Weaving Women Project

Weaving Women Project

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

WWP aims to empower women working on the streets of Cochabamba. The current 6 participants have weaving skills, unused when making their living by begging on the streets. We started by receiving their woven goods and selling these in the US, issuing advanced payment each week. We've helped 4 women have invest their money into small enterprises, and the remaining 2 are planning to do the same.

About You
Performing Life
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



, CA

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name

Performing Life

Organization Phone


Organization Address

Pasaje Grover Suarez No. 20, Zona Central, Cochabamba

Organization Country


How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on


What makes your innovation unique?

There are lots of organizations selling goods produced by talented, local artisans in developing countries. However, helping our project participants market their high quality woven goods in the US and Europe where higher prices can be charged, is just the beginning of our plans. Instead of requiring our group of weavers to be subject to the changeable and competitive market for traditional woven goods, our organization seeks to assist project participants in starting their own businesses here in Cochabamba, Bolivia, using the capital they've earned from selling their weavings. The Weaving Women Project was established in February 2009, and since that time the six participants have earned a sizable amount of income from sales. This money has been saved in earnings accounts, tracked on an individual basis. Three women have started their own vegetable selling business, which they hope to eventually expand into into small restaurants as well. One woman has used her capital to purchase two young cows, which she will use to plow her fields and help increase her wheat yield. She plans to sell the grown cows at a profit and purchase two more young cows to help with the following year's crops, thereby continuing a profitable cycle. Two women are currently still exploring possible business ideas. We hope that the women's businesses will expand and become more profitable, providing a more stable income for the women and their families. Meanwhile, as our first group of six participants continues improving their small business operations, Performing Life staff continue to seek new retailers in the US and Europe who are interested in carrying their woven goods. Our organization's application for membership in the Fair Trade Federation is currently under review, and we hope this will help boost our sales. This will not only help our six participants earn more capital to invest in their businesses, but also allow Performing Life to include more participants in the WWP.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

There are currently six participants in the WWP. Each of these six women receive a weekly advanced payment of 250 bolivianos (approximately 36 USD) for the woven goods they bring to PL's offices each week for resale. The 1000 Bs (about 142 USD) they receive monthly is well above Bolivia's current monthly minimum wage, which is 680 Bs (about 96 USD). Previously, when begging or selling sweets in the streets, the women were unable to make even the monthly minimum wage, a figure that informal sector workers almost never meet. The advanced payment of 1000 Bs per month has gone toward school tuition for the women's children, and also toward proper nutrition for their families. The women no longer need to beg or sell sweets in the streets, thereby having more free time to spend at home with their families as well. At least two of the WWP participants are planning to use some of their savings to wire their homes for electricity because they would like to have light at night.

With respect to level of earnings, the WWP participants are actually making more than the 1000 Bs they receive as advanced payment each month. By selling project participants' woven goods abroad, PL is able to get a much higher market price than could be obtained in Bolivia. All the money earned in excess of the women's advanced payment is deposited into individual savings account that PL keeps in each participants' name. Four participants have withdrawn approximately 5000 Bs each to start their small business ventures. Two participants are currently still considering what type of small business to start. As these businesses mature, we hope that they can provide a more stable source of income independent of sales of woven goods abroad, which can fluctuate depending on many non-local factors.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

The primary problem that our innovation seeks to address is poverty alleviation through community empowerment and local business development. With Fair Trade Federation membership status, which the organization hopes to receive this year, PL hopes to be able to sell more of the WWP participants' woven goods. The participants weave many of the items that their families use on a daily basis, and the sale of these goods that they are skilled in producing helps generate the capital that they will then invest and use to grow their business ideas. As the businesses develop, participants will learn better money management skills. As their expendable income grows, their children will not have to work on the streets to support the family. Particpants' children have all been able to return to or continue school as a result of the extra income they are receiving. With better education, these families will have a better chance at ending the generational cycle of poverty in which many families in the countryside find themselves.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

Most of the WWP participants are unable to read and write, and only two speak Spanish in additional to their native language, Quechua. Performing Life staff have been assisting in keeping track of expenses and earnings, discussing with the women each week the importance of keeping track of whether any business decision results in a profit or loss. The women are learning to keep track of their own expenses and earnings, making decisions about what purchases need to be made now, and which purchases can wait until their earnings increase. Three of the women have started their business ventures on a small scale, first selling potatoes. When they found that they were able to make a small profit, they expanded their inventory to include other types of vegetables. These women have also invested some of their start-up capital in items necessary to start a small street-side restaurant, such as a stove, large pots, plates, and silverware. As their earnings grow from the sale of vegetables, they plan to reinvest and further diversify the menu of food items they offer at their small restaurants. PL staff intend to train the women further on small business management, possibly recruiting volunteer students from the local universities to come in and hold workshops during the women's weekly meetings at PL's offices. PL staff continue to work with the women in tracking earnings and costs in their indivdual businesses, but the women who have already started their business ventures are now essentially keeping track of their business expenses independently. PL staff continue to maintain the women's individual savings accounts to make sure the women can continue to receive their weekly advanced payment from these accounts. These savings accounts contain the women's earnings from the sale of their weavings and is independent from the the women's businesses. It was determined to keep these two pools of capital separate so that the women's financial stability would remain relatively certain as they pursue their business ventures.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Over the next year, all six WWP participants will have started their independent business ventures. They will continue to learn money management and record keeping skills, and grow their businesses from the initial starting stage. Performing Life will hopefully have obtained Fair Trade Federation membership, and the women's woven goods will sell at a higher volume, thereby growing the project participant's pool of capital for investment in their businesses and home improvement.

