Capacity-building for rural women artisans in Peru

by Awamaki
Martha and Mercedes lead workshop with weavers
Martha and Mercedes lead workshop with weavers

Our cooperative coordinators Martha and Mercedes are preparing for a big trip, and they need your help!

They have been invited to host a panel for the 2016 Textile Society of America Symposium taking place in Savannah, Georgia in October. We are so proud that they have been invited to share Awamaki’s knowledge on the traditions and history of weaving and textiles in the Peruvian highlands.

Martha and Mercedes, both Quechua-speaking women with deep roots in the Sacred Valley, will represent Awamaki's work at the symposium. Martha originally started as a member of our Rumira knitting cooperative before joining the Awamaki team as coordinator for our knitting and spinning cooperatives. Her expertise with a pair of knitting needles is only outshined by her patience and welcoming personality that make everyone feel at home in her office. Martha works side-by-side with Mercedes, head of all of our women’s cooperatives. Mercedes grew up in the area and feels a strong calling to give back to the region. She has managed women's cooperatives for much of her career. She guides our partner cooperatives with a firm hand, but underneath it all she has a heart of gold.

Martha and Mercedes are core members of the Awamaki team, and we look forward to sending them to the United States for this amazing opportunity. While there, they will be able to grow their leadership ability, expand their understanding about the artisan market, and share Awamaki’s work. They will bring these experiences back to Peru with them, and use them to deepen their impact with the 150 artisans with whom we partner. However, before they can do this, we need to raise funds for their journey and participation. This June, we are coming together on behalf of Martha and Mercedes, and we hope you will help us.

Tomorrow, June 15th, we will be taking advantage of GlobalGiving's Bonus Day and their 50% match for Superstar organizations like us. Donate and learn more on our project page Send Martha and Mercedes to the U.S. Every amount helps us support Martha and Mercedes in their journey. 

Martha and Mercedes’ ability to share their expert knowledge and skills concerning Peruvian textiles and weaving with people from around the world is amazing opportunity for both them and Awamaki. We are so proud of their accomplishments, and we hope that you will join us in supporting them in this experience!

This project report was written by Lisa Winthagen, a communications intern at Awamaki.

Mercedes and Martha with spinner
Mercedes and Martha with spinner
Giulia addresses the room
Giulia addresses the room

"You are a team – not individuals. As an association, you must work together to improve yourselves and your products.” 

Giulia, head of our Monitoring and Evaluation department, opened the Quality Control Workshop with a strong push for teamwork. Women’s cooperative members from Huilloc, Puente Inca, and Rumira traveled down to our Ollantaytambo office in order to discuss ways to improve their hand-spun yarn and knitwear products. As part of the Awamaki Impact Model, we hold frequent capacitaciones with our artisans in order to help move their associations towards full independence.

The meeting first addressed the Huilloc cooperative, the group that will be spearheading our expanded handspun alpaca yarn line. Giulia explained the new standardized weights for the yarn, citing that in the past the yarn weights had been too thin or too thick.

Some women from Huilloc began asking questions in rapid Quechua, and Martha, head of our Knitting Cooperatives, stepped in to translate. The discussion quickly moved to problems with the cleanliness of the yarn, and the group was assured that in the near future there will be an alpaca fleece washing workshop in order to prepare the yarn for spinning. Members from the Huilloc cooperative have been exemplary in the teamwork required to expand the Awamaki yarn line, a process that begins with new alpaca shearing techniques up in the highlands of the communities and ends with beautiful and natural hand-spun yarn in the Awamaki store.

Knitting cooperatives Rumira and Puente Inca took the stage next as the discussion shifted to the quality of the completed knitwear. Rumira has been thriving in the Impact Model, working on graduating to organizational independence. They have had three repeat knitwear orders with a client outside of Awamaki!

Puente Inca, on the other hand, has been producing products with a lot of variance and inconsistency in quality. We brought both groups together so they could discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and brainstorm ways to improve.

In response to this problem, Knitwear Design volunteers Rosey and Emma created pattern packets with updated measurements for each product. With clear instructions and examples, the women should now have the resources they need to eliminate the variance in their products.

To improve the product quality further, each cooperative has elected a Quality Control Manager, a woman who is responsible for reviewing the group’s products before they are delivered to Martha at Awamaki. Martha emphasized the importance of planning ahead with deadlines to the quality control managers for Rumira and Puente Inca. In order for products to be delivered on time they will need to set a date within their cooperative that is a few days ahead of the Awamaki deadline. This will ensure that they have enough time to review their cooperative’s products. If there are any mistakes, the group can then work together as a team to resolve the problems before presenting the products to Awamaki for final review. Because the whole group is accountable for individual mistakes, the quality control managers play an important role in ensuring the group’s success.

Mercedes, the head of our Women’s Cooperative Program, ended the meeting with one of her usual inspirational talks.   

“For five years I have been working hard at my job to become the best professional I can be. Every day I get better at my job. It is part of my conscience to improve my job, and it should be part of your conscience to improve your products.”

