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Enhancing opportunities for craftsmen by improving their current work

Renata Mendes
SBCSol - lncubadora de Empreendimentos Solidarios, Brazil

Social Designer (Entrepreneurship and Skill Development)

Samples of the banana fibre products made by the artisans



Sumaré, a city in São Paulo has a very deep history of political and community life. The city is part of a settlement won over thirty years ago by the Movimento dos Sem Terra (Landless Movement), fighting for agrarian reform in Brazil. I’m working  with a group of 5 women farmers who make crafts with banana fibre in Sumaré to develop new products, such as lampshades, mats, boxes. Despite coming from a region with such a rich history, these artisan products seem rather basic and functional and are not based on market research. Thus, even though they are technically well-developed, the women have difficulty selling their current range of products.


Why we used the tool

We decided to work on the stage before product developing i.e. analysing what these women artisans value and what their story is. Later we planned to use these stories to create a collection of products, giving them  a strong foundation that would increase chances of better sales. We also wanted looked at the entire supply chain – from the harvest of raw materials to the storage of products, to make it more efficient.

We adapted and used the Personas, Problem Definition and Improvement Triggers tools for this exercise.

Firstly, we needed the artisans to talk about themselves and their community. Here, we used our adaptation of the Personas tool to help conduct research on the history and stories of the artisans and their community. We supplemented these stories with the main problems perceived by the artisans using the Problem Definition tool. I had adapted the Problem Definition tool to project these problems as opportunities.

For more detailed analysis and critique of the artisan’ current production techniques, we used an adaptation of the tool Improvement Triggers, which presents a series of commands to help you look at the matter in a different way,


Adapted worksheets for problem definition and improvement triggers translated in the local language were used in co-creation workshop

How we used the tool

To talk about themselves, the artisans received a closed ‘treasure box’. Each woman would open the box and describe what they found inside. Inside, there would be a mirror, which the women used to recognise and expose their thoughts, individual dreams and skills. Later we collated these into groups and made Personas for each group. I used an adaptation of the Personas to create a fictional character that was based on the features that artisans described. Along with this we also collected problems that they felt stood in their way.

We then used the Improvement Triggers to come up with new ideas. Often many ideas would get repeated and sometimes we would mix questions – but the number of responses exhausted the number of possibilities and gave a sense of complete analysis. The lack of suitable equipment and materials in this village is very common. I couldn’t print PDFs of the tool worksheets, so I redrew them in my workplace using coloured paper, post its and slate.


Results of using the tool

The tools sparked a new way of seeing things and pointed helped us to form strategies for the new portfolio of products as well as helping refine already existing products. The adapted tools were very visual and helped the group to discover, connect and map out the information in a short time. The questions made it possible to break down complex problems and specific challenges into small chunks which made them possible to resolve. Also, when the artisans saw themselves in the mirror and  spoke about their skills and dreams, it made it possible to bring together the values which were common to them all. It is these values that help to give the community an identity and give people a reason to come together.

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