South Asian Artisans
Artisan work is a significant source of employment in the developing world, particularly in South Asia, where it makes up a significant proportion of the workforce. South Asian artisans practice skilled trades using traditional methods and locally sourced materials, and this enables them to perpetuate their culture through their craft.

However, the monthly income of artisans can vary greatly due to factors such as fluctuating tourist flows, lack of access to online commerce and lack of regulation to protect their businesses and wages. These issues have stunted the potential of artisanal work to generate employment and boost incomes globally. Despite being the second-largest employer in the developing world after agriculture, the artisan sector remains largely untapped in terms of its economic development potential. Addressing these issues and promoting the growth of the artisan sector could have significant economic benefits, both for individual artisans and for their countries as a whole.

Artisans are victims of the volatility of the tourism market. In fact, tourists make up the majority of buyers, which further destabilizes the income of artisans, as the number of tourists varies greatly between the high and low seasons. This forces artisans to work several jobs in order to make ends meet, and many are giving up the trade in search of more stable sources of income. The United Nations (U.N.) estimates that 30% of artisans in India have left the trade in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accentuated this phenomenon, putting many more artisans out of work.

A Lack of Regulation Around Artisanal Professions

The volatility of tourism impacts artisans because it is not counterbalanced by stability. Across the globe, no laws specifically pertaining to artisans’ income and taxation, and they receive no legal protections against exploitative loans or partners. Consequently, approximately 95% of artisan businesses globally do not benefit from a set minimum wage, and most are compensated on a piece-rate rather than hour-rate basis.

Artisans, especially the ones living further away from big cities, are vulnerable to unregulated middlemen who try to reach more buyers. However, in many cases, the middlemen illicitly profit from the artisans’ work, further hindering their growth.

The lack of regulation also prevents the impact of artisans from being reflected on the national market, as sales go unrecorded due to the informal nature of the artisanal trade. A case in point is India where approximately 200 million people participate in the artisan economy, with 90% operating in the informal landscape.

Challenges and Potential of Women Artisans

Women make up approximately three-fourths of artisans worldwide, and over half of artisans in South Asia. Craft-based work provides a unique opportunity for women in South Asia, many of whom are unable to work outside the home due to deeply entrenched patriarchal norms and family care responsibilities. Women artisans invest 90% of their earnings back into their families, a significantly higher percentage than the 35% invested by men.

However, due to a prioritization of extensive practical training in their craft, poverty and various other factors, 90% of Indian women artisans have no formal education. Thus, despite their specialized skills, craftswomen’s incomes are very similar to those of unskilled workers. In India, the average income for an artisan ranges from just $3.40 to $4.50 a day in cities and $0.89 in rural India, whereas the minimum wage for an unskilled worker is $3.60 a day.

Solutions for Progress

For the craft industry to thrive, there is a need to empower artisans in a way that allows them to make a decent living out of their work. With this aim, the Ethik Collective created an online marketplace connecting artisans with stable business partnerships worldwide. The Collective thus works with artisans, mostly women entrepreneurs, to allow them to expand their business beyond the local market. Since its creation three years ago, the collective has supported 2,696 artisans providing for 10,595 family members. Their initiative helps create consistent work, allowing artisans to stabilize their income and invest in long-term livelihood assets.

The Business, Enterprise and Employment Support for Women in South Asia (BEES), a network set up between South Asian countries and the World Bank, also empowers South Asian artisans by providing them with capacity building, technical and financial assistance and new market opportunities. The network allows women artisans to hone important skills such as product development or marketing, contributing to the craft industry’s survival.

Looking Ahead

South Asian artisans play a vital role in preserving cultural heritage and are an essential source of employment. However, they face many challenges, such as instability caused by fluctuating tourist flows, lack of access to online commerce and a lack of regulation to protect their businesses and wages. These unresolved issues have hindered the potential of artisanal work to contribute to the economic development of their countries. Solutions such as Ethik Collective’s marketplace or BEES enable artisans to expand their businesses and stabilize their incomes while preserving their cultural heritage. Supporting and empowering artisans could have a positive impact on communities and, more broadly, the economies of developing countries. Such possibilities highlight the importance of addressing the instability of South Asian artisans.

