International market Incubator: Bringing women artisans to the front end of innovation

We foster collaborations based in circular fashion, women empowerment and inclusive market approches to benefit the wuayuu-women artisans

Photo of Lis Suarez Visbal
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

FEM International in collaboration of ETHIK Eco design Hub

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $100k - $250k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 1,000 - 5,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • Canada

Headquarters location: City


Location(s) of impact

Colombia, La guajira for this project but has demonstrated impact also for artisans in Bolivia, la paz, Quito Ecuateur as well.


Facebook URL

Twitter URL

Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

The Wayuus are an aboriginal group in the north of Colombia who, despite having an amazing crochet textile tradition, are suffering from poverty, exploitation and cultural appropriation. Land contamination particularly of plastic is also a major problem in the community. The Wayuu women artisans are at the far end of supply chain. Isolated disempowered and vulnerable. Because of these conditions, they often lack access to proper product design & market education, networks and direct market opportunities.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

Based on a shorter, direct and inclusive ethical fashion value chain, our market incubator offers an online-offline comprehensive program developed on the principles of circular fashion, women empowerment as well as on inclusive and collaborative market approaches. Artisans register to a pipeline program that offers training & trading support. Mentorship, co-development of products, eco-conception techniques & and boutique exposure, empower women artisan to work collaboratively . Then as part of our eco-artisan aggregator online platform, which creates a direct link between the lives of producers and consumers, they can work directly with final consumer. We create shared value through our collaborative approach between the various stakeholders within the value chain; producers, retailers, brand costumers. even local technical schools and transport companies are partners of this initiative. We co-create with artisans innovative eco-friendly add ons to their traditional products.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Our Circular market incubator has benefitted more than 1400 women artisans from Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Canada. Particularly in the Wayuu community, more than 300 artisans have benefitted from it. 95% increase their social capital and 80% increase their income generation ability. These artisans are more connected now, they work in collaboration with other artisanal groups in the region, the technical education institution and other businesses, and have been able to diversify their offer while also freeing local “Rancherias” of plastic waste. They are now part of the movement for ethical fashion and they see themselves as vital actors of their community. The Wayuus are a matriarchal society, where better economic opportunities for more than 300 women artisans means a better situation for their kids. They have also unleash their creativity, increase their environmental stewardship and have reduced their plastic waste making their living environments more healthy.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

Currently 30% of our income comes from foundations and donations, 30% from governmental support and 40% from the revenue generated through other activities and channels. We aim the project generate 75% of its revenue in 3 years though more engaging online platform collaborations through different partnerships with retailer, pop up shops and partaking in market places. FEM International has more than 12 years of experience in capacity-building with artisans and developing links to markets.Working with partners along the value chain from local governments,businesses and other NGO, that will ensure projet sustainability. The last three years, technology has been enabled us to provide direct market support to artisan groups and to scale we want to focus more in these hybrid approches.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

Some organizations provide support to artisan groups, from training and capacity-building, to access to markets. Very few have an holistic value chain approach that empowers artisans to take ownership by becoming more active players. What makes our approach innovative is that using technology we are able to shorten the value chain, and with with our women centric, inclusif market and circular fashion approach artisans are able to get more knowledge, create more value and opportunities.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

I am Colombian and I have always been passionate about textiles and the stories textiles tell. Textiles have described all cultures around the globe and aboriginal groups are the last living holders of these traditions. While I did a trip to La Guajira in the northern part of my country, I was appalled to see how incredibly poor these communities were. The Wayuu mochilas are starting to be known around the globe, but there is so little that is known about the cultural traditions, the stories of the weavers, of each Wayuu women making them. I was stunned by the contrast between the cultural abundance and the starch poverty in which they lived. There was a disconnect in what was sold, and who made it, keeping its creator detached from its creation. Direct contact is not only a way to rehumanize trade between makers and wearers, but also a way to bring back a true sense of value to crafts.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Ashoka page or contact


Join the conversation:

Photo of Mona Lisa Karene

Hi Lis

I like the use of cultural and indigenous crafts to help the women of Wayuus and the use of technology to market the products for their earnings. My question is:
-Can your organisation help influence the local government and industries to put better infrastructure in this area?
- Can you use the story for each craft to promote assistance for improving the infrastructure?
Infrastructure is so important for rural areas and better roads & water help access good services.
The crafts sound lovely and I wish you all the best with your venture.

Mona Lisa Karene.

Photo of Lis Suarez Visbal

Hello Mona thanks for your comment
Yes, infrastructure and a tourist eco-route have been part of the discussion with local authorities. We hope that by working with an influential national educational governmental agency, ( that is very present in the region) we can creat e a case around it, because it is part of the systemic approach we want to co-develop with other stakeholders including the government.