USAID Supports Increasing Sales of Turkmen Artisans to World Markets
USAID, with the support of the National Commission of Turkmenistan for UNESCO, as well as in partnership with the Orlan consulting company, held the final event on Saturday as part of the Handmade Exports-2022 start-up incubator program (Export of handicrafts).
Employees of diplomatic missions and international organizations (including US Ambassador to Turkmenistan Matthew Klimow and his wife, Georgian Ambassador Konstantin Sabiashvili, French Ambassador Isabelle Ginel, UNDP Resident Representative in Turkmenistan Narine Sahakyan and others), heads and employees of business structures, numerous Ashgabat residents, among whom there were many young people gathered in the conference hall of the Sport Hotel in the Olympic Village of the Turkmen capital to become witnesses and also participants of this event.
Foreign specialists also joined the participants of the event in an online format, including the founder of the HoomArts Fair Trade online store from the American Albuquerque (I remind you that it is Ashgabat's sister city) Ricky Quintana and others.
What is this project that has attracted such interested attention of the most diverse public? In Turkmenistan, where the national heritage is carefully treated at the state level, there are a large number of original masters of arts and crafts. Many of them learned the skills of this creative activity from their grandparents, just like those from their ancestors.
But, unfortunately, the current masters of artistic crafts, owning subtle techniques and methods of work, are far from all competent enough in terms of doing business to sell their unique works. And the goal of the Handmade Exports-2022 program is to assist Turkmen masters of artistic crafts in promoting their products to the international market through sales through such global e-commerce channels as eBay, Amazon, ETSY.
And as Vepa Myalikgulyev, Director of the USAID Future Growth Initiative in Turkmenistan explained, two stages were carried out as part of the Handmade Exports project. The first covered the period from May 2021 to March 2022, and the second – from April to October of this year.
During this time, two streams of master entrepreneurs were trained, during which they were advised by experts, including foreign ones – international eBay expert Fabian Stakhelin and international B2B model design expert Munira Akilova.
Dozens of participants in the Handmade Exports-2022 program had the opportunity to learn about the experience of talented professionals in the field of product design, social media marketing, photography and digital marketing, drafting advertising and presentation texts, image slogans, mottos, etc.
The program also provided good opportunities for cooperation, including with new business partners and online stores in the United States, which is the main target market for sellers of Turkmen handicrafts.
And on Saturday, the final stage-competition took place, in which six finalists of the program, from among the most advanced entrepreneurs working in the field of decorative and applied arts, presented their business projects, products to the jury and talked about the successes achieved thanks to the Handmade Exports project.
And the authoritative jury was supposed to determine the winners of the hand-maker marathon. To determine them, six evaluation criteria were formulated:
1. Consistency of the business model; 2. The level of implementation of the project; 3. The degree of use of modern technological solutions; 4. The quality of the team and the set of resources that the participants of the competition managed to build; 5. Progress made during the Handmade Export 2022 program; 6. The quality of the presentation, including the ability to attract and convince the audience and jury members.
Each finalist was given 5 minutes for presentation and 3 minutes for questions and answers.
The winners in an invisible but stubborn struggle were three participants in the final – Anna Saparova, Iskander Kerimov and Jeren Kurbanova.
The first place was won by Anna Saparova, who has been designing and sewing bags with elements of national decor for more than seven years. According to Anna, she is doing her favorite thing, easily combining it with her family, consisting of her husband and two daughters.
Anna also speaks with gratitude about the organizers of the project, which gave her the opportunity to gain new knowledge in the field of commerce, increase the number of subscribers in social networks through which she received new large customers, register in marketplaces – international eBay and domestic Ynamdar, and also take part in major international exhibitions.
The second place belongs to Iskander Kerimov, an individual entrepreneur since 2016. Five years later, he founded his brand "Tebigat renkleri", which means "Colors of nature".
