Awava: leveraging income generation to women in post-conflict Uganda through skills building, innovation and market linkages.

Awava: leveraging income generation to women in post-conflict Uganda through skills building, innovation and market linkages.

Gulu, UgandaUnited States
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Awava is a fair trade social enterprise working with women artisans in post-conflict Northern Uganda on design and innovation, adding value to their existing skills and creating market linkages locally and internationally in an effort to empower families and alleviate poverty. Awava enhances entrepreneurship, business and artisanal skills by conducting trainings which boost each artisans capacity.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Once an economically viable and peaceful region, Northern Uganda has been devastated by a war with Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army which lasted more than 22 years. While the North has experienced peace since late 2006, the region still finds itself in a state of economic downfall, leaving much of the population poverty stricken with limited skills and resources for rebuilding their lives and livelihoods. This lack of resources is leading to lower rates of education, higher rates of malnutrition and other untreated health issues, higher birth rates, higher rates of alcoholism, etc., all issues which exacerbate the degradation of society in Northern Uganda. Awava aims to address each of these issues by providing a platform for women in Northern Uganda to earn income.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Awava’s solution is to work together with artisans in Northern Uganda to create or increase income and build skills which will lead to positive economic and social change in the lives of their family and community. We work with artisans on product design and innovation, creating utilitarian products which not only appeal to a vast markets abroad, but we have also set the stage for competition in local markets in Uganda. Through product diversification comes new construction techniques and heightened product quality, as well as expanded market linkages. This year, for example, we started and apparel line and brought in an apparel designer to train the women on how to utilize clothing patterns and produce standardized clothing sizes. In addition to building artisanal skills and increase work, we also work with artisans on business skills and entrepreneurship training, linking the overarching themes of these skills trainings to their personal lives.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We have been watching our model work for the past four years in ways which continue to astound us. Our shining example would be our head tailor, Auma Lucy, and the drastic changes we have seen in her life and that of her family. Lucy is the first tailor hired by Awava. Our founder originally met Lucy in the central market in Gulu Town, Uganda, where Lucy sat in an empty room, just her and a sewing machine. Over the years Lucy has trained multiple Awava tailors, purchased 9 sewing machines, purchased fabrics to sell from her shop, maintained workshop rent payments, made sure that all twelve children whom she cares for are in school (one is about to start at university), provides ongoing medical assistance to her two elderly parents, purchased two plots of land and has nearly completed a “western style” home. Her bookkeeping has become meticulous and she is quite proficient with banking and mobile money. Lucy’s example has proven that our product design and innovation, business and entrepreneurship training, as well as focus on market linkages does in fact work.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Our most direct peers include One Mango Tree, MEND project, KrochetKids, 31 Bits and Wawoto Kacel. Each of these groups provide IGAs to populations in Northern Uganda. Awava’s founder has spent five years living in Uganda, working with the artisans directly and building strong relationships, a crucial component to understanding cultural, societal and economic constraints of business operations and the realities of the artisans lives. We place heavy priority on product development and marketing, an important piece often missed by others. While similar groups do increase competition, it also helps to raise awareness. Likewise, those not holding to their mission can tarnish the reputation of social and fair trade enterprises.

Founding Story

During my second trip to Uganda, I was working with Ugandan and American university students to study the war in the North up close. Inspired by the vibrant fabrics found in the central market in Gulu, I had some small items made by local tailors to carry home as gifts for family and friends. Meanwhile, I was talking with one of my colleagues about my experience with fair trade, and daydreaming about starting a social enterprise focusing on women artisans in Northern Uganda. I returned home and everyone loved what I had made for them. Six months later I moved to Uganda for my MA Studies in Peace and Conflict, focusing my thesis on the effects of western market access to women artisans in Northern Uganda. Having the opportunity to be in the field more long term, and seeing that the number one problem leading to myriad others was lack of access to income in an already skilled population, I realized that a fair trade social enterprise like Awava could indeed have a massive impact.
About You
About You
First Name


Last Name

von Achen

About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country

, KS, Douglas County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, GUL, Gulu

Age of Innovator


Gender of Innovator


How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Social Impact
What solution(s) does your initiative address to help emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and thrive in underserved communities? (select all applicable)

Access to financing, Access to supply chains, Access to technology, Access to economic opportunity.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

While our capacity has largely hindered our ability to produce organized quantitative impact data (the annual surveys are there waiting for data analysis), the qualitative data speaks volumes. Not only have we watched many of our artisans “grow fat” ( a sign of wealth and well being in Uganda), we have also seen their assets increase each year, watched their school-aged children go to school, uninterrupted each term progressing to the next level each year, and watched the women and their families have the ability to seek medical attention as needed. Lucy, our main tailor, and the artisans we have been working with the longest, has not only managed to provide for 12 children and two elderly parents, putting all of the children through school (with the first getting ready to start university), but has also purchased two plots of land and almost completed construction on a “western style” home. These transformations are why we exist.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

Over the next 1-3 years, we expect our impact to increase drastically. Our founder has just moved back to the United States to push the marketing side of operations by attending more craft sales throughout the year, as well as representing Awava at trade shows in order to increase the number of wholesale accounts the company has. With the increase in wholesale accounts translating to larger orders and therefore more working hours needed, Awava will be able to expand our reach bringing more full time artisans onto the team. Within the next three years we aim to have at least 100 artisans working with Awava full time.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

The most consistent barrier that we continue to face in our social enterprise is generally financial. We have most recently found ourselves with quite a bit of inventory tying up working capital which we are strategically working to push more in the markets in order to free up said capital. In order to overcome our financial constraints, we are placing more priority on various grant and award applications, trade shows, additional craft sales (especially leading up to holiday seasons), promotional campaigns, and considering working with a financial institution which provides low interest loans to fair trade producers and companies.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

30% increase in active wholesale accounts.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Update wholesale packet, including putting together an extensive lookbook for all products.

Task 2

Acquire funding for and apply to participate in at least one trade show.

Task 3

Streamline/revamp inventory and ordering system to ensure mechanisms move smoothly as business increases.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

100% increase in active wholesale accounts resulting in major increase in full time artisans.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Have funding in place to participate in at least two trade shows in the next year.

Task 2

Assess how many artisans will need to be trained in order to increase production capacity and train them.

Task 3

Assess our need to bring on additional "administrative" staff and/or volunteers in order to properly manage growth.

Tell us about your partnerships

We have come to find partnerships to be a very important component in our model. We partner with select NGOs in the US, Canada and Australia who use our products in order to raise funds for their organizations which we’ve found to be mutually beneficial. We also have created strong partnerships with like-minded artist and artisan groups in Uganda. Our primary partnerships are with Uganda Crafts who we work through for our baskets, Mzuri Beads, or produce the majority of our eco-friendly jewelry, as well as Wasswa, a Uganda artist who designs or upcycled canvas bags and accessories.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

While Awava could benefit from many types of support such as investment, PR and media, volunteers to represent Awava at various events around the US, as well as pro-bono accounting services, we also would love to support others any way we can! We love working on marketing, various types of collaborations, networking and sharing our vast network as well as brainstorming ideas!