Over the years Anouchka Razakandisa has used her savvy business skills and in-depth knowledge of exporting and marketing to support artisans in their efforts to connect to larger markets. In August of 2014, she participated and successfully completed the Market Readiness Program™, further enabling her to seek more economic opportunities in the US market for the artisans she and her organization works with. ATA recently spoke with Anouchka to learn more about her work with artisans in Madagascar and what drew her to the work she does.

What is your official role with the International Trade Board of Madagascar?

The International Trade Board of Madagascar (ITBM) is a trade promotion agency for export which has been established by business associations of Madagascar and is funded by the French Development Agency.. I am working as General Secretary for the institution. Apart of managing the project daily, along with a team, I am also in charge of identifying an annual training program that teaches about export and follow-up the projects with the different clusters that we have been putting in place. My role is also to maintain relations with the different technical and financial partners here and abroad.

Can you tell us a little about your background and if it influenced the work you do now? How did you begin to work with artisans?

My father used to be an exporter of lychees from Madagascar to Europe. When I finished high school and was about to continue my study abroad, I chose to major in International Trade and Marketing. My goal was to be an exporter as well. My study and different experiences have allowed me to travel a lot ever since, which has really influenced my work these last 20 years.

I had the opportunity to organize different missions with Malagasy exporters in South Africa, Germany, France and Mauritius to promote Malagasy products. Among of them were handmade products such as bags, baskets, etc. During those missions, I was contacted by few buyers who wanted to order some baskets and crocheted bags. They needed someone to organize the production, so little by little I gathered a group of 80 artisans in remote areas. Most of the time, they preferred to work from home since they also had to support the lives of their family. Working in the city often made them lose time as they tried to go from one place to the other, so I delivered all the raw materials and had a controller checking regularly to insure the quality and completion of the products on time. We succeeded in exporting for 3 years in a row until the 2009 crisis. This is how I started working with artisans.

Anouchka participates in a group exercise during the Market Readiness Program™ (MRP).

What drew you to working with artisans?

Madagascar is very well known for its range of raw materials and the skills of its workforce. For me, it’s very important to give recognition and value to someone’s works. In our export experiences, we have learned that we needed to set up a win-win situation with the artisans.

The artisans are often also farmers, so for me, if I can make them earn more whenever we have an order, I contribute in improving their lives. The artisans are more often than not women and so they have to take care of their families, the children, they have to look after the ricefields. Simply put, they need to earn money. Women are very courageous and you can count on them. That’s what drew me to work with artisans.

How did you learn about the Market Readiness Program™?

I had the opportunity to learn about Aid to Artisans for some time. As we were trying to promote handicraft products within the US market, a friend told me to try to attend the Market Readiness Program to gain more knowledge about the US market.

How was your experience?

The training was very rich and interesting for me and helpful for my work. The training contents, the exchanges with the different participants and consultants were very important because a program such as this does not exist in Madagascar. Learning from others and receiving advice on your products from experts, if you want to export to the US, is not easy to find.

Have you been able to use anything you learned at the Market Readiness Program™ in the work you do now?

Entering the US market is not easy. It takes time and demands a lot of investment. The most important things to keep in mind is that the US buyers need good information to help them decide. We are sharing regular information to the artisans and exporting companies in their preparation to attend the NYIGF. We have even prepared a guide on how to export to the US for our exporters.

Anouchka speaks with a buyer at the 2014 Cocktail Reception, held during the MRP.

Can you tell me about any upcoming initiatives for artisans that you are a part of?

At the International Trade Board of Madagascar, we have helped few exporting companies establish a cluster producing handicraft products. We have identified a US designer and a US buyer to train them on how to access the US market. The cluster has produced a few samples for the moment and is currently waiting for the buyer’s decision.

With the same cluster, we are planning to help them attend NY NOW in August 2015.

What long term goals do you have for the artisans you work with?

Our goal is to help the artisans to have more access on the US market, especially taking advantage of the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act).