Omani Traditional Cottage Industries
Public Authority of Craft Industries

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The Sultanate of Oman is endowed with spectacular landscapes as well as a rich and unique cultural heritage. Developing Omani handicrafts has strong roots in its culture and history, which were originally used as a skill for surviving in harsh desert conditions. It epitomes the creativity and ingenuity of Omanis making good use of natural resources for their everyday needs. As the Omani society started becoming more and more affluent, the younger generation of women started losing interest and appreciation for crafts related labor, as it is no longer constituted a necessity for everyday life. Due to the unavailability of sustainable resources to support the traditional craft training, coupled with the diversification of crafts and the geographical coverage of such training, the quantity and quality of the training was also largely lacking. This was especially the case for women living outside the capital city of Muscat. Oman has 9 governorates in the interior regions in which almost two-thirds of the population reside and about 30% of which live in rural communities. Prior to this initiative, the craft sector in Oman was in desperate need of revamping and modernizing the equipment and tools used in the production process. At this time, most forms of craft production was based on informal learning passed from generation to generation. This caused weak transfers of knowledge, as well as low skill levels. As an example, many of the women developing these crafts could only use a particular technique, often resulting in one type of rug with one color. Inevitably, this combination of factors led to poor performance of the workers in the cottage industries. A key challenge also has to do with the traditional Arabic culture, in which most women marries early and become homemakers, thereby missing out on suitable job opportunities. Before the introduction of modern equipment, women working in the craft industry mainly sold their products to people they knew, mostly family and friends, rather than on the market, and therefore struggled to generate substantial income for building sustainable businesses. These women worked on default based on personal efforts, separated from others doing similar work, thus also making it difficult to improve the overall livelihood of their communities. It is always a challenge for societies to balance between preserving traditional crafts and making it sustainable for the craftsmen to earn a reasonable income.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said issued the Royal Decree No. 24/2003 on 3/3/2003 establishing the Public Authority for Craft Industries (PACI) and Royal Decree No. 53/2003 on 31/8/2003 issuing its Articles of Association and endorsing its organizational structure. The goal of the Public Authority for Craft Industries is the advancement of the craft sector. The specific initiative described here was initiated in 2007 to deliver two national agendas, namely to preserve the traditional crafts of the Sultanate of Oman, and ensure the preservation of cottage industries by focusing on empowering the women. A similar initiative existed prior to this initiative. However, it was not properly organized, the facilities were in poor shape, and the machinery was out of date. In contrast, this initiative was launched to target craft gatherings with the old traditional structure that had existed for numerous generations. Accordingly, it was necessary to work on updating the structure of existing projects, while pursuing targeted meetings for enabling individual practitioners to form cooperative societies working either individually or collective on projects. In turn, this could allow the women to achieve professional stability, and build a decent life while working in the industry. To achieve this, it was necessary to develop modern production tools, equipment, and facilities to create products that would be attractive in the market. These were used as part of specialized training programs aiming to provide a permanent sources of income for the craftswomen. The training consisted of three key elements: - Theoretical knowledge: focusing learning a range of different techniques for producing handicrafts. The approach was based on bridging distances between theory and real-world experiences, as well as between classroom and workplace. The Modular Employable Skills (MES) attained during this phase provided the women with the tools to communicate, market, and start their business. - Practical exercises and workshops: initiated from start to end to foster an environment for testing ‘learning-by-doing’ techniques through which knowledge is constructed by learners in the process of ‘doing’ through project work. - Behavioral change: emphasizing the importance of teamwork, nurturing a collaborative attitude, and gaining a broader perspective of how the women could launch successful business. Success stories from other countries and context were used to illustrate how this could be accomplished. Throughout the training the women were encouraged to sell the products they developed, thus allowing them to begin building a sustainable business from the outset. The programme runs for a total of 1.5 years, which is subsequently followed by an incubation period. In this the focus is on: learning what is acceptable in the market, expanding their support network, and find more clients for their products. During the incubation phase, running for approximately 3 years, the women are acting in a virtual market place supervised by the trainers. Support is also given for ensuring that their products become visible through exhibits and festivals. The women receive USD 650 (250 OMR) /per month as an allowance to ensure that they can survive on their trade. Once the incubation period end, the women are ready to go to the real market. At this stage, the women receive support from Oman Public Authority for SMEs and seed funding from the Al Rafad fund for building up the businesses. The aim of this is build-up a cluster environment around the women SMEs.