Over the second year, the initial six participants will continue to grow and expand their businesses. As sales of woven goods increase, PL hopes to facilitate a loan from the initial six participants' savings accounts to help new participants. PL would like to recruit four more weaving women to be part of the WWP, and the loan from the initial six participants would help the new recruits with cost of materials for weaving, and also with the costs of new individual businesses if the new recruits already have an idea of what type of business they would like to pursue. The success of the initial group of project participants could thereby help accelerate the progress of new participants toward the goal of owning a small, income-generating business of their own.

During the third year, Performing Life would like all WWP participants to be able to invest earnings from their weavings and their small businesses in home improvement projects of their choice, if they have not already started. Many of the initial six participants do not have running water and electricity, which could both contribute to a healthier environment for their children. The most recently recruited project participants will have been able to repay the loan they received from the initial project participants. The initial group will hopefully be able to serve as mentors to the newest participants with regard to business and money management techniques. Eventually, as both groups continue to meet with success in their small business operations, Performing Life will be able to recruit even more participants and help more families break the cycle of poverty.

How many people will your project serve annually?

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Approximately 150 words left (1200 characters).

What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

Hope for the Children, a non-profit based out of New York, is the main sponsor of Performing Life and has been instrumental in getting the initial Bracelet Program off the ground. The Weaving Women Project is based on the Bracelet Program, and Hope for the Children has been helpful in helping Performing Life find sales outlets in the United States for the women's products. Performing Life has networked with local businesses in Bolivia and other South American countries, and has been able to find and purchase raw materials for the women's products at lower cost through these connections. Performing Life has also met extensively with local group home staff and local government representatives, mostly on behalf of the youth programs that the organization runs in addition to the Weaving Women Project. However, through these meetings staff have been able to drum out public support for all of Performing Life's projects. Through increased public support and further networking efforts, we hope to be able to form mutually beneficial partnerships where we could obtain further business training for the women in the Weaving Women Project.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

The Weaving Women Project started with a loan from the Bracelet Program (in which the youth in Performing Life's arts classes participate). With this initial loan, the women were able to purchase raw materials for their weavings, thereby saving them time from weaving the thread as well. As these woven goods sold, the six WWP participants were able to repay the loan from the Bracelet Program. WWP now is completely self-sufficient due to the amount of capital generated from the sale of woven goods since February 2009. This money easily covers the cost of purchasing more raw materials, which only represents about 1 to 2 percent of the overall income received from sales. Four participants have used a portion of their earnings to invest in their own small business ventures. The money earned in these small business ventures has thus far been enough to sustain the operation of these small businesses. Performing Life is also in the process of seeking Fair Trade Federation status, which will hopefully boost sales of woven goods. Performing Life is also always seeking additional funding for the WWP from relevant grants.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Performing Life started working with underprivileged and street youth in 2005, offering performance arts classes in the afternoons. John Connell's idea was simple: by improving performance arts skills, street working youth will be able to make more money in a shorter amount of time. This form of employment is much more successful than other menial labor and is generally more appreciated by the public. As the youth who entered Performing Life's arts programs began to have the money and time to enroll in school, they formed closer relationships with their families. Youth living in group homes or who continued living on the streets were able to have a more stable routine, coming into steady contact with positive role models. As Performing Life staff got to know the youth, they inevitably got to know the youths' families. Staff realized that many of the women raising the youth were themselves working on the streets, selling sweets or begging. Staff also learned that many of these women were talented weavers, but unable to make a living outside of the home with this skill because the market prices for woven goods are so low in Bolivia. Performing Life already piloted the Bracelet Programme with the youth, who made bracelets that were successfully shipped to and sold in the US. Some of the youth were able to build new homes for their families using the money they earned in the Bracelet Programme. The Weaving Women project was therefore modelled on the Bracelet Programme with the hopes that the women participants could spend less time on the streets and also better provide for their families. As the womens' earnings increased, the idea of helping the women invest this money into businesses of their own also developed and became possible.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

John Connell, Director of Performing Life, first came to Bolivia at the age of 17. He didn't speak Spanish upon arrival, and in the last six years has become fluent. John earned money for his Latin American travels by juggling on street corners himself, and when he got to Bolivia and saw so many street youth performing menial tasks or begging to earn a living, he realized these kids could also benefit from the circus performance skills with which he'd been supporting himself. He tenaciously went to several governmental organizations and presented his idea of a performing arts school for street youth, but he met with a lot of resistance. People initially viewed his efforts as encouraging the problem of youth living on the street. John was able to garner the support of Hope for the Children, a 501(c)3 based in New York, and was finally able to launch the first formal performing arts classes in 2006. He has attracted a small group of dedicated employees who often visit the streets where the youth live, and also the group homes, where the employees needed a lot of convincing before allowing the resident youth to participant in Performing Life's programs. The idea for the Weaving Women Project was born when a volunteer named Karim arrived to work with Performing Life in early 2009. John immediately saw potential in the idea of organizing a small group of women from the countryside and allowing them to earn a fair wage from their intricate woven goods. Some of the women's children take part in Performing Life's arts classes, while other of the women are neighbors and friends. John has gotten to know these women on a personal level, asking how their families are doing and building the necessary rapport for a good working relationship. He has most recently been able to arrange for each WWP participant to receive dental care with grant money he was able to obtain. John hopes to provide more services to participants, and hopes to include more participants in the future too.

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