As an undergraduate, Lauren Shipley ’17 never imagined that she’d one day play an important intercultural role. All it took was one service trip to Kenya and her future shifted dynamically.
Now, Shipley, who majored in international studies with a minor in African studies, is the co-founder and director of a new nonprofit that’s working in rural Uganda to benefit artisans, helping them connect internationally and create job opportunities that will break cycles of poverty.
Artisan Global – Shipley’s organization – is only five months old, but already it’s five staff members are busy with ambitious plans. The organization’s stated mission is to provide resources, mentorship and business training to increase job creation for international artisan businesses primarily in post-conflict areas.
For its initial work, explains Shipley, her organization has partnered with Artisan Apparel – Uganda, a business founded by Ugandan Ketty Promise and Californian Devon Feldmeth.
“That’s a group of 20 artisans in Gulu, Uganda,” she explains, “who are dedicated to using fashion and design to address poverty. We’re helping them connect with buyers outside of Uganda and create solutions to barriers such as shipping methods. We’ve been working with them since 2016 and we began to see that there was a huge gap in resources for them to continue expanding their impact. So, we started connecting the artisans with buyers in South Carolina, but we realized that a lot more could be done to create additional job opportunities.”
That realization, Shipley says, was the genesis of Artisan Global. Together with her fellow Artisan Global team members, which includes co-founder Mikayla Knizevski ’17, who was the first to meet these artisans in 2015, Shipley has developed the concept for a project set to launch in the spring of 2019.
“The biggest problem is that these artisans don’t have the space to implement a job creation program to expand what they’re already doing,” she says. “So, our plan is to raise funds in order to build a vocational center.”
The Artisan Global team envisions that facility as a multipurpose headquarters for local artisans. It will serve as an innovation studio, a wellness center and a business training center.
“One of the barriers to expansion is communication with global buyers,” Shipley says. “So a big emphasis of the center will be on technology. This will enable the artisans to manage their own business interactions with overseas customers.”
Shipley offers that this project is unique because of its two-fold purpose.
“We’re not just intent on helping these artisans succeed in business and address poverty, we also want to enhance resources that promote healing,” she says. “Many of these artisans have heartbreaking backgrounds from the war, and have faced tremendous obstacles trying to rebuild their community and sustain their families. We hope the new vocational center will be a communal space that brings opportunities that give the artisans the hope of a bright future for their community and the tools to create that change themselves.”
Shipley is keen to convey that cultural sensitivity and cultural knowledge are at the center of her organization’s work.
“You can’t simply come into a community and want to change it,” she explains. “You have to learn about a given culture and begin to understand the people. You have to do a lot of listening and learn what it is that the community needs and then work within that. That’s a core value for our nonprofit, and it’s something I learned at the College.
Shipley adds, “Meg Goettsches, who teaches in the African Studies Program, supervised my capstone course in international studies about the impact of rehabilitation programs in post conflict Uganda. She was emphatic about the importance of developing cultural sensitivity and knowledge of a culture before working internationally. Through her teaching and my travels in Africa, I’ve learned the importance of that approach. And through my time at the College, I realized that I wanted to work internationally, and do something that would create sustainable change and provide support in communities that I had grown to love and admire.”
This Thursday, June 28, 2018, Shipley and her Artisan Global cohort will stage the first in a series of fundraising and awareness-generation events. This one will take place in Charleston, at the Meyer-Vogl Gallery where live jazz and clothing from Artisan Apparel – Uganda will set the scene. Shipley and Knizevski, Artisan Global’s creative director, will offer a presentation on the potential impact of the vocational training center. Their hope is that by engaging the Charleston community in this way, they’ll not only generate financial support for the project, but will also empower attendees to consider their own approaches to addressing similar challenges.
“We’re hoping to share awareness,” Shipley concludes, “and who knows where that will lead, but we know it’s important to do because incredible change is possible when efforts are combined. In the five short months since we founded Artisan Global, the Charleston community has come together and helped our little vision grow into a global reality. We are excited to see the impact our local community can make globally.”
Featured image: An artisan sews a dress in a workshop in Gulu, Uganda.