The Association for Craft Producers (ACP) in Kathmandu, Nepal, has a felt department that fortunately receives many orders. The demand for large products like blankets is increasing. So, they asked SEC for advice on new felting techniques and especially on the use of a felting machine. SEC expert Johanna Rösti therefore travelled to Nepal for the second time to continue working with the women producers where they left off after their previous assignment.
SEC seeks to support SMEs and institutions to grow, indirectly, through advisory assignments. The assignment durations are short, but whenever possible (and necessary) after a certain period, long-term development is sustained by a follow-up assignment. A good example of this is the Association for Craft Producers (ACP) in Nepal. ACP first sought advice from an SEC expert in 2003. Two further assignments followed in quick succession. After a longer break, in 2017 and 2020, the organisation contacted SEC again. Those members of the organisation who specialise in the production of felt products have benefited most from the various interventions. By learning new techniques, they have been able to increase their product range and work more efficiently. The organisation has also benefited from the expert’s contacts and was able to produce hats for a Swiss client.
In the right place at the right time
Shortly before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, SEC expert Johanna ws asked to advise the ACP felt producers for the second time. Since she already knew the country and the client from her last assignment, she did not hesitate and accepted. On her arrival, she was pleased to see that the newly learned techniques from the last assignment were already being implemented and applied. However, the producers were struggling with technical difficulties as well as problems with materials, particularly, as they wanted to fulfil a large order from a customer. On this point, Johanna Rösti was able to offer specific training immediately. Together with the producers, she worked through the individual problems so that this order could be successfully completed in the end.
Among other things, the SEC expert helped test new materials, designed a collection, and created a more efficient production concept as well as detailed production descriptions for the collection. She also trained felters who worked from home so that they could produce products of the same quality as the felting machine at ACP. This was particularly valuable in retrospect, as during the pandemic the only place to work was at home.Johanna Rösti also met with buyers. Thanks to this exchange, she was able to incorporate their wishes and feedback into the consultation.
ACP (The Association for Craft Producers) is a Nepalese non-profit and fair-trade organisation comprising women producers in over 20 crafts (including felting, hand weaving, glass and ceramics). It was founded in 1984 with 38 women producers and today has approximately 1,000 members from the low-wage sector. It offers them support in technical issues, but also in the areas of design, marketing, and management. The organisation gives its members the opportunity to develop their skills and to sell their products worldwide. They also receive a fair wage and benefit from other advantages such as education allowances for their children.
Questions to SEC expert Johanna Rösti
How do you assess the results achieved by the assignments in general?
The on-site consultations and learning inputs have contributed a lot to the development of the expertise of the staff involved. I was able to use the experience I gained from the first assignment at ACP very well during the second assignment. I could efficiently analyse the current product problems. Together with the rich experience the employees had gained since my last assignment, we were able to solve the upcoming problems and work together on the product development. ACP was very open, interested, and supportive.
What impressed you most in this consultancy assignment?
The openness and support for product development on the part of those responsible at ACP and the commitment of the felters in implementing it was a great pleasure. Together we were able to develop beautiful collection and production basics. The employees also had a lot of fun.
I was very moved by the warmth of “my” felters and the ACP staff. This second mission was a bit like “coming home”. That was important because there was a lot of uncertainty about the national and international measures in the emerging Corona pandemic. With this familiarity with people on the ground and the knowledge that Swisscontact had my back in a responsible way, I was able to fully concentrate on the mission.
What surprised you or what did not work as expected?
From my first assignment, I was somewhat familiar with the working culture at ACP and less surprised than the first time. It would have been helpful to have an assistant in the group from the beginning to translate and to document things.
The additional felt hat project has progressed less well than anticipated because there were few human resources available for it. In my opinion, there is still untapped potential in good quality hat production.
What pushed you to your limits with thios types of consulting?
This three-week assignment was very intensive for everyone because essential know-how was to be imparted in a relatively short time and then anchored in practice.
It would be desirable if the in-house felting team could be strengthened with younger employees, so that on the one hand the internal experience can be continued and on the other hand the older, long-standing employees could be actively supported in the physically strenuous felting.
Did you continue to have contact with the client after the job was completed? With what kind of support?
I tried to stay in touch via email and WhatsApp, also because of the hat project, which was quite challenging during these pandemic months. Swisscontact on the ground also provided support.
What impact did the Corona pandemic have on the client?
A week after I left, ACP had to close the gates for an extended period. The measures were a drastic restriction. The import of necessary production material and the export of products were virtually impossible. ACP made an appeal for donations. A newsletter showed that ACP had been able to pay its employees at least 50% of their salaries during the closure.
Could ACP – now that the pandemic has subsided – fulfil the hat order? Did this turn out to be a longer-term customer?
The Swiss company interested in the felt hats would have liked to have more hats than I could take with me in my luggage. It had been agreed with ACP that the remaining wool I had brought with me would be felted into hats of defined sizes and sent to Switzerland. Unfortunately, this has not taken place to date, for reasons unknown to me. I do not know whether the person who was familiar with felting these hats is still with ACP after the pandemic. I also don’t know what happened to the hats that had already been completed and the material supplied for the hats still to be felted.
It would be better if this pilot project could be continued. However, this may require new input via remote consultancy or an on-site assignment.