and to meet other basic needs for their families. Additionally, artisans express a sense of pride, enthusiasm, and confidence as they continue to develop their skills and improve their trade. The handicrafts they produce help to share stories, experiences, and culture, building meaningful relationships within and across communities. Through collaborative courses and interdisciplinary internships, GAI also helps students develop skills in innovation, design thinking, and cross-cultural collaboration, preparing them for success in both civil society and the public sector in Wisconsin and around the world.

Shop handmade GAI products here!

Below, read about our activities and impacts, and see what’s next for GAI!

  • Engaged thirteen artisans’ groups across five countries: Ecuador, Mexico, Kenya, India, and Nepal.
  • Increased artisans’ access to new markets as a result of networking and enhanced production practices. Sales in Madison alone exceeded $10,000 in FY 2019-2020.
  • Hosted a trunk show with the UW Women’s Philanthropy Council Twin Cities Chapter.
  • Continued wholesale of products to local businesses in Madison and surrounding counties.
  • Provided water tanks and gutters to women artisans in Kenya.
  • Worked with local architect Andy Wanek to design a makerspace for the Tharaka Women’s Welfare Program, our community partner in Gatunga, Kenya.
  • Donated $1500 of profit from successful GAI- Mexico sales to provide COVID-19 relief to artisans, helping to offset lost income from the pandemic.

Annual summer internships supported by GAI leaders are highly sought after by UW-Madison students. The in-depth, on-site, hands-on collaboration between artisans and students is powerfully motivating, launching many students into their post-graduate careers. Thus far, a total of 25 graduate and undergraduate students have taken part in GAI international experiences in Ecuador, Kenya, Nepal, and Mexico. Students have also completed internships in Madison, working with artisans virtually to develop short films and create storytelling materials. Students also learn critical administrative skills related to fundraising/budget management, inventory control, and product organization. Other activities related to student learning opportunities include:

  • Enrollment of 100 students in “Design Thinking 527: Global Artisans,” which connects students with artisans around the world.
  • Student partnerships with two new organizations, Scents of Syria and Intag Sisal.
  • Continuation of a digital co-design project (now in its fourth iteration) between students in “Design Studies 327: Textile Design: Manual and Computer Generated Imagery” and Indian designer artisans in the state of Gujarat.
  • Creation of a study abroad class called “Wellbeing Through Microenterprise and Environmental Stewardship in Ecuador.”
  • Continued collaboration with Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace, a student organization that promotes and sells artisan products online and across the UW-Madison campus.
  • Strengthening of student internship program in Gatunga, Kenya by using design thinking techniques to improve quality of life for artisans and their communities. Students work with artisans to create simple, locally-sourced solutions for everyday challenges, such as water-carrying vests, fruit dehydration systems, and a biomass briquette maker. Together, students and artisans learn the real value of traditional crafts and quality products.
  • Expand the number of existing Design Studies courses that host projects to address the needs of our artisan partners. We hope to begin new initiatives with felt makers near the market town of  Otavalo in Ecuador.
  • Support professional development opportunities for artisan partners.
  • Develop a self-sustaining makerspace model that can be implemented in small communities. These models will help bring artisans together and allow them to learn new skills related product development, personal finance, tree planting, permaculture farming, and physical and emotional wellbeing.
  • Develop a two-week summer field course in Oaxaca, Mexico, to learn from successful artisan microenterprises.
  • Explore adaptation of the Ecuador study abroad class, “Wellbeing through Microenterprise and Environmental Stewardship,” to be expanded to Peru, allowing for new partnerships and collaborations with Peruvian artisans.

Learn more in the videos below, created by students in the undergraduate course, “Global Artisans 527,” taught by 4W Leader and Design Studies Professor Jennifer Angus.

Artisans of Intag Sisal in Ecuador

Video by Gage Czuppa, Samuel Gold, & Erin Sullivan

Co-Design Projects in India

Video by Jennifer Angus, Tim Coursen, & Erica Hess

Lacemakers of Presa de Barajas in Mexico

Video by Lauren Brahm, Dalia Gutierrez, & Olivia Scumaci

Artisans of Sumak Muyo in Ecuador

Video by Jess Gomez & Gwyneth Allen

Kiondo Makers of Kenya

Video by Allie Banda, Dean Koleva, & Sofia Staehly

Tharu Basket Makers in Nepal

Video by Talia Abbe, Lily Bedell, and Taylor Lauri