With the 2016 MRP in sight, ATA is gathering testimonies from MRP alumni to highlight all the achievements of the graduates and bring the benefit of their experience and insights to this year’s participants. This month, ATA features the testimony of MRP alumnus Gilbert Kubwimana, Country Director of Songa Designs International, an organization that empowers women in Rwanda to create captivating, handmade designs:

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ATA: What pushed you to attend the MRP?

Gilbert: I needed ATA to assess my products and company during the training, and to create my market plan to be able to define the target market for our products. In sum, to know how the international market works and how it is!

ATA: What part of the MRP agenda was most useful for your work?

Gilbert: The “structure of the US retail market”, the “planning for production and quality control”, and the “global opportunity and trends for handmade products” were all great and very useful, hands-on resources for our organization.

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ATA: What impact has had your MRP experience on your organization?

Gilbert: After the MRP, I was able to connect with West Elm to negotiate about supplying them with baskets. We are very hopeful that we will soon conclude this deal, as discussions are going great.

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ATA: Did the MRP change in any way how you work?

Gilbert: Yes it had changed the way I worked because it gives us great ideas on how to expand our product line. We used to offer only jewelry, and we now have banana, raffia and sisal baskets.

ATA: In what ways, after you attended the MRP, do you continue to benefit from it?

Gilbert: We are still benefiting of the MRP in many different ways. New markets and connections opened to us, and we can now share and exchange experiences and ideas with some of the MRP alumni via a Facebook page. We also gained recognition from our country’s Ministry of Trade, which knows of the MRP and its advantages.

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ATA: What in the MRP experience was most significant for you?

Gilbert: Meeting with potential buyers and visiting stores such as Anthropology and ABC Store was an amazing opportunity to get a practical, and not only theoretical, knowledge of the American market and its requirements.

ATA: What kind of networking opportunities did the MRP provide for you?

Gilbert: In addition to the MRP alumni network, which is of great help in many ways, we are now communicating with West Elm and working with Invisible Borders.

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ATA: Why would you encourage other artisan organizations to participate in the MRP?

Gilbert: The MRP is a very nice program that helps artisans to meet with potential buyers, enables them to show their products to the world and to build a network with other artisans because if you do your business alone you can’t grow it. The MRP, through teaching and workshops, helped us to understand more our own business, products and partners.

ATA: As an MRP alumnus, do you have recommendations for future participants?

Gilbert: Yes! To follow carefully ATA’s advices and guidance, and to share their thoughts and ideas with other participants, because they can learn from each other. I would also advise them to follow up with the other artisan organizations after the MRP so they don’t miss the opportunity of building a network that can be very useful and reliable.

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