by Marissa Perry Saints, founder of Dsenyo.
Marissa is also a leader in 50 Under 40, an elite cohort of innovative social enterprise leaders brought together by SEA for training and leadership development.
Social responsibility is a growing trend among businesses across the United States. Numerous entrepreneurial ventures have sprouted in attempts to end poverty, empower women, and inspire social change in developing communities. Dsenyo is one such budding social enterprise partnering with artisan communities in Africa and Brazil to empower women through artisan design and trade.
Founded in 2009 by artist Marissa Perry Saints, Dsenyo’s partnerships have expanded from one small community in Malawi to over 100 artisans across three countries. Marissa realized that for sustainable growth of the business, there was a need to understand real social and economic impacts of the work.
So in 2013, Dsenyo developed an innovative Social Impact Survey to conduct first with partners in Malawi. The survey had two primary purposes: to aid in strategic planning and to create authentic communications pieces for customers.
To develop the survey, Dsenyo had to understand the social and cultural life of their partners in Malawi. Nine key social and economic indicators of development and change were determined through research and utilizing the expert knowledge of an in-country team. For example, the Malawi country director noted the social importance of having a cell phone, even if a plan or minutes could not be afforded. Thus, the direct and intimate connections to artisans were crucial to this development.
Additionally, Dsenyo’s company goals and priorities were considered to track progress. Of primary importance is helping artisans develop skills to start their own sustainable businesses for self-sufficiency. Therefore, asking about other means of earning income and discussing what trainings or assistance women wanted was extremely important.
Marissa, Dsenyo’s Founder, conducted the first run of this survey in Malawi during October, 2013. She and the team members interviewed 48 individuals across all four of the partner groups. The team had to be creative and flexible, as they determined some questions needed modifications. While there, it was also decided there needed to be differences in the survey for refugee partners versus women in semi-urban villages.
The response to the survey among women themselves was quite inspiring! It was found women appreciated being given a voice and were eager to discuss their challenges. The team also discussed fair trade with partners, and artisans were happy to know they were part of a global system working to make trade more equal.
Upon returning, the survey was reviewed to set a baseline from which to measure future progress. This highlighted areas where partners were doing well and areas that needed more support from Dsenyo. Some immediate steps taken include conducting cost analyses, creating new designs, and developing infographics for customers. The published social impact report which resulted from this work is here:
Resource: How to Measure Social Impact Prezi
Working with artisans requires creativity, and change is a slow process. It’s great to know that every artisan interviewed mentioned the income from Dsenyo is helping improve their lives! These earnings go towards education, developing their businesses, and providing for their families. Dsenyo is committed to proving and showing how their work is making a real difference in the lives of women around the world.