When high quality meets social business: Mai Handicraft

Is it possible to achieve scale as a social business, while maintaining high quality, high profits and having a sustained social impact? Mai Handicraft is a social business in Vietnam running income-generating, educational projects for poor and disadvantaged women, while exporting handicrafts to the western world. Their answer is a definitive yes.

Their organization is based in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest city of Vietnam. It consists of 15 groups of artisans across Vietnam, and more than 20 employees in Ho Chi Minh City – working in administrative tasks, quality control and shipping. Nearly 99% of their profits are generated via exports to foreign countries. With their US 1,5 million of revenue in 2014, and the hundreds of families helped, Mai Handicraft is an inspiring example.

Related article”How artisanal work is empowering rural and disavantaged women: Viet Artisans”

How it all started

Mai Handicraft started in 1990 as a foundation to help the street children. It’s simply to entertain them that the foundation initially started to make handicrafts. Facing the lack of money to continue their initiative, they started to sell their handicrafts to the tourists. In front of the success and the necessity to generate more money, they asked the families of the children to help out by creating handicrafts, too.

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A group of artisans sewing puppets for export

Several foreign organizations approached them to sell their products in their own national markets. At this point Mai Handicraft, the social business, was established. In order to provide other products, they started to search for other artisans through Vietnam. They now have 15 groups and each of them is specialized in one type of handicraft like ceramic, coconut wood or other traditional vietnamese materials.

A positive working environment

4 out of 5 artisans are women and the majority are housewives or farmers. Their work at Mai Handicraft generates a complementary income, next to their traditional activities. From the final selling price, around 80% goes to the artisans directly, white around 20% are reinvested in the company for buying materials, for the development of new products but also for their social development programme. The price of the products is calculated based on the artisans’ living cost, which enhances them to earn on average 30% more than the minimum salary in Vietnam. The business also provides trainings and materials for the artisans who work from their home. They provide help and take care of everything from materials to sales, marketing and shipping.

Mai Handicraft are providing loans without interest or time limit to the artisans, to allow them to buy their own tools, to fix their house, or to improve their work environment by making it safer. Moreover, they provide scholarships for the children of the workers and they organize meetings between groups, encouraging the exchange of best case practices.

Although Mai Handicraft uses traditional techniques, skills and materials, it makes a point of using market-oriented design. All the new designs are developed in close collaboration with the clients to ensure the quality and the success of each product, by following the trends of the foreign markets. They only use natural materials like acacia wood, coconut wood and recycled materials like paper – and therefore are able to sell fair-trade certified, eco-friendly products.

Mai Handicraft Artisans

The different materials and techniques used by Mai Handicraft

The clients of Mai handicraft are for the large majority retailer and organizations. Private individuals you can visit their shop in Ho Chi Minh City, and shop directly at a retailers website.

Mai Artisans is challenging the status quo of a social business, coupling financial with strong social benefits, while delivering market-oriented products at scale. They are proving a working model, and are leaving the door open for other models to build upon theirs.

 

Online-shop (retailer)

 Photo Credits: Mai Handicrafts


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