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The unique feature of this initiative is that it takes a comprehensive approach for empowering Omani women. This includes the whole cycle from updating the traditional production with modern equipment and facilities, to delivering training that can enable participants to pass through subsequent stages of building awareness, accumulate competencies, gain self-confidence, obtain motivation for trying and testing creative, innovative and entrepreneurial applications, and advance towards projects and eventually business creation. A key part is to bridge theoretical knowledge and practical application, while having a cluster providing support in the difficult start-up phase. By working through this process it is possible change the mindset of the women from the traditional way of working independently, to fostering an en environment where the women can collaborate and support each other. In this process they will be able to expand their network and reach to potential customers. In the end, the women will be able to mix handcrafted techniques with the ability to use the latest machineries for creating new design with Omani decorative units.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The implementation of the training plan went through the following stages: The first phase (design and preparation), include the following: 1. Identify and analyze training needs 2. The training program design 3. Determine the acceptance specifications 4. Identify and provide training needs The second phase (the selection) and include the following: 1. Selection of trained specialists 2. The selection of the target group The third phase (implementation) and include the following: 1. Implementation of the constitutive training program 2. Implementation of the training program specialist The fourth stage (internal assessment) and include the following: 1. Assessment of the cost of training 2. The final evaluation The fifth stage (the external evaluation of the training program) and include the following: ‘ 1. The results of the labor market reflex 2. Engage in the labor market, and the establishment of a small production project

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The following stakeholders played a key role in the design and/or implementation of the initiative: - The Petroleum Development Company (PDO) sponsored the program and implementation through the provision of financial, administrative and logistical facilities for the project - Afro-Asian Organization provided the equipment for the project - Cooperative Craftswoman – involved in supporting the Implementation and development of the Program - Al Rafad Fund providing seed funding for the start-up phase
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
PACI appointed an administrative team, using an integrated management, consisting of the project supervisor for the center, financial and administrative staff, as well as support service staff. Both Omani and international trainers were engaged to capture the local knowledge and context, as well as best practices form other countries. Support from Afro-Asian Organization was also given in the form of know-how and the latest equipment. PDO contributed to the financing of the purchase of tools and infrastructure construction, as well as renovation of the project, where the constituent costs amounted to approximately USD 78,000 (30 000 OR) in 2007.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The following are some of the key outputs for the women participating in the initiative: 1. Critical Soft and Hard Skills: provided training in both hard skills, using the latest technical skills and techniques ability to experiment and test new techniques, and critical soft skills for teaching the women how to market and sell their products, as well as developing networks. 2. Project and Businesses Management: developed the tools for managing projects and setting-up a sustainable business. This part of the training mainly dealt with market variables in terms of the mode of production, design and related activities, as well as financial matters related to the management of the project. Ultimately, this resulted in independence of building a sustainable income source. 3. Networking Activities: the women actively participated in exhibitions and festivals in Oman, as well as a number of countries, including, Brazil, Jordan, Libya, Switzerland, and China. An example of an outcome from this was the development of a carpet for her Excellency the President of Brazil. 4. Knowledge Transfer: 15 Training programs provided yearly for school students by the craftswomen producer from Al Hujairah Center, resulting in 90 programs during 6 years.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The implementation was monitored through the testing and evaluation of the level of progress of the participants. To do so, it was necessary to set criteria’s for assessing the level of achievement among the participants. Supervisors were present at all stages of the training programme to evaluate the progress. Initially the focus was on the internal assessment, including the assessment of the cost of training. In the next stage, the external evaluation of the training program assessed the results of the labor market reflex in the process of getting the women to be active in the labor market, and establishing a small production project.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
