OneMaker: Hope for a Jewelry Business for Deaf Artisans in Kenya

Blog post by Jana Harp Dean, President of OneMaker and consultant to organizations starting businesses to employ poor women in developing countries. OneMaker is a 501c3 organization that exists to be a tangible expression of God’s love to poor women and girls vulnerable to trafficking and other exploitation by giving them opportunities through education and business ventures. Visit for more information.

Image source:

Image source:

Just last month, I had the privilege of providing strategic business consultation and training to DOOR International at their campus just outside Nairobi, Kenya. Mike Buus, the president of DOOR International, dreams of starting-up a jewelry-making business that would employ 100 Deaf artisans in Kenya.

Like in most developing countries, the greatest felt need in Kenya is for jobs. The last estimated unemployment rate for Kenya was 40% (est. for 2008, reported in the 11/9/2010 report of The World Factbook). In a ranking of 200 countries from lowest to highest unemployment, Kenya ranks number 185. (The World Factbook, a CIA publication, 2010). Among the Deaf, the unemployment rate is even higher, perhaps even as high as 85%.

The president of DOOR International conducted an informal survey among the Deaf at a church service. He asked how many people in the room had a job. No hands went up. He then rephrased the question, “How many of you have a part-time job or a temporary job like painting a room for your brother for which you get paid?” About 15% of the hands went up. Although they may be skilled and hard workers, because employers don’t know sign language, the Deaf are hard to employ.

To address this problem, DOOR has already started business ventures to employ the Deaf, including a rabbit farm, a fishery, and an organic produce farm. DOOR wants to continue to create more jobs for the Deaf and expand its business portfolio to include a business that taps into an international market.
A jewelry making business does just that – taps into the international market – and has some other aspects that make it especially fitting to the context. Basic jewelry making skills are relatively easy to learn and it takes a relatively short time to acquire them. The tools and equipment needed for making simple jewelry are inexpensive and some raw materials are available locally. The global market for jewelry is large and the U.S. represents about half of the global jewelry market. Exporting creates the potential for generating more revenue and more profit than a business creating products to be sold only inside Kenya would.

To start a jewelry making business in Kenya, there are many issues to work through, including a 50% tariff on any imported items, even raw materials imported to use in items to be manufactured for export.

Although there are many raw materials available to incorporate into jewelry, higher quality finishing pieces, like clasps, would have to be imported, at least initially. Another major challenge is finding a business person to champion the start up. Over the week I was there, Deaf women demonstrated that they could master the skills required and, because they need jobs, were very much in favor of a business start up that would employ them. Those on the planning team love the idea as well, but, as in many Christian organizations, most of the staff had too many responsibilities already and could not take on more.

Over the week I spent with DOOR, several days were devoted to teaching jewelry making skills to Deaf women. Mike had mentioned that the Deaf tend to be very attentive to detail and are eager to do a good job. He was right. I have taught jewelry making skills to women from many countries and often through translators, but have never encountered a group that was able to master as many skills as quickly as this group. As visual learners, they noticed even the smallest details in the demonstration of the particular technique. They consistently asked for feedback and wanted to know if there was anything they could improve on. They caught the concepts quickly and translated the concepts into completed pieces of jewelry.

Next steps:
DOOR has commissioned OneMaker to design 15-20 pieces of jewelry using materials available in Kenya plus some higher quality supplemental materials not available in Kenya. Later this year, I plan to return to Kenya to teach the artisans how to make each one of those products. In the meantime, we’ll keep praying that God will raise up a business manager.

The president and I will also work on the business plan together. Then, when the Lord has provided the business manager, I hope to provide training for him or her as well. I’m so honored and delighted to be able to be part of a business start-up that has the potential of blessing so many.
Would you pray with me for:

  • God to raise up a business manager to lead this business that would employ 100 Deaf people one day.
  • Creativity and wisdom as I design 15-20 jewelry pieces.
  • Retail buyers for these pieces of jewelry.
  • Blessing on a business that would provide for the physical needs of Deaf Kenyan artisans and their families as they work in dignity.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog entry and for your prayers for these budding artisans and this business venture. If you’re interested in receiving future updates on this or other OneMaker consulting projects, please email me at

Evening 1
Arriving in Africa feels a bit to me like moving from air to water. You know how when you dive under the surface of the water, your movement is in slow motion? It’s like that here. To me, it actually has a quieting effect. Having lived in slower-paced cultures, like those of Guatemala and Afghanistan, this environment feels familiar and comfortable. I landed and got in the visa line with my completed application and my $25, as new and crisp as I could find, and then I waited……and waited…..and waited. I was one of the lucky ones who had a worker actually sitting at the desk processing applications at the front of the line. Poor souls in the line to the right of me had no worker at all until one of them approached another worker to inquire about where this one was!
I wasn’t in a hurry so just enjoyed looking around at all the people in all the others lines to either side of me…..waiting. There were Africans and Indians and British people and other westerners.
I learned that the Indians built a train line through here many years ago and many of them settled here in Nairobi. They started lots of businesses and are now known as the “white Kenyans”.
Upon arriving at the campus, I learned how important security is here. The walls had razor wire uncoiled along the top of them to keep would-be intruders out, but that’s not all. There are two night guards and ferocious dogs that patrol with them. Apparently, these dogs will tear up anyone who comes out of their building onto the grounds at night except the guards themselves. If jet lag wasn’t enough to keep me in bed, the thought of those two dogs patrolling about was more than enough! I was also told that paw prints of lionesses were often seen on the dirt road in front of the main compound gate. And, interestingly, there are never any stray dogs loitering about.

Click here to read complete post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *