Achenyo Idachaba Obaro uses menace weeds to help build livelihoods for women through her award-winning social enterprise MitiMeth. Using and rethinking water hyacinth and agricultural residues, the team at Mitimeth produces woven art décor, gifts, stationery, baskets, fashion accessories, dining-ware and rugs. MitiMeth also facilitates craft innovation workshops in rural communities to help empower (mostly) women and youth to create income earning opportunities utilising these locally and easily available resources. To date, MitiMeth has trained over 600 women and youth from communities in Nigeria and Ghana.
We caught up with Achenyo via email.
Why do you use water hyacinth as your raw material?
The weeds are a renewable resource. Water hyacinth is a fast reproducing weeds doubling in growth every two weeks. It is an abundant resource that negatively affects livelihoods and transportation in riverine communities. By creating an artisan economy focused on harvesting and weaving the plant into home goods, we are transforming a menace into beneficial use.
Tell us what influences the different design styles you use in your crafts?
We are influenced and inspired by materials, culture, the things we see in our environment and the things we utilise everyday.
What are the dyeing methods that you use?
Most of the fibre dyeing is with chemical dyes. We have been experimenting with plants and hope to achieve results in the not-too-distant future.
You went from being a computer scientist to an entrepreneur. Why did you launch a homeware business?
The motivation was essentially the same as for becoming a computer scientist – providing solutions to problems. As a computer scientist I used code programs to provide solutions. As a home goods business I am asking people to provide solutions to an environmental problem.
What challenges have you faced as a businesswoman?
For greater impact to occur, there is the need to scale within and beyond borders. However, we operate in a country that international investors and buyers are VERY scared of doing business with due to uncertainty, perceptions of risk, insecurity etc. How does a social enterprise like mine find a collaborator and partner who is willing to take that risk? By proving through tangible results and having a good track record. I am overcoming this challenge by aligning MitiMeth with organisations that can help me connect to buyers.
The second challenge is building the right team to move MitiMeth forward and grow our impact. After bootstrapping and wearing several hats for several years, I can’t do it as effectively as I used to. I need to recruit competent resources to handle various aspects of the business. How do I attract and groom talent that can run the business in multiple locations? It is a tough balancing act and I wish we had more support structures and handholding to help move us further along, faster.
How do you understand sustainability?
I understand sustainability to mean adopting methods or processes that ensure optimal usage of a resource with zero waste and zero negative impact to the environment: doing business in ways that are good for the people, good for the planet and good for the bottom-line. I believe sustainability is at the core of several indigenous practices. A very simple example is the brooms we use to sweep. The indigenous practice of making a broom is from dried palm frond branches that have fallen off the coconut tree or palm tree. Handmade without fossil fuels. The indigenous practice here is to make optimal use of an agricultural residue which is biodegradable. Biodegradable fronds make up mats, pendant lamps, and other home goods. Unlike the “modern” broom which is made of synthetic materials and is not-biodegradable.
What advice can you offer for those who want to transition to a sustainable business?
My advice is to start where you are. In your current job, how can you incorporate sustainability into your current business? I think we need to start thinking about sustainability as part and parcel of everyday activities and not something we will do later or in a future business.
What are you hoping to achieve with your business?
I am hoping to impact thousands of women and youth in Nigeria and on the continent by providing them with opportunities for decent work and economic growth right where ever they are. We hope to create hundreds of environmentally and economically thriving handicraft-producing communities and to become Nigeria’s first choice in sustainable natural fibre products. Our business motto is “Transforming communities and waterways one weed at a time”.
What African brands do you most admire?
- Images supplied