In 2011, I spent a few months travelling across Tanzania filming a documentary for the M-Pesa Women Empowerment initiative with Vodacom Foundation. Everywhere I went, I met talented entrepreneurs struggling to stay afloat - unsure where to find a market for hand-made clothing, jewellery, household items and tools.
This is the story as told by Hoclay Aterio Mganga, 38, the founder and the director of Wagonga Art, an online marketing platform which enables small handcraft entrepreneurs to wider world market.
“Tanzania receive about two million tourists per year and very few of them venture into local markets across the country to purchase handmade products and of course many more potential buyers never make it to Tanzania at all,” he says.
How it started
Hoclay who was born in Tanga but now resides in the US says he started thinking and talking with others about these challenges and realised he wanted to play his part to expand the reach of Tanzania artists and artisans and foster a culture of buying local products.
Hoclay, who graduated with Master of Arts degree in Web and Multimedia Design, says he began to research about potential platforms and models to help small handcraft entrepreneurs sell their products on the world market and that’s how Wagonga Art was born.
“Wagonga Art is the online market place platform which allows small handcraft entrepreneurs mainly artists to sell their products at a full value to millions of buyers including Tanzania residents, tourists and the wider world market.
Currently, Tanzania has no online market place for artists to sell their products online. Apart from receiving two million tourists per year not all of them are able and willing to visit local artists and artisans’ market place to purchase local art and handmade goods.
How it operates
Speaking on how it will operate, the Wagonga Arts director of Marketing, Elly Mdima, said the platform provides access to contemporary art from the best galleries in the country, and artisan products for studios and handcraft stores.
“We will partner with government agencies and nonprofit organisations to develop a thriving community of artists and artisans across the country,” says Mdima.
Customers get well-handcrafted products and the focus has been on improving lives and reducing poverty levels for artisans and artists.
He adds that artists and artisans make a more stable living and their communities benefit from greater investment in health and education services.
“Talented artists and artisans who sell on our market place set prices at 100 per cent and we set final prices on the market place at 110 per cent. Then artists and artisans will receive 100 per cent and Wagonga Arts will receive only ten per cent commission to cover operating costs,” Mdima says.
This won’t cost anything to artists; the transaction is usually clear and transparency is one of the hallmarks of Wagonga Arts.
“Artists will get full value of their products and Wagonga Arts will add 10 per cent as its commission.
For example: if the value of a painting is $10, on our website it will be $11. So the artist gets $10 - and Wagonga Arts get $1.”
He explains that quality control is one of the important aspects of running a successful handcraft business as this provides a quality guarantee. Quality control is is in addition to a comprehensive refund policy.
“We make sure that products from our vendors are of a high quality and durable. We also have an order management system. This is so that, once an order has been received, the process to deliver start immediately, and the products are delivered within as a short time frame as it is humanly possible,” he explained.
“We also train artisans on how to select quality materials with which to make their products,” Mdima says.
He added that, once artisans know the standard needed, the artisan group should be in charge of the quality control of their own product promoting collective ownership of high quality product to avoid the product being rejected.
“We also emphasise the importance of quality control to artisans on a regular basis, in line with handcraft enterprise best practices and our staff will work to ensure artisans know, understand and are equipped to meet customers’ expectations whenever possible,” says the director.
He expounds that plans are afoot to partner with Basata, Sido and the Tanzania Tourism Board.
“We had a conversation with these organisations and they were interested to work together for this project. I believe we will work together in the future and we are planning to have workshops and training for our team members and vendors,” he says.
Talking about the Challenges, the team’s vice president in-charge of operation and strategies, Diana Naivasha, noted that the major challenge is finding a good team to work with.
“I can’t do everything myself, we need talented and skilled people in e-commerce business. Another one is to find serious vendors (artists, artisans and multimedia artist like photographers). You can’t depend on artists who believe art is a part-time job,” she says.
The society is supposed to remember that people are in a generation that pushes to market products worldwide.
“So many platforms like social media bring people together and make opportunities to reach international markets. So should be ready and understand terms and regulations of these platforms. This is how I see Wagonga Arts to have a physical shops in New York, London and Hong Kong,” she says.
Commenting about the platform, Imani Insamila, a visual artist said the facility will help artists and artisans to market their work all over the world. “Once we used to market our work inside the country and customers were very limited. The online platform has come at the right time, “he says
A part from that Imani says small entrepreneurs must follow this app because nowadays the world has changed alongside interests of customers.
However, Iddy Mikidadi, owner of Bushi Art, says he had already started to post his works and had since been enjoying good feedback from followers.
“This platform should be promoted everywhere because, as small entrepreneurs, we used to wait for customers to come or take our work to pavilions. Thank goodness, the awareness has changed our ways of thinking.”