We live in a world where it’s clear that traditional humanitarian aid creates dependency rather than sustainable independence, and the people who should have a say when it comes to their own lives often don’t get the opportunity to be a part of the discussion. There is an apparent need for business that can create a steady income and independence. Songa Designs does this by designing high-quality fashion accessories while providing employment to Rwandan artisans and cooperatives in rural communities that have little or no market access. The word Songa means “summit” in the Rwandan language Kinyarwanda, and “continue forward” in the wide spread east- and central african language Swahili. Songa Designs believe that business can move people forward and help them reach their own personal summits.
Ellie Kates and Sarah Dunigan founded Songa Designs in Rwanda during 2011. Their hand-made accessories are designed with a contemporary style, while still maintaining the traditional Rwandan cultural identity and local materials. They work with a growing network of 150 Rwandan artisans and women’s cooperatives that produce their products. All partner cooperatives and artisans operate their own independent businesses and play an important role in developing Songa Design’s production process and success.
Rwandan artisans and cooperatives are usually specialized in, and only work with, one material – for example banana leaves or paper beads. Songa Designs is committed to bringing different materials (and therefore artisans and cooperatives) together through their designs. The collaboration in producing the pieces builds on the artisans’ existing skills and creates new opportunities for them to use their talent. Gaining an income is very important for the artisans, but beyond creating these jobs, the Songa team is working to establish an environment of constant learning that builds leadership and business skills. Their goal is to have the native artisans and staff managing operations in Rwanda by themselves.
In the video below you can find some of the cooperatives and artisans that they work with. Watch Songa Designs’ Youtube channel for more interesting clips of their materials, production processes and artisans. Songa Designs recently opened a web shop where you can buy their products and support the Rwandan artisan or cooperative that created them.
All photos © Songa Designs.