by Laura Brokaw, Volunteer and Tourist Coordinator

A few years ago, Awamaki faced a tough question. Since our founding, we had focused on increasing the women’s income. To do this, we taught the women to make beautiful things, and sold those things to retail stores in the U.S. This made money for them and for our project. We helped them with everything. For pay day, we even traveled two hours to the nearest bank to get small bills so we could pay each woman in exact change.

By 2013, the women were earning a steady income. But we were running 8 businesses in addition to our own. We asked ourselves, what exactly is the point of this?

The point, we decided, had to be to help the women create registered and independent businesses with the ability to negotiate international markets.

But Awamaki works with indigenous, illiterate women in remote villages. So we designed a program to teach the women the skills they will need to work with us just like any supplier. When they can do that, we will connect them directly to clients and graduate them from our program. We call this program the Impact Model.

The model creates clear definitions and standards for the cooperatives’ advancement towards independence, and clear measurements of their progress.  The model consists of  three stages with advancing responsibility in six aspects of business, such as administration, quality, and commercialization. The groups have 12-18  months to complete each level.  

The first stage of the model is meant to set the cooperative up as a functioning organization. This includes becoming legally registered as a group, electing group leadership, and implementing the practice of quality control. While some groups start working with Awamaki already having accomplished many of these tasks, for others it requires significant effort to complete a task as simple as leading their own meetings or having meetings at all. Currently, five of the six cooperatives that Awamaki works with are at various stages within level one.

After the first level has helped to establish basic organization, the second level focuses on preparing the cooperative to work with other international buyers. Part of this training includes sending invoices, receiving and distributing wholesale orders independently within the group, and taking classes that teach the women about important business concepts such as costs and profits. Our most advanced cooperative, Rumira, is our first cooperative to reach stage two.

Finally, stage three consists of the cooperative independently selling products to other buyers outside of Awamaki and establishing positive relationships with those buyers. This teaches the cooperative to navigate independently in the business world without the consistent help of Awamaki. Once stage three is completed, the cooperative will graduate from the program with diplomas, a big celebration, and start working with Awamaki and other clients as an independent supplier. 

Over the next few years, Awamaki hopes to graduate its first cooperative and after that to continue with many more graduations.

Deciding to make graduation our goal for the cooperatives wasn’t an easy choice. As a wholesaler, connecting your retail clients directly to your suppliers is a great way to lose business. Ultimately, though, we made the decision that our commitment to the women’s ability to earn a sustainable income in the long term, independent of us or any one entity, is our priority.

That’s not to say we plan to go out of business. There are many, many women’s groups in the Sacred Valley that need market access and business training, and graduating our current groups as our sales grow will allow us to expand our program to new groups across the region.

As an organization that believes in the abilities of the women with whom we work, we could not ask for a more significant accomplishment and testimony to having created real economic opportunity.