Equipped with clear expectations and improved guidelines, our hope is that the members of our knitting cooperatives have all the resources they need to make high-quality products. By working as a team, they can hold each other accountable for the success of the group. As the quality of their individual products improves, the collective skills of the group will grow, and they will be able to become a fully independent association. Your support allows us to continue our capacity building workshops and build the skills of our dedicated cooperative members.

Listening to Mercedes
Listening to Mercedes
Reviewing the new quality control pattern books
Reviewing the new quality control pattern books


Cipriana sketches her weaving design
Cipriana sketches her weaving design

As the busy season winds down, our design team has been making frequent trips to our weaving cooperatives in Kelkanka and Patacancha to host capacitaciones with our artisans. These training sessions are designed to build the skills that will help the cooperative move up in the Impact Model. The three cooperatives in Patacancha and Kelkanka are all on Level 2, which means to get to Level 3 they must perfect the quality of their products and begin to make their own designs so that they may begin to sell to their own clients. With this in mind, we offer two series of workshops, one about Quality Control, and the other about the Principles of Design.

The Quality Control Workshop comes first. Here, we discuss the practical aspects of weaving quality products. This can be as straightforward as discussing ways to keep the textiles clean during production and transport, or as complicated as making sure width is consistent and lifts aren’t too long (see photo). This workshop reinforces the standards of production for which the artisans know they are accountable.

After we get the craftsmanship down pat, we start to get a little more conceptual with the Principles of Design Workshop. This is a fun one because the creative juices really start flowing. The workshop starts with a short presentation about what’s going on in today’s fashion industry. Here, the artisans gain a wider context for what’s going on at Awamaki. We start with some examples from fashion magazines, which we use as a jumping-off point for discussing the needs of our clients. What are our clients looking for? How will the textiles that our artisans are producing be used? Then comes the best part: the design contest. Each woman is given blank paper, a new pack of colored pencils, and the simple directions: they have two weeks to draw a design for a textile then weave the textile they designed. The artisans are compensated for their participation in the contest and the winners will receive cash prizes.

We piloted this design workshop with our Songuillay cooperative in Patacancha and were met with great success. Drawing designs before creating the 3D textile was a completely new concept to our Patacancha artisans, who previously just imagined their designs before setting up the loom. In fact for many of our artisans, it was the first time they had ever put pencil to paper to draw. But in no time the women were getting their ideas down on paper, excited about the new method and motivated by friendly competition. Meg, a volunteer in the Women’s Cooperative Program, describes the transformation, “Some of [the women] literally never picked up a pencil before and suddenly they’re like, ‘wow, I can design a whole bag.’”

The opportunity to practice a new skill is having a profound effect on our artisans. It’s not just about drawing or design, it’s about empowerment. In learning about the design process for themselves, the women are recognizing their own agency within their cooperative. With this training, these women realize that they already have the tools they need to collectively design their own line—they just needed a few new materials. “They were amazed that they were getting the opportunity to do this….And at the end, they were so excited to get to keep the pencils,” Meg recounted with delight.

So on behalf of our artisans and our staff, we extend a huge THANK YOU for making these workshops possible. Your support has given 87 women the confidence (and materials!) they need to be their own designers. This has brought them one step closer to functioning as an independent Asociacion. Well be going back soon to follow up on the competitions, award the winners, and find solutions to any issues that may have come up. With how much progress they made in the two-hour workshop, we cant wait to see what theyve designed with two weeks. Thanks for your continued support!

Survey administration
Survey administration

It's that time of year again. Time to talk about #failforward at Awamaki!

How to measure impact is one of the most difficult questions facing small non-profits. Every funder and most donors want to see you measuring impact, but it is pretty hard to do, and even harder with scarce resources. 

For a long time at Awamaki, we measured our impact simply by measuring how much our cooperatives were earning. This is a fairly simple indicator. After all, the positive effects of women’s earnings in poor households are well documented. But as we grew, it was harder for this indicator to stand alone. Funders wanted to know how the women spent the money they earned, and whether those earnings translated into other types of empowerment in their community. Also, we wanted to know how our program affected women’s lives so that we could find ways to improve our work.

So we put a lot of effort into developing a plan to monitor our impact. This plan was based on talking to the women of our cooperatives. We designed and administered a “Well-being survey,” intended to help us understand what effects our program had in the communities. We even intended to administer it every year in order to monitor changes in the community. The survey asked about everything from how many times per week families eat meat to how women participate in household decisions.

We spent hours designing, coding, and administering the survey. Gathering the data was hard. Only 2 of our 6 cooperatives speak fluent Spanish, so we always have a Quechua-speaking staff member along. Only a few of the women in our cooperatives can read and write, so instead of distributing written/paper surveys we usually talk to each woman individually. We conducted these interviews during the cooperative’s regular meetings, where it can be tricky to talk to everyone in the limited amount of time that we’re all gathered. The whole process ended up taking months, and monopolizing the time of our small staff.        

We had big plans for this data: we wanted to use it to report to donors, apply to grants, and track our own progress. We thought that next year, we might try to give the survey to women who are not part of an Awamaki cooperative, so that we can see if there is a difference between those who work with us and those who don’t. It isn’t exactly a randomized control group, but it was our best approximation! But it turned out we were getting ahead of ourselves. Our Well-being Survey was not destined to be repeated.

