Closing Remarks at the Artisan Enterprise: The New Startup Economy

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Washington, DC
September 10, 2015

We’ve heard from many voices today about the power of artisan enterprise. It’s truly remarkable the way artisan activity can change a community. It gives families the means to invest in their children’s education. It gives communities the opportunity to preserve traditions and cultural heritage. And it gives opposing tribes a place to come together in reconciliation.

That’s the power of artisan activity. But we know that behind those moments are the artisans themselves. It’s the artisans who provide the jobs, pass on the craft, and take the risk in reaching out to others. That’s why today we are honoring one of these incredible entrepreneurs with the Artisan Hero Award. Members of the Alliance nominated artisans from around the world to receive this award.

It’s my pleasure to announce the winner of the 2015 Artisan Hero Award: Joy Ndungutse. As she makes her way up here, I’d like to share just a bit of Joy’s story. Much of Joy’s life has been influenced by artisan enterprise. Both her mother and her older sister were weavers, and her parents used the income from the family’s basket sales to help pay for her school fees.

Flash forward several years later, and as Rwanda started to pick up the pieces of the genocide, Joy trained local women to design baskets using traditional weaving skills. We heard earlier today about how she gathered a handful of women under a tree in Rwanda after the genocide. We heard how those women taught each other to weave, and as they worked together, they also started to forgive. Through art, these women played a role in the reconciliation process in Rwanda—a lesson that we see all over the world, and one that is especially important to our work here at the State Department.

Joy—for your perseverance in bringing together women in Rwanda… for your preservation of tradition and culture… and for your dedication to the values of artisan work—please accept the Artisan Hero award from the Alliance.

More than 800 people around the world voted for the artisan they thought best represented what it truly means to be an artisan in today’s global economy. The fact that so many people voted is a testament to how important the artisan sector is, and how it impacts so many people on a personal level. Please join me in recognizing our People’s Choice Winner: Shivani Dhar.

As you heard before, we received more than 150 entries from around the world. We received many photos, videos, and personal stories that reflected what it means to be a part of this growing 32 billion dollar industry.

Choosing a winner was not easy. I know that I speak for everyone in this room when I say I am amazed at each and every one of the finalists.

The winner I’m about to announce has captured one of the most important truths about artisans, and about gender equality more broadly. Too often, we see groups including women characterized as vulnerable populations, as opposed to the leaders and agents of change they truly are. But one of our entries shows their strength—this portrayal of the deaf community shows in no uncertain terms just how much the world has to gain from artisans.

It’s my pleasure to announce that the winner of the Artisan Multimedia Competition is Tim Kerns.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support of the artisan sector. Please remember to sign up for the Thunderclap today and help us reach our goal of 1 million people. And remember there are many ways you can take action to join the Alliance and our work, and choose artisan.

Thank you again for coming.