Anou artisan collective are using the traditional skills handed down from generation to generation in rural Morocco to make intricate rugs and change the lives of local people.
Anou means a well of water in Tashelheet, the regional language of the artisans who make the rugs. The wells are considered the heart of the communities that surround them and help sustain growth for the businesses and individuals that populate the valley.
The well seems to be an analogy for Anou. Anou aims to not just sell the artisans’ products but give them the tools to run the entire business themselves, from designing and crafting to selling and accounting.
Anou sets up individual cooperatives in villages and communities, teaching the local people the skills they need to run the business themselves. Eventually handing over the running of the cooperative to the village.
This aims to encourage their craftspeople to become business people and give them genuine empowerment to rise above their current social standing. The only non-Moroccan artisan involved in the business is the founder Dan Driscoll, everyone else in the group are local.
Driscoll says, “Anou represents a fundamental shift in the fair-trade industry. Instead of asking how organisations can help, we ask how can we built a resilient community of artisans where outside help and fair-trade organisations are no longer needed.”
This brings its own challenges to the business. Most of the employees are only educated to seventh grade or to the age of 12, meaning that they often aren’t equipped with the mathematical skills to run a viable business so they have to learn on the job.
But Anou have realised this is the best way to bring about actual change within their communities and give the artisans that opportunity to prosper by their own means. The Anou blog talks frankly and openly about the issues associated with real change but also the huge positive impact that it can make on individuals.
A once very successful village-run cooperative was experiencing severe legal troubles (read Anou’s most recent blog post for the full story) linked to the fact that, due to lack of education, they slipped up a couple of times. Their problems were solved by another artisan leader, an eighth grade educated metalsmith. He found a solution that a team of lawyers couldn’t and is now helping other artisan groups overcome business teething problems.
Without Anou’s commitment to actual change, this man wouldn’t have been given this opportunity to raise himself above his education level.
This actual change is also represented in the women who work in Anou’s cooperatives. Many of the individual cooperatives are run by women. Including one of their most successful, where women were at one stage regularly earning more than the local governor. In a still highly patriarchal country such as Morocco, this is no easy feat
Anou are so much more than a fair-trade organisation, their work is changing the social and economic landscape of both individuals and entire communities. Their open and honest approach about creating a business that is for actual change is both inspiring and fascinating.