A new job for Florence: Why we don't graduate our artisans


We've had some turnover at Tuli, and we couldn't be happier about it. Florence, after nearly two years with Tuli, used her income to take classes and, eventually, to find a job as a headmistress at a school in Uganda. She's left her position with us and passed it along to another woman in need of income.

We miss her, but we're thrilled. This is the type of story that proves Tuli is working.

Florence is a tenacious, intelligent woman who, from the moment we met her, stood out. We knew she deserved a job, but we understood why she didn't have one: Unemployment in Uganda is cripplingly high. So we hired her, but we knew she wouldn't stick around forever.

When Tuli was still just an idea, I spent a lot of time agonizing over its logistics: Should we pay in money or in resources? Per item or per day? Should we, as is common among social enterprises, employ our artisans for a set amount of time before graduating them from the program?

With every question, my thoughts were grounded on impact. I wanted to ensure that Tuli was set up to best benefit its artisans. And I'll admit, when I first learned of the graduation-based model and realized how common it was, I wondered if that would be the best way to serve Kampala.

Two years later, I know it's not. The reasoning behind this model is that, by employing artisans for a couple of months or a couple of years, they will learn skills and, with those skills, leave the program and start their own businesses. The problem with this, of course, is Uganda's economy. Many of these organizations teach things like paper beading, and in an unemployment-stricken, developing country, a woman selling beaded jewelry in the markets isn't likely to make much money. I've met more women than I can count who have completed time-based programs, learned their skills, experienced a decent income for a short time. They're still living in poverty. They always ask me if I know where they can find work.

If Tuli is truly devoted to long-term impact, that means we're sticking with our artisans until they don't need us anymore. Even if that means they're with us for years. Even if that means we've rotated fewer people through our program's doors. We employ new artisans by increasing our market reach in the US and beyond, not by forcing former artisans out of the program.

Does that mean some of our artisans will be with us as long as they're working? Of course. While many of our artisans plan to attend college or start their own businesses (and some already are!), some of them won't, and that's okay. They're able to feed and educate their children, to cover any medical costs that arise for their families. They can truly build a better future for themselves and for their children, and they can trust that Tuli will be here with them as long as they need.

As for Florence, she still stops by Tuli HQ some evenings after work and helps out with training new artisans.

"I can't stay away," she says. "This is an incredible place."