First, administering the survey was awful. It took a huge amount of time, and the women were clearly bored, busy and just trying to get through the questions as quickly as possible. Many of the questions had no clear Quechua translation, or the nuances of the questions were lost in translation. (For example, “Do you speak up in your family?” vs. “Do you speak up in your community?” is tricky when the word for family and community is the same.)

Second, the quality of the information we collected was bad. We had a hunch during the data collection that the answers we were collecting weren’t entirely accurate, but the proof was in the questions about income earned. Awamaki keeps good records about how much each woman and each cooperative earn from our programs. The survey included questions about how much the women’s households earned in total. Many of the women reported a lower total household income than we knew definitively that they were making at Awamaki. When compared to what we had on file for their Awamaki-generated earning, their answers didn’t make sense. In general, our artisans would underreport their income, some even reporting no income at all.

We’re not sure exactly where this discrepancy is coming from, but we have a few ideas. Perhaps the poorly estimated figures are a result of the women having no formal or consistent form of household record-keeping or budgeting within their families, which may be a product of low literacy rates. It could also be that the artisans fear that if they report a high income, Awamaki will give that cooperative fewer orders or reduce assistance in other ways. This of course is not our intention at all, but that trust can be hard to build. It’s also likely that the style of the interview itself is not conducive to accurate answers. Would you like to discuss, through an interpreter, your exact income with a distant colleague? Honestly, it can be a little awkward for everyone involved.

This wasn’t the only problem with our data. There were many issues, and we won’t be administering our lovingly crafted Well-being Survey again. We are trying a new method for next year. To measure economic success, we have started doing observational studies of the women’s homes to gauge wealth. We visit and observing the number of household appliances, the material the floor and roof are made of, whether there is a bathroom, etc.). We have also started running focus groups to approach the answers we sought from the Well-being Survey. We plan to invite a small group of women to the office, serve food, ensure a comfortable environment, and have a general conversation among the women instead of a direct interview with each individual. We think that these issues will be easier to address in a low-key group setting, rather than a rushed interview that puts each individual on the spot.

So wish us luck! We promise that when we have something interesting to report, we will share it with you. If not, we will have another excellent failure story for next year and even more lessons learned. 

Going door-to-door
Going door-to-door
So many questions!
So many questions!
Patience required
Patience required
Natalie and Rosa
Natalie and Rosa

Earlier this month, a group of seven knitters from the knitting cooperative of Rumira joined Giulia and Natalie of our Monitoring and Evaluation team to talk about the role of women in their community, empowerment, and Awamaki’s mission.


For this empowerment workshop, we started right away with a big question: Why is it that Awamaki only works with women? At first, the answers we got were pretty straightforward. The women responded that there are very few jobs for women, and Awamaki provides them with jobs. While this is correct, we wanted to dig deeper: why do we only work with women?


Empowerment workshops like this one provide Awamaki with crucial insight to how our mission is perceived by the women artisans we serve. These workshops are also a great opportunity to evaluate our impact, and the women’s perception of our work, through their responses to questions and activities.


The idea of empowerment is a foreign concept in our cooperatives’ communities. The women of Rumira had heard of empowerment but none could confidently explain what it is. This was a critical part of the discussion because themes of empowerment are so central to Awamaki’s mission of enabling the women to create change in their communities.


To illustrate the theme of empowerment, we used women’s purchasing power and social change in the community as a starting point.


Knitter Rosa gave the example of a woman making purchasing decisions as a form of empowerment. “Women didn’t make these choices in the past,” she said when discussing changes in her community over the last decade. Now, she told us, women make the majority of household decisions and participate in community meetings. Along with the additional income that they earn with Awamaki, these changes are empowering them to improve their community.


This month’s workshop was also hugely beneficial to our organizational learning as we refine our capacity-building curriculum. We found our basic and interactive approach to this complex topic proved to be very successful. The women of our Rumira Cooperative gained understanding of empowerment in the context of their lives.


However, in the past we have only given this workshop in more rural communities that are further from town, schools and jobs. Rumira, on the other hand, is only minutes from the main town. We found that the Rumira women’s discussion was far more productive, and moved much more quickly, than the discussion had in previous rural communities. In those communities, we had started with a high expectation for women’s understanding of our mission, and found we needed to drill down to basics. Adapting that curriculum to Rumira, we approached the group with basic concepts, and quickly found that they were eager for a more advanced discussion!


This was a great lesson for us as we improve our curriculum so that we can better adapt it to each group’s education level and better carry out our mission of building business and leadership capacity in rural Andean women. 

Small groups to begin the workshop
Small groups to begin the workshop
Working together
Working together
Prioritizing hypothetical spending money
Prioritizing hypothetical spending money

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Organization Information


Location: Ollantaytambo, Cusco - Peru
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Mary Kennedy Leavens
Ollantaytambo, Cusco Peru
$17,432 raised of $19,800 goal
337 donations
$2,368 to go
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