Remarks at the Reception for the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Washington, DC
September 9, 2015

As prepared

Thank you, Peggy, for that kind introduction. The Aspen Institute has been an incredible partner, and we’re tremendously grateful for your work on the Alliance and your dedication to artisans around the world. I’d also like to acknowledge Ambassador Melanne Verveer—one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Alliance in 2012. Thank you all for being here this evening as we launch the Alliance’s global campaign to support artisans.

We’re here because we’ve reached a critical moment in our understanding of the creative economy. Key players—government officials, business leaders, investors, and consumers—have looked at the numbers and realized the tremendous potential of artisans in the developing world. The artisan sector is worth $32 billion a year. It’s one of the largest employers in developing countries. And as you might guess from my presence here, the large majority of artisans are women. Often these women aren’t just making beautiful products—although in every country I’ve traveled to, I’ve seen amazing artisan goods made by women.

But it’s more than that. These women are also running their own businesses. They’re preserving local traditions and cultural heritage. And they’re contributing to their economies by investing money back into their families’ health and education, and by hiring other women.

Let me give you an example. Earlier this summer I traveled to Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, where I met a woman named Zohra who’s owned an artisan business for over 20 years. She told me that whenever she can, she gives women the opportunity to supply her orders. Because in her experience, those women are much more likely to put their paychecks toward the family’s bills than men are. That’s true not only in Kenya but in Africa and around the world. Women artisans have the potential to advance the world’s development agenda by promoting both gender equality and economic growth.

And yet, until now, artisans have largely been ignored by governments, corporations, and investors. The artisan sector doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention or support we see in industries like technology, transportation, or agriculture. That’s part of the reason why artisans face greater challenges in accessing the financing they need to scale their businesses. That’s why artisans often don’t have the connections to global value chains that we find in other sectors.

The good news is that everyone here tonight has the opportunity to change the sector and tackle these challenges—whether you’re in business, in government, in development, or just someone who likes to buy well-made, beautiful goods. You can support artisans by being a part of the Alliance’s campaign. Take our tagline to heart and “choose artisan.”

This is a powerful moment of opportunity, and we can’t do it without all of you. So thank you again for being here and for supporting the Alliance and artisans around the world. We look forward to hosting you at the State Department tomorrow.