The motto of Mustard Seed Africa is, “Invest in a woman, Invest in a community.”Armed with these inspiring words, this organisation programmes social and economic empowerment initiatives for women at grassroots level.
Mustard Seed was founded by Gail Mawocha in Swaziland in 2010 and was subsequently set up as a retail outlet in Mount Pleasant in 2013. Mawocha began work on this project after she realized that women have the necessary skills to earn an income but needed to form strategic partnerships in order to get their products out to the market.
Here’s how it works: After consultations, skills assessment and reviews of locally available resources, Mustard Seed Africa partners with women’s groups to identify and develop possible means of creating sustainable livelihoods. Collaborations then take place with rural artisans to develop products that are African by inspiration and contemporary in design.
One of the programmes they are currently working on is the Design and Market Access Project which assists the following women’s groups: Batsiranai in Dzivaresekwa, Shingirirai Trust in Tafara, the Zenzele Foundation in Berejena, the Lupane Women’s Centre, and the Knitters of Makanya in Mvuma.
Each group is involved in either crocheting, knitting, embroidery or textile printing to create products that are appealing to both regional and international markets such as the international Couture and Culture Show which was held recently in Harare, the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards in France and the Trade + Impact Summit in Morocco. At least 200 women are set to benefit financially from the project.
Harare News spoke to Mawocha who said, “We bridge the gap between rural women and potential markets by up-scaling and enhancing products made using traditional skills in order to appeal to our target markets. We also provide basic business training such as costing, marketing and quality control. The groups of women all work as independent co-operatives and we partner with them at various levels of the value chain. This includes product development, branding, marketing, publicity and sales.”
The Mustard Seed Africa retail outlet recently moved to bigger premises on Upper East Road in Mount Pleasant from their previous location at the Bond Street shops. At the moment, they are promoting indigenous grains and other natural food products aimed at the urban market. They also help raise awareness about healthy eating and support rural growers.
Every year, Mustard Seed hosts a Health and Wellness Day where they provide information and services to rural women including: breast cancer awareness, family planning, HIV/AIDS education, eye testing and the provision of glasses. So far over six hundred women have benefited from this initiative.
Another Mustard Seed project is the Rural to Ramp Handcraft Showcase which partners local artisans with international designers culminating in a collaboration on product development and design. “This platform ensures skills sharing and quality control standards. It also enables the artisans to get an appreciation of local and international trends. The aim of the project is to raise awareness about the remarkable skills and talents of handcraft artisans as well as highlighting the importance of handcraft as a tool for poverty alleviation” said Mawocha.
The name Mustard Seed is derived from a biblical quotation describing the mustard seed as one the smallest seeds on earth, yet when planted, it grows and becomes one of the largest and most successful of all garden plants.
Image: Some of the eye-catching design work created by the women of Mustard Seed Africa.
Image Credit: Laurie Macpherson