Meet the Makers: Mabira Collective & The Power of Community
Much like the trunks ascending from the ground in the Mabira rainforest located in Uganda’s Buikwe district, the women who fire and string beads at Mabira Collective have formed a community that stands strong.
According to ecologist Suzanne Simard, the forest is a cooperative system where trees aid neighboring plants through a fungi network buried beneath the soil.
In other words, trees, like the women of Mabira Collective, help each other survive.
They rely on each other; communicate distress, and share nutrients.
Mabira Collective is comprised of 300+ women in Lugazi, Uganda, who handcraft beautiful jewelry and accessories using locally sourced materials, including clay, seeds, and tree bark.
To create a work environment where women can thrive, Mabira Collective offers paid maternity leave and healthcare, on-site child care, ongoing education and skills-based training, children's education benefits, and work-from-home options.
Though Mabira Collective started with seven women working on small, individual orders out of a borrowed garage, they have since expanded to include hundreds of women working on orders as big as 160,000 units.
As Mabira Collective builds its capacity, these women continue to grow together—both personally and professionally—to provide security for their families and create opportunity for the community.
This growth has been witnessed firsthand by Ethik, as we have worked to connect them with larger wholesale orders—enabling them to hire more artisans and invest in their craft.
“You’re With Us” A Collective Approach to Success
When Cissy joined the Mabira Collective family, she became a part of a support system equally dedicated to the success of each artisan and the community as a whole.
When she introduced herself on her first day, tears welled in her eyes as she recounted her fears of not being able to provide for her family. Cissy explained that prior to being hired at Mabira Collective, she was engaging in backbreaking work, carrying water from a well for eight hours a day at a construction site, and cleaning houses to supplement her income. Combined, these jobs earned her a total of just over $2 per day.
As a single mother, responsible for feeding 2 small children on her own, the daily money she earned was barely enough to provide a single meal for her family.
Eve, a seasoned Mabira Collective artisan
Listening intently to Cissy, whose words were barely audible beneath her soft sobs, Eve, a Mabira Collective artisan, recalled the deep financial stress she experienced raising children on her own during a time when she did not know how her family would survive on a day-to-day basis.
Breaking the silence, Eve looked at another artisan with a far-off look in her eye as she reminisced, “I remember… I remember feeling like that. I remember what that was like.”
Eve stood up and walked over to Cissy, opening her arms and embracing her while saying, “You have no reason to cry anymore. You’re with us. You’re going to be just fine now.”
Since working at Mabira Collective, Cissy has flourished and is now the leader of the purchasing department and a strong pillar of support for her family. In addition to her professional success, she’s found a place for her family to live, enrolled her children in school, and provided financial support for her parents.
Like the trees that sustain one other in the Mabira forest, when women obtain gainful employment, their economic growth directly impacts and supports their families and community members.
As we have connected artisans with conscious companies to propel their careers forward, we have come to intimately understand the phrase “you’re with us” as an embrace—similar to the one Eve gave Cissy—that welcomes and invites others to experience mutual support and sustaining.