– Hanna Bernard
Photo: Flickr

 Sustainable Tourism
Tourism brings both advantages and disadvantages to a country. It can bring wealth and jobs to communities that would otherwise remain poor just as much as it can lead to social dislocation, loss of cultural heritage and ecological degradation. UNESCO claims that tourism must be sustainable for the advantages to outweigh the disadvantages.

“Tourism that respects both local people and the traveler, cultural heritage and the environment” is what UNESCO calls sustainable tourism. This form seeks to benefit the host country and local economies so that people in that country may have better lives.

Evidence shows that sustainable tourism is a great tool for development and poverty alleviation in developing countries. These are ten ways in which sustainable tourism alleviates poverty:

  1. “Tourism is one of the most important sources of foreign exchange earnings and job creation in many poor and developing countries with limited options for alternative economic development” according to the U.N.’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
  2. Tourism can be directly taxed creating the necessary funds for improving infrastructure, education and health on the ground.
  3. The tourism industry employs a high proportion of women, which contributes to gender equality and women’s empowerment in poor countries.
  4. Locally owned microenterprises ran by the poor serve as a benefit, as tourists buy a wide variety of goods and services.
  5. Sustainable tourism leads to employment diversification on a local level, which reduces the vulnerability of the poor.
  6. The UNWTO claims, “Wages can often reach $1,000 to $4,000 per worker per year.” This is enough to bring workers and their families above the poverty line.
  7. In 2012, the tourism industry accounted for more than 260 million jobs according to the International Labor Office (ILO). This number is expected to rise given that tourism is one of the fastest growing industries.
  8. The tourism industry employs a high proportion of individuals under 25. As a result, youth gain access to higher earnings and better opportunities through sustainable tourism.
  9. Tourism provides a vast number of jobs to people with little or no formal training.
  10. Working conditions are generally decent within the tourism industry as the industry depends on providing a quality service.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many other ways in which tourism can help the poor. As long as tourism is sustainable and wealth from tourism trickles down to the poor, the poorest countries will prosper. Given the increasing popularity of sustainable tourism, prosperity and wealth are a likely prospect for many poor countries.

Christina Egerstrom

Photo: Flickr

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal, turning buildings into ruins and killing nearly 5,900, has serious monetary implications. With the cost of reconstruction standing at $5 billion, it is evident the economic aftershocks will continue to be felt for years to come.

Frantic rescue workers, faces caked with ash and dust, carried a victim on a stretcher following the collapse of Dharara tower in Kathmandu, Nepal. Omar Havana, a freelance photographer for Getty Images, watched from afar.

“I try to be as human as I can be,” Havana said. “It’s hard not to be overwhelmed [by] what’s in front of my eyes: a hand appearing from the debris, a mother hold[ing] her baby. I’m just trying to tell the story of the people and the damage caused to the city.”

This damage, captured in pictures of destroyed homes and displaced children, could nearly paralyze the landlocked mountain country’s economy. The U.S. Geological Survey even estimates losses could exceed Nepal’s $20 billion annual gross domestic product.

Centuries-old temples and palace squares, once meccas for travelers, have been turned into dust. Tourism, which accounts for eight percent of Nepal’s economy, is likely to nosedive as high-end hikers and backpackers cancel vacations.

The seven percent of the workforce involved in the tourism sector will also feel these aftershocks, left unemployed and homeless in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

“Imagine the Due Torri in Bologna or the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. crumbling into rubble,” Saurav Rana, World Bank Group consultant, said of the destruction. “The loss has been demoralizing.”

Critical foreign investment plans are also being halted. A Chinese funded hydroelectric dam near the Himalayas, a $1.6 billion project, has been placed on the back burner.

