ATA implemented a two and a half year project with $555,000 of funding through a USAID subcontract with World Learning, Inc. The goal of this project was to increase long-term employment opportunities for Russian women, who were the first to lose jobs (70% of the unemployed workforce) when the Soviet Union collapsed. Additionally, ATA aimed to strengthen NGOS and to help private craft businesses transition from a command economy to a free market economy with new export potential. ATA quickly learned that even during this difficult time, many Russians were resilient entrepreneurs. One true lasting success story was Anna Tsimbal who was “discovered” by ATA when she was standing shivering in the cold selling hand-painted wooden music boxes and ornaments. After working with ATA, she employed nearly two dozen people who were earning increased income designing Christmas decorations for the export market.
What We Did:
ATA sent a prominent textile designer to work with the Russian women. The designer quickly learned that Russian artisan culture embodied elements such as woodcarving and Orthodox Christian art and symbols. She saw that all of these characteristics would appeal to the U.S. market, along with the artisans’ access to unique materials such as birch bark and high quality wood. The ATA design consultant determined that the holiday market would be the best fit to sell Russian product in the U.S. She taught the women how to produce high quality designs that could be easily reproduced, and how to develop new designs quickly.
ATA developed a Connecticut-based Alliance of American and Russian Women (AARW), which became the primary partnership during the project and assisted with everything from shipping and orders to bank transfers. During a two-year period, ATA also conducted more than 40 training workshops in Russia, focusing on artisans living and working near Moscow and St. Petersburg. Through these seminars, ATA identified promising entrepreneurs and worked with them closely on product development design, business skills training and marketing.
ATA created market links by bringing artisans to four New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF) trade shows, where they forged relationships with buyers and made sales of nearly $200,000. At the NYIGF, ATA gave space in its booth to a U.S. based importer, which had begun sourcing Russian products. By the end of ATA’s project, this importer had its own booth with clients ranging from Saks Fifth Avenue to the Washington National Cathedral Shop, and employed more than 200 Russian artisans.
Results and Benefits:
- Cumulative sales of $60,000 surpassed the USAID budget within four years of the end of the project.
- 369 jobs were maintained eight years after the project ended.
- Four of the core artisan enterprises ATA worked with most closely were still in business after the 1998 Russian bank crisis.
- 10 years after the project, key artisan leaders still communicate with other despite living in different areas to discuss their business progress.
- Business owners reported skilled women artisans earned up to $350 a month, which was as much as four times more than other work alternatives available to women that typically brought only $27 per month of income.
“Many people improved their lives because of the ATA project. It has also helped me to achieve what I have in my current job. Participants of the ATA project have been able to successfully manage their businesses,” a female artisan entrepreneur in Russia who worked closely with ATA.