The motto of the energetic Iskander is “If you want to do it well, then do it yourself!”. Among other things, he is the head of the social project "Women TeleWork", aimed at training with the subsequent organization of self-employment of participants. Among the favorite activities of the young entrepreneur is the study of the agricultural industry and new technologies, as well as subject photography and reading special literature.
And the third place went to Jeren Kurbanova, a designer with five years of experience. She successfully promotes her TurkmenART brand. Jeren develops each of her products with own hands and according to own sketches. The Handmade Exports project, says Jeren, taught her how to run a business, how to sell and make a profit, and how to photograph.
One of her main achievements during the project, she considers the opening of a store on the eBay international marketplace (there are 25 items of her products worth $ 1,600), as well as registration in the Delverr warehouse. But with all this, Jeren believes that the most important thing for her is that she, doing what she loves, makes a gift to herself and to the whole world.
The prize in the nomination "The fastest progress", demonstrated in the framework of the Handmade Exports-2022 program, was deservedly awarded to Abat Mukhammetniyazova.
Abat manages two brands. In 2020, she opened the atelier-studio "Şekil tikinçilik öýi", two years later "AVA carpet & leather".
It may seem strange to some, but Abat Muhammetniyazova is still the head coach of the Turkmenistan national figure skating team. But this is not surprising: figure skating is an elegant sport, as, indeed, all the works of Abat.
During the final event as part of the Handmade Exports-2022 program, an exhibition of products by the best artisans of Turkmenistan was organized. She also did not go unnoticed by the guests, who bought a lot of handicrafts.
And one of the needlewomen who participated in the exhibition, Shasenem Garliyeva, who creates products exclusively from camel wool, deserved a prize in the nomination "The most creative product" of the exhibition "Handmade Exports 2022", and in addition – 2,000 manats.
US Ambassador to Turkmenistan Matthew Klimow, showing his wallet to those present, said that when he came to the event, the wallet was much fuller. But seeing the exhibition of Turkmen craftswomen devastated it to a great extent. But he does not regret and, moreover, encourages everyone to purchase wonderful creations of Turkmen hand-makers.
And in an interview with ORIENT, the diplomat said:
“I especially admire the role of handicraft sellers who have not only learned to master online markets, but also made their online stores available to other handicraftsmen in Turkmenistan. This provides an opportunity not only to create additional economic opportunities for all the people involved in the process, but also shows the spirit of solidarity, teamwork and community building…
This is what concerns the prizes for the winners, and for all the guests, a mini-performance played by children in English based on the book by the American writer Lyman Frank Baum "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" became a pleasant gift for all the guests.
And finally, some statistics on the Handmade Exports project. During its first stage alone, more than 10 individual project participants expanded their production by opening their own studios and workshops, and a number of craftsmen registered on international trading platforms. For example, they opened 22 online stores on the eBay site alone.
But the project also contributed to the fact that its participants also stepped up their activities in the domestic market, more actively cooperating with local online marketplaces – Ynamdar, Gerekli, Aka, etc.
In total, domestic craftsmen sold their products on foreign Internet sites: in the first (annual) round in the amount of 45 thousand 250 US dollars, and in the second (semi-annual) - in the amount of 8 thousand 300 US dollars.
In parallel, we note that in the domestic market they, in fact, a small group of hand-makers in two rounds sold products worth 796,000 manats and 942,000 manats, respectively.
Through simple arithmetic operations, the result can be summarized – it is a total of 53,550 US dollars and 1.738 million manats.
So, the Handmade Exports pilot project has been completed, its results have been summed up, and the winners have been determined. But, as many believe, he not only opened the way to international Internet markets for the project participants, but also for those original craftsmen, designers, artists working in the field of artistic crafts. After all, some of them, especially those living in the remote periphery, still exhibit their products at small local markets...
No one expected such a result from the pilot project.
I'll tell you a secret – even the organizers of the project...
Photo: ORIENT, video: Suleiman Charyev