Coca-Cola Company bottling plants in Kathmandu and Bharatpur have been temporarily shutdown. Stalling output will only worsen the unemployment rate, which currently stands at 40 percent.

“It has been one of the worst scenes I’ve witnessed in my life,” Havana said.

For those in Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu, rampant power outages and constant rain have left camps of families unnerved and dejected. Rural areas, where nearly 80 percent of Nepalis live, remain buried under landslides, inaccessible to rescue workers.

With the wet monsoon season a month away, many fear abject conditions and destroyed infrastructure will only foment an increased number of dysentery, cholera and hepatitis cases. Crowded camps, limited supplies and scarce drinking water will also put a strain on health care centers.

So far, the Asian Development Bank, a regional multilateral lender, has pledged $200 million to fund the first phase of rehabilitation. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also announced that the U.S. has pledged $10 million.

Though this aid could have a sizable impact on the small country, analysts are doubting the government’s capacity to revive Nepal’s economy. Political discord could compromise rehabilitation.

“It’s not only money that you need for reconstruction, but also human knowledge and a functioning government,” said Ilan Noy, an expert on the economics of disasters at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. “Nepal belongs to a category of countries where it’s unclear whether the ability to execute reconstruction will be sufficient.”

– Lauren Stepp

Sources: NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The World Bank, TIME
Photo: Rebecca Katherine

The Maasai Brand: Fighting for Cultural Heritage

For consumers in the Western world, buying unique jewelry or clothing with distinctly foreign influences may seem a natural part of the quest for personal style. For many communities in developing countries, however, these items or designs are a part of cultural heritage. A recent BBC spotlight on one such culture — the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania — explores why some forward thinkers in Africa are partnering with intellectual property groups to protect their heritage.

Tourist practices have long been questioned as exploitation, such as taking photographs of natives without permission or in return for money, or disrupting natives’ daily lives by gawking. For the Maasai, these tourist practices also violate deeply ingrained cultural superstitions. In an interview with BBC, Maasai leader Isaac ole Tialolo shared that twenty years ago a tourist took a photo of him without permission. “We believed that if somebody takes your photograph, he has already taken your blood,” Isaac explained. Angered, Isaac destroyed the tourist’s camera.

More than exploitative tourist practices, what concerns Isaac is “use and abuse” of the Maasai culture. 80 companies worldwide use the name or the image of the Maasai, whether for Land Rover accessories, athletic and orthopedic shoes, or Louis Vuitton’s Masai line.

The fight against exploitation of cultural trademarks is not a new one. For example, in the mid-1970’s the Navajo Nation unsuccessfully tried to copyright the word “Navajo” to restrict who could apply the term to products; this resistance against outside use has continued, notably in a 2011 lawsuit the Navajo Nation brought against the clothing chain Urban Outfitters for using the term “Navajo.”

In some respects, the quality and representation of the items carrying cultural brands is a concern. “Tacky is a good word,” Navajo Times contributor Bill Donovan said of the Urban Outfitter items in an interview with NPR. “The Navajo Nation has been very sensitive about people using their name to promote tacky products.” For the Maasai name to be attached to orthopedic trainers or beach towels — items that do not even represent their namesake — is similar abuse.

Today, many Maasai leaders are attempting to stand for their cultural heritage. But Isaac ole Tialolo understands the entire Maasai nation must agree to this. He hopes they will be successful in uniting the Maasai for intellectual property rights. The NGO Light Years IP works alongside Maasai leaders — as it has in a number of developing countries — to educate the Maasai in what they are aiming to do.

The Maasai have a strong sense of ownership of their culture, says Isaac. As the Maasai become educated and the rest of the world becomes informed on the matter, branding consultant Bruce Webster says “they’ll win the PR battle absolutely.”

– Naomi Doraisamy

Source: BBC,Guardian,NPR
Photo: BBC