BASED IN: IVORY COAST
Success means… building women up.
My biggest dream is to… empower women to help other women, on a global scale.
You can’t run a business without… courage to face the unknown and the uncertain.
The most important thing about helping others is… to recognize that we all have strengths to share, and we can all learn from each other.
Muse Group is a non-profit (501c3) that aims to create economic and professional development opportunities for low-income women. Our flagship initiative is Calliope, an ethical jewelry brand based in Côte d’Ivoire. We train rural women to produce and supply organic beads, and urban women to transform these beads into imaginative, multifunctional jewelry. Our broader ambition – in the long term – is to empower the growth of women-led social enterprises across the developing world, by creating an innovative social media and business development services platform, which will build individual and cross-promotional capacity in branding; web design and execution; and social media.
What was your inspiration for your business? Describe an event that directly inspired you to make your organization.
For ten years, I worked with international non-profits in the economic development sector. I designed, sold and executed development projects aimed at empowering low-income communities to establish and grow sustainable business models. I also conducted field research on gender equality and its impact on women’s business growth, and designed gender integration strategies for a wide range of development projects.
I loved my job. It was face paced and I was never bored. I was always working on something new, and discovering new countries. But my impact was very high level. I was a catalyst, but not a direct agent of change.
Inspired by the innovative business models that I had seen in my work – in particular some pioneering, socially conscious artisanal brands like Gone Rural of Swaziland – I decided to put what I had learned into practice, combining my development experience with my passion for women’s empowerment, and my lifelong love of design. I decided to become a direct agent of change. My work now touches a much smaller number of women, but the direct impact that I have on their lives, and the impact that they have on mine, is much more profound.
How are you collaborating with similar non profit on a local or global level? If no, would you like to and why?
Muse Group is working with CARE International to grow Calliope’s rural sourcing initiative. Specifically, Calliope targets women’s savings and loan groups that have participated actively in CARE’s POWER project. In collaboration with CARE field staff, we engage and train women’s groups to supply materials and services for Calliope jewelry.
As a result of this collaboration, Calliope sources 100% of its organic “Coffee Seed” beads from village women’s groups in Korhogo, in northern Côte d’Ivoire. Based on a value chain analysis conducted by Muse Group, these women were earning only 10% of the final market value of their beads, and the remainder was absorbed by middle men. By buying directly from these groups, Calliope is able to pay a 40% price premium, while still realizing savings for the business.
What can we do to close the gender gap when it comes to women getting funded? Would it be inspiring them to grow bigger? Giving them appropriate skills? Putting them in front of investors?
To effectively fund women, we must help them identify the funders that are willing to fund them. This requires an understanding that different types of funders are needed at different points in a business’s life cycle. A social start-up in its first year, still working to establish formal accounting and reporting systems, should be seeking funding from very different types of funders than a well-established business with a long operational history, years of audited financial statements, and experience (and therefore references) from other funders.
Women entrepreneurs need a comprehensive listing of funders interested in women’s projects, categorized not only by their specific programmatic priorities, but by the size/scope/age of business they are willing to fund. In addition, women need coaching and training to build the “fundability” of their businesses, so that they can unlock increasingly larger sources of funding in the future. This requires solid financial management, audited financial statements, and sound operational and reporting systems that enable the business to demonstrate the impact and performance of its activities.
Are you a dreamer or are you more close to facts and numbers? Do you believe that you need a person in your business that compliments you?
I often feel that managing Calliope is an epic battle between the two sides of my brain. In the beginning, it was often the creative side that dominated. I wanted to design freely, unbridled by practical concerns or restrictions. I wanted to include every new design in our collection, in 12 color ways! The result was unwieldy collections that were complex to manage, because they required an enormous number of unique materials, many of which were imported. This posed challenges at every step in our design and production process: prototyping, cataloging, procurement, fulfillment.
The business side of my brain has slowly gained footing, eliminating as much imported material as possible, consolidating our designs, and looking for ways to use the same material components in as many different pieces as possible. But this battle has been hard fought, and I often feel it would be easier if I had had a partner with a complimentary skill set, to reign in my creative side. There is a reason that large fashion brands have separate creative heads and business managers. For one person to play both roles is extremely challenging, and as Muse Group grows, we will certainly be rounding out our management team to integrate more complimentary and specialized skill sets.