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5 Minutes with the Bootstrap Project

Promoting centuries-old crafts throughout the developing world, the philosophy behind this project is to empower artisans to end their own poverty – without receiving a handout. The profits of the sales go back to the artists, who then have the opportunity to improve their own lives and those of their communities. We spoke to Founder and Executive Director of The Bootstrap Project, Maxine Kaye, to find out more about this inspiring initiative.

Inspiration behind the Bootstrap vision?

We created Bootstrap as a response to the disillusionment we experienced in our work with the United Nations and the non-profit world. The UN’s resources are often wasted on bureaucracy and politics, while the handouts from the non-profit world tend to create dependency instead of development. From these experiences we came together committed to the idea that real sustainable development only happens through capacity building and access to markets, and this is what Bootstrap seeks to provide.

How does Bootstrap work?

Bootstrap partners with trusted local development organisations. We then work with their artisans or connect the artisans with others whom we would like to partner with these local organisations. It is important that the artisan determines the price of their products - we want them to be in the driver’s seat. When a product is sold we use the proceeds from the sale in one of two ways. We either fund joint projects between The Bootstrap Project and our partners that educate other artisans in the community to improve their skills, so that they too can become Bootstrap artisans. The second way profits are used is to help our development partners that are involved with microfinance fund micro-loans to other micro-entrepreneurs. This allows growth to spread throughout the community.

What art forms do you promote?

We collaborate with artisans that create the highest-quality handmade pieces. We want to bring a little appreciation back for this labour-intensive work. Something created by a real person with love, skill and dedication to the craft just feels different to us than something made by a machine in a country whose origin we barely even know. This fits in with our mission to “craft a more connected world”. We think that if we are collectively conscious about whom, how and where our things are created, we will become more conscious consumers.

Where do the artists hail from?

Currently our artisans reside in Swaziland, Zambia and Tajikistan, but this is just the start. We hope that Bootstrap becomes a platform for artisans, no matter where they are in the world, to demonstrate their culture and talents.

How does Bootstrap empower artists?

Bootstrap supporters empower artisans in many ways. On a most primary level their purchases provide the essential funds to feed the artists and their children, to pay for medical care and school fees. Secondly, there is the sense of pride that comes from international exposure through Bootstrap. It is this type of excitement that can get entire communities motivated to end their own poverty. This is why we truly believe that one purchase really goes a long way. Finally, by funding joint projects, Bootstrap supporters empower future Bootstrap artisans.

Have you observed positive changes in the artist’s lives?

Absolutely. I will tell you one story that is demonstrative of the immediate impact that the project is having. We recently received an email from one of our artisans, Rose Phiri. When we first met Rose, she wanted to be able to communicate with us about future orders. To facilitate our communication we set Rose up with an email account. She has access to the internet thanks to her local village internet café. In her email, Rose spoke to us about her next order, saying that she would need to hire four other women to fill the order she was working on. This is the first time she has ever had to hire anyone, so she was seeking advice on how she should do this. We just love stories like this. To think back only a few months ago when we met Rose in her tiny one-bedroom house that she shares with her children, to today where she is now not just able to pay for her son’s school, but is also looking to hire others to further develop her craft.

Can people from all over the world buy through Bootstrap?

Yes! We started to sell exclusively in the US, but we were pleasantly surprised to see interest in our project from all over the world, so we quickly decided to provide international shipping. It is so nice to see that as a global community, we all feel the same desire to have a real connection with and make a real difference in the lives of others.