Day 34

More Artisan Visits

This past week at the Foundation has been pretty similar to the last two weeks, which may sound boring, but it’s exciting that we’re getting more comfortable and into a rhythm with the team. The Brazilians were scheduled to work this week on Monday-Wednesday because the foundation staff was cooking a traditional Chilean meal for everyone on Monday. They made pastel de choclo for everyone. This was the second time Sarah and I had this and I really enjoy it. It’s like a corn casserole with all sorts of goodies. We spent the rest of the day on Monday working at the Foundation, continuing to work on items from last week and prepping for upcoming visits this week.

On Tuesday, we had our first “double visit” – we visited two separate artisans because they lived relatively close to one another. I liked this because it’s a bit of a drive out to where most of the artisans live, so we were saving some time (and gas) by doing a two for one. Our first visit was with Sra. Irma. She specializes in weaving bookmarks for the foundation – it is something that she enjoys doing and the Foundation has had a high demand for the product so it’s a win-win for the working relationship. What I really enjoyed about this visit was that Sra. Irma was actually in the process of weaving the bookmarks so we finally got to see “weaving” in action vs. some of the other processes (e.g., dying, spinning, knitting). Sarah did her normal video routine and I worked with Juan Manuel to ask Sra. Irma many questions about processes. She was incredibly knowledgeable on the products that she makes and was able to share all the dimensions, grams, etc. on the products which helped me figure out some calculations (more on this later).

After this visit, we went to visit. Sra. Rosa. This visit was going to be a little different because Sra. Rosa is the oldest artisan that works with Chol-Chol, and the main goal was to capture some video so that Sarah and make a “recognition” video for her in a couple weeks. Sra. Rosa has to be in her nineties and it’s incredible that she still spins for the organization. In fact, Yasmin joined us for this visit and purchased all of the wool that Sra. Rosa had spun in the past year. It was just crazy to see this woman who had been weaving for over 70 years and the passion she still had for the craft. It was a really inspiring visit.

Sarah worked from our apartment on Wednesday since she needed to just get some “heads down” work done on the videos. I met the Brazilians at the Foundation museum store to show them around with Viviana and get them comfortable since they will each be spending a day at the store “monitoring” operations and conducting customer surveys in the coming weeks. It went well and I think they were excited to see the customer-facing aspects of the operations since they have spent much of their time on sorting through inventory, etc. We all then went back to the Foundation and worked the rest of the day. I’ve been pretty impressed with all the work that the three Brazilians have done in the short amount of time they have been here – I’m glad that we have them on our team.

Thursday was a really productive day as well. We spent the morning at the foundation utilizing Juan Manuel for some translation in key conversations with Susana and Yasmin. Sarah had a big win on Thursday as she got the Google for Not Profits working – which is fantastic! Now they will be able to utilize the more reliable google server for emails as opposed to a local provider, etc. I know there will be some more work to get them to truly adopt this upgrade but we’re moving in the right direction.

As for me, I’ve been building out an Excel file that ultimately shows how much effort each artisan spends on the products that they produce for the foundation. I’m supposed to be identifying ways in which the Foundation and artisans can be more “productive” but before I can do that, I need to better understand how long it takes currently to create many of these products. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m spending the artisan visits asking many questions about how long certain steps take (e.g., how long to clean the wool, spin the wool, dye the wool, weave/knit the product). For the most part, all of the products are created in somewhat similar ways – but each artisan has a little different twist to it. For example, some artisans want to spin their wool before dying, but some swear by dying it first before weaving. I’m trying to determine is how long each of these products take to make. In addition to understand how long sometime takes to make, I am also able to estimate how much they make on the product, which has been a very humbling experience.

Take for example an artisan that we interviewed last week. The screenshot below shows that she traditionally makes two products for the Foundation (two different types of scarfs). Through our interviews, she told us she was able to spin the 115 grams of wool needed for the first scarf in 3 hours (so we now can calculate how much wool she can spin in an hour, or how long it takes to spin 100 grams of wool). She also then told us how long it takes to weave and therefore we can calculate how long it takes to make the product. In the example below, it takes her about 9 hours to make a product (granted, that doesn’t actually factor in time to dye the wool – I’m not factoring that in at this point). You then connect the product with the “code” and cross-reference it with how much the foundation pays for the product, subtract the material costs (since they are buying the wool from the foundation in many cases) and you have a take home rate, hourly rate (and then I have a USD conversion). There are two big takeaways from this: 1.) the artisans are not paid a lot (but remember, this wage is far better than if they were working for some other places or trying to sell their products in the markets on their own) and also 2.) is that the artisans are incredibly resourceful in that they help provide for a family on such a small income.

I shared my findings with Juan Manuel and asked him to “gut-check” my math and if these numbers appear accurate. He said it checks out. Again, while my focus will be about productivity, I also asked Juan Manuel if the Foundation is aware of these amounts. He said that at a high-level, but no one has really dug into it in this detail. At times, I feel like I’m auditing the Foundation (I’m not), but I hope that this Excel file can help have an important conversation with the Foundation team and see if there is anything we can do to increase wages to some of the artisans. While the example I showed above had USD hourly wages for $1.11-$1.24, I’ve calculated wages as high as $4.45 an hour and as low as $0.20 a hour. I want to make sure that we’re sharing this information with the Foundation and doing whatever we can to better support the artisans, either by increasing the amount they are paid for some of the products (and subsequently increasing the prices in the store for some products), or finding ways to better market the products that pay the artisans the best. After all, the artisans are Sarah and my ultimate customers during our fellowship.

Okay, okay – back to Thursday – apologies for the rabbit hole there. Well we had another artisan visit on Thursday where we went to visit Sra. Zenovia. When we visited, she was in the process of creating a very large and gorgeous mural for the Foundation. It was really cool to get to see her work on this. She was incredibly talented and an extremely hard worker. It’s a little difficult to truly understand how much time each artisan weaves/knits a day (they often just say that a product takes them 1-2 days to make, but we don’t know if that’s 4-5 hours a day, or 13-14 hours worked a day). In Sra. Zenovia’s case, she worked at least 8 hours a day, every day. If she is not able to get as much during the day, she just stays up and does the work at night. Such a hard worker, and of course, such a nice person and great host to us during our visit. After completing the video and my interview questions, she had prepared some sopaipillas (!!!) and other breads for us to enjoy.

Another strong week!

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