1. Lack of Professional Women's Network — the lack of a professional women's network in Oman created a major difficulty for women aspiring to get support for selling their products. The absence of female mentor-protégé, relationship makes it difficult for women to develop the requisite attitude, skills and abilities for becoming successful business leaders. 2. Literacy – the literacy level of women taking the training was low. This was particularly a challenge during the theoretical phase. The practical applicability of the theoretical knowledge made it easier to engage the women to become interesting in reading. 3. Traditions – traditionally, women have had the primary responsibility for housekeeping and childcare which do not diminish when they are employed outside the home. Even today, traditional practices still restrict women, thus limiting their social and economic participation. A working woman has to balance work and family. The programme targeted young women who were less bound by old traditions and less likely to get married soon. 4. Mindset – a key obstacle was to move the women away from old practices and adopt modern pedagogic tools for producing their crafts. By targeting young women who would be more susceptible to change, it was possible to foster new approaches that could open their mind to new ideas and ways of producing their crafts. 5. Lack of Appreciation for Vocational training – using fresh graduates presented a challenge, as most of them had their eyes on attending university studies. The level of appreciation for vocational training has declined in parallel with societal development, making it increasingly difficult to get young girls into crafts training. Showing success stories and teaching them the benefits of starting their own business gradually changed their attitude.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Modernization the Craft Sector – the success of the initiative required an emphasis on interactive and non-traditional approaches that are fundamental to utilizing team-based work methods for contributing to facilitate adjustment and restructuring in a context when old knowledge and ways of doing things needs to be discarded in order to enable new ways approaches. This, however, does not mean that they should discard traditional practices that provides the women with unique designs and practices, but refers to the necessary updating of their skill sets. The success of such approaches was measured through the women’s success in selling their products and in growing the businesses. Overall, this has helped PACI achieve its mission and vision in supporting and developing the craft sector. At the same time, the initiative also helped push institutions and companies to contribute to the development sector by actively participating in the literal sector development. Community Development – by becoming self-sufficient and starting successful businesses, the women contributed to the social economic development of the local communities. Targeted community cultural development and the transfer of knowledge to other members was also a consequence of this initiative. Strengthening the Role of Women SMEs – the initiative has contributed to strengthening women SMEs participation in the economy. This initiative has given the women in the craft industry the ability to provide a strengthened contribution in the context of how to effectuate the wider value chains they operate in.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
This initiative has resulted in other projects that has gradually sprung-up during the time it has been running: - in 2009 the textile program implemented in Al Buraimi derived from the initial Al Hujairah center program - in 2013 one textile training program was implemented - in 2014 one more textile training program was implemented - in 2014, a new training and rehabilitation program started, including 20 craftswomen, 5 people in the management team and the Trainer. The initiative is made sustainable from the seed funding provided by the Al Rafad Fund. In pralell, PACI is encouraging craftswomen to register their crafts at the Intellectual Property Department at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. This will ensure that their ideas are protected, and allow for competing in the international market. PACI is also trying to market these crafts abroad by participating in fairs organised in different. Moreover, seeing that the tourism industry in Oman has changed rapidly in recent times, where an increasing number of high profile tourists are visiting the Sultanate, it should be possible to revive the Omani arts and crafts industry in its truest form. The final result of the above is to preserve the continuity and sustainability of the cultural heritage of traditional Omani industries.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The first lesson learned in this initiative is to work closely with the local communities, and create awareness of the benefits of preserving and updating the practices in the craft industry. By doing so it is also possible to create a sense of appreciation of the craftsmanship that goes into the crafts produced by the women. The women’s role in their communities is also boosted as the understanding and ownership of this process increases in society. The second lesson relates to the economic empowerment of women. To ensure that they can live of their craft, it was necessary to take a holistic view guiding them through the various stages of creating a mindset change, so they could be empower to build a network, use the latest technical tools, and manage their own business. The key for achieving this was to bridge theoretical knowledge and practical use of the techniques taught. On top of this, it was critical to gradually expose the women to the market by initially having an incubation period, in which they could trade and sell their products in a virtual market, and subsequently be part of a cluster environment when going to the market.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Public Authority of Craft Industries
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Kawther Al Shezawi
Title:   Ms.  
Telephone/ Fax:  
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Postal Code:  
City:   Muscat

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