During the month of March, or Women's History Month, we will be featuring guest stories of women who are making history in their own way.
In this post, we feature Jola House, a woman-led social enterprise that educates, empowers, and transforms the lives of Liberian women through the craftsmanship of artisan handmade bags and accessories.
Jola House is a non-profit social enterprise entity based in Liberia. After launching in 2012, Jola House has continued to fulfill their mission to reduce economic inequality for women in Liberia by developing income-generating opportunities through skills training, production, marketing, and exporting handmade products. To implement this mission, Jola House has a three-pillar social impact strategy focused on educating, empowering, and transforming the lives of Liberian women.
In Liberia, the average wage is $1.25 USD per day and a bag of rice costs $40 USD. This means that for the average person in Liberia, it will take them a month and a half to earn enough money to buy a bag of rice to feed their family. An estimated 64% of Liberians live below the poverty line, of whom 1.3 million live in extreme poverty. Social safety nets are poorly developed. Liberia ranks 182nd of 187 countries in the human development index. Since the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement it has been recovering from a 14-year civil war that destroyed national infrastructure and basic social services. Agricultural production has improved since the end of the war, but the country still depends on food imports and is vulnerable to economic shocks. Agricultural markets are poorly integrated, especially in rural areas, exacerbating food insecurity and poverty. Jola House is providing an economic opportunity to women where they can earn enough money for three bags of rice per month.
Elfreda Mayson is the Founder and Executive Director of JH. Prior to founding JH, Mrs. Mayson worked for more than 30 years as a medical practice manager, and in the banking industry. Mrs. Mayson is a firm believer in skill development as the best solution for social and economic change in Liberia. She was eager to return home to her native Liberia and find a meaningful way to contribute to rebuilding her country. As a result of the war many vulnerable women and children have been affected by violence and sexual assault, and Mrs. Mayson wanted to help them.
Collaboration and participatory learning is what makes Jola House training different, and more effective than traditional training programs. We believe training content should be demand driven and respond to the specific input of trainees. Training should be consistent and progressively more complex to allow team members to develop and retain skills over time. Through our six month training program women get the opportunity to learn through our well rounded curriculum. In this period women will gain skills in commercial sewing to meet international standards, design, artisan crafts, business, technology and entrepreneurship. They will also learn non-technical skills as well including health, wellness, and leadership. To this point, Jola House has trained over 150 women and at-risk girls.
At Jola House we have the unique privilege to see a positive change in the lives of these women during the program and beyond. Over 80% of the women graduating from the program now own their business or work in one of the women cooperatives and earn a sustainable income. Most of the women in our program support at least three family members that depend on them. Thankfully, they are now in the position to support themselves and family members that depend on them, as well as make contributions to their communities.
Our product lines consist of handbags and home décor items that follow the traditional fabric heritage of Liberia. Our products integrate the traditions of Liberian artisans and designers with western functionality for contemporary home décor and accessories market. Our design aesthetic is to integrate Liberia’s fabric and artisan heritage with Western functionality for contemporary home décor and accessories. A priority of ours has been to touch on the positive environmental effects. Our team of women create beautiful handmade goods from recycled African fabric scraps that otherwise would have ended up in the landfill. We blend those scraps with denim and canvas to create beautiful tote bags, backpacks, and accessories for consumers, retail and wholesale markets. The aim is to produce locally inspired goods for an international market and invest the profits into the members of the community we employ.