Henrique Bussacos, Founder , Tekoha : Brazilian Sustainable Social Enterprise
Through the creation of a network of clients and artisan communities Rede Tekoha brings over 600 artisan products to several high-income markets. Tekoha reaches its clients through four distinctive channels, namely retail, e-commerce, B2B, and export. By applying basic business intelligence to the culturally rich products made by the artisans Tekoha has managed to generate a significant income stream for the communities in their network. It enables them to sustain there lifestyles, lifestyles that maintain Brazilian culture, nature, and traditions.
Henrique Bussacos studied public administration at FGV/EAESP a business school in São Paulo. I had experience in Investment Banking and Strategic Consulting, between 2002 and 2006. In 2007 he started Tekoha and co-founded The Hub in Brazil with Pablo, my partner at The Hub. Henrique is passionate about creating the necessary conditions for communities to flourish and sees social business as a useful tool to promote development.
After running Tekoha and The Hub for almost four years he decided to take a year to study more about the interfaces of social businesses and public policies to promote development. Now he is studying his Masters at IDS (www.ids.ac.uk), a research institute and think tank of development in the UK.
How did Tekoha happen?
I recognized the need of a different approach for income generation. I was in a community in the Amazon region and the NGOs were trying to help the local communities to trade their handcrafts, but they lack marketing knowledge and skills. At the same time the 'traditional' fair trade model depends on retail consumers that do not ensure enough demand to guarantee income generation in the communities. Tekoha emerged with the mission of identifying and developing new distribution channels for communities' products and services. We started in 2007 working with 4 communities trading their handicrafts and now we work with more than 120 communities trading handicrafts and starting to develop new cultural products that can scale easier. We trade handicrafts as sustainable corporate gifts, we add value to these products creating original concepts. In 2010 we contributed to generate more than R$140,000 in direct income and in 2011 we plan to generate more than R$350,000 (US$200,000).
What strategies have to employed to increase the sales of these handicrafts?
The first step was to identify a new market, because we understood that the 'traditional' fair trade stores were not growing as the need of the communities to increase their income. We identified the corporate gifts market looking for sustainable products, than we added value to the products creating concepts as the
Dream Box ( adding tiny scrolls of parchment to the box, where those receiving the gift can write their dreams down, thus connecting with the history of the community’s dreams, which are commented on a tag) or the Coffee Pause (a kit that integrates products from many communities including organic coffee). So we do not limit ourselves to handicrafts, but to every product that translates the knowledge of the community.
What kind of impact has it had on the communities you have worked with - economically , socially
Socially, it has a strong gender impact because more than 90% of the people that are producing these products in the communities are women, and in many communities they became the ones that generate more income at the household level. Many of these communities already have a woman as the community leader. It also reinforces the group work, which contribute to the community cohesion. Economically, it depends on the community we work with some of them that around 20% of their revenue comes from handicrafts, other get as much as 75% of their income from handicrafts. We never look for exclusivity because we do not want to foster dependency, but most of the communities has Tekoha as its biggest client. In 2010 we generated more than R$140,000 as direct income for the communities and sense most of them live in very poor regions it has a big impact in their local economies.
Do you see a demand for fair trade products in Brazil and abroad?
We believe that being fair trade is not enough to attract most of the communities; it is limited for a small group of consumers. However, creating different products, giving more enphasis in the history of the product and the community and connecting that with the 'reality' of the consumers can create new markets, such as the sustainable corporate gifts. In North America and Europe the demand for fair trade products is higher, but the competition with Asian products too. We have sold to Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, UK and US. Now we are negotiating a big contract with a US group with stores in North America and Europe, the challenge is still to meet the price targets.
Do you work with artisans/communities in designing and coming up with new product ideas?
We do that in partnership with NGOs and designer that are focused in capacity building. We also create kits as a strategy to launch new products and these are our most chose products. We really embrace the big network of communities (more than 120) and its diversity to create original offers.
We are starting conversations to include communities from Mozambique in our network, but in 2011 our focus will still be in Brazil. Our export strategy is to go from local retailers that we have sold so far to a big US based retailer (in negotiation) that has stores in US and Europe to scale up our exports.