Meet the Cooperative – #1 Coop. Asnli from Immouzer Marmoucha

The genesis of this Series

As we hope most of you know, at the core of our mission is a deep belief in removing all barriers between moroccan artisans and their customers all over the world.

Usually, when we talk about this mission, the first thing that comes to mind is empowering artisans to get rid of predatory middlemen. And for a good reason, since it is indeed the main motivation that go Anou started.

However, a less talked about aspect of our mission is encouraging artisans tell their stories directly, without filters or moderation.

Why is this important ? Couldn’t we just have shared their stories in our own words ?

Allowing artisans to tell their stories in their own words matters for a couple of reasons. First and most obviously, who better to tell the story than the people who live it every day ?

Second and most importantly, it ties back to our long term goal of empowering artisans to become independent business owners. Storytelling is such an important part of how businesses are run in our time (and we could argue, in all times). So we want Anou artisans to develop the skills to tell their own stories.

Introducing “Meet the Cooperative”

For all the reasons above, we are very excited to introduce the first post of a new series featuring Anou artisans.

In this series, our Marketing mentor at Anou will regularly interview some of our favorite cooperatives members. He will ask them about how they got started, the challenges they faced and what their hopes for the future were. For many of them, this is the first time anyone had asked about their life stories. The result is a series of raw and honest video interviews that we will share with you on Instagram first and then on the blog.

For the very first post, we sat down with Aicha Bertal, president of Cooperative Asnli. If you’d rather watch the video, scroll down to the end of the post for the video interview with Aicha.

Let’s go !


Aicha Bertal, from Cooperative Asnli

Youssef :
Hello Aicha, I’m happy to have you with us. Could you please introduce yourself ?

Aicha :
Sure. I’m Aicha Bertal, born in 1987, married and mother of three. I’m the president of cooperative Asnli in Immouzer Marmoucha.

Youssef :
Could you tell us a bit about how you got started ?

Aicha :
When we arrived in Immouzer, we used to make rugs with a group of women, usually 3 or 4 women from neighbours and family. When we would finish our rugs, there were these people (middlemen) who would buy the rugs from us. So whenever we finished a rug, we would take it to the side of the rug for the middlemen to see it. They then would buy the rugs from us at a very low price.

We kept working this way until one day we thought :

Why not unite, start a cooperative, and find a way to market our products ?

And this is what we did. During the early days of the cooperative, we continued working the old way (with middlemen), making rugs and selling them at a very low price.

About 2 years ago, we came across Anou. Through it, we found out that our products were quite popular, the prices higher than we thought and soon our cooperative became well known. We started to sell, not only in Morocco, but abroad now !

This motivated us to make great efforts to improve our rugs, incorporate new designs into them and go forward with our craft.

Youssef :
A true success story ! And how was your experience working with the Anou team ?

Aicha :
We learned a lot. Before, we didn’t use to pay that much attention to the colors or the wool we used. Now, for each product we’re about to make, we make sure the colors go well together, and that the wool is of good quality. We also make sure that the rug won’t unravel later. Overall, we pay excellent attention to end up with a good quality rug.


A problem we used to face is getting custom orders for a specific design. It was hard to us to translate that pattern on the rug. The calculations were difficult to get right. But now, thanks to Meriem’s plan (Anou’s production manager), we know how the rug is advancing. Now, we have almost 100% certainty about how the final rug is going to look like, and that the pattern will be correct. Using a plan made things so much easier.

Youssef :
This all sounds wonderful. Finally, what are your goals for the future ?

Aicha :
My goal, and that of all cooperative members, is to expand our cooperative and introduce it to as many people as possible. Most importantly, we want to be recognized for our hard work and we want this hard work to pay off for us. We want the cooperative to thrive !

Youssef :
Thank you so much Aicha.

Learn more

We hope you enjoyed this little interview with Aicha ! If you’d like to know more about Asnli and view some of their beautiful designs, visit their page on Anou.

See you soon for episode #2 !

The video recording of the interview

Anou Just Became Morocco’s First National Cooperative

After a year of intense wrangling and hard work, we’re finally excited to announce that our community has been incorporated as Morocco’s first national cooperative. We have been waiting for what has seemed forever to announce this exciting news because this is a big deal.

The vision behind Anou has always been clear: enable the artisan community in Morocco to establish equal access to the global market. But if there is anything we’ve learned since we began our work is that to fully realize this vision we must ensure that community, meritocracy, and ownership are woven into every aspect of how we operate. Our cooperative status enables us to do exactly that.

Community

There are only two conditions to join the Anou Cooperative. First, an individual must be a motivated, Moroccan artisan that makes the products that she or he sells. Second, they must agree to Anou’s transparency requirements. Any artisan that meets these conditions can reach out to us and request to join the cooperative. Artisan trainers and leaders will then meet with the prospective artisan in person at their workshop and if everything checks out, we’ll open their online store and provide them with a basic training so they can hit the ground running. This ensures that every artisan in Morocco can both benefit from and contribute to the community.

Meritocracy

Once an artisan’s store is opened, our platform will soon automatically rate an artisan’s performance managing their online store through key performance indicators such as their product ratings, order fulfillment speed, custom order accuracy, among many other important factors. Performing at a high level will soon enable the artisan to lower the fees added to the products they list on their online store. Additionally, when artisans reach a high level of performance they will be eligible to become a trainer for the cooperative.

Trainers are those the cooperative relies on to either verify and train new artisans interested in joining our community or provide support to those artisans who may be struggling with aspects of their online store. Through this work, a trainer can earn additional income and skills to supplement their sales. But most importantly, the experience as a trainer serves as a rich, real-time training in understanding the aspirations and struggles of artisans across the country. This understanding serves as the foundation for each trainer to develop a voice and a vision for the Anou Cooperative, and in essence, the wider artisan community in Morocco.

Ownership

Trainers who then have a long track record of success trainings and have consistently volunteered to support other artisans or help complete daily operational issues of Anou can then become a leader. Leaders are those in the community who have at every level proven their commitment to supporting the artisan community. They are those who were eager and quick to master the tools on their online store and then just as quick to help others learn as they did by becoming a trainer. Because of their rise through the cooperative, leaders possess a deep understanding of the needs of the community and embody the best of what Moroccan artisans are capable of.

Therefore, those who become leaders earn the responsibility to make the decisions that will shape the future of their community. And this is exactly what Anou’s national cooperative structure enables. Each leader gains one seat on the cooperative board, and with that, gets one vote to cast on any critical decision the cooperative faces. Decisions that were once the domain of others trying to help artisans are now fully in the hands of artisans themselves. How should the cooperative spend its profit? What rules should be implemented that foster a safe, vibrant community? Leaders will have the full ability to decide. No more gimmicky artisan advisory boards for western non-profits. No more for-profit businesses that act in their own interest and then ‘donate’ to the artisan community to compensate. The Anou Cooperative enables true ownership.

Establishing Equality

Creating equal access to markets doesn’t start with developing sophisticated technology or overpriced fair-trade certification. It starts with ownership. Without real ownership of the Anou Cooperative, no artisan would want to spend any of her or his time helping another artisan. And if no artisan is willing to help another artisan, no artisan will develop leadership skills or new ideas that come from teaching and working with others. And with no skills and little incentive to work together, the artisan sector would continue to look as it did prior to when our community began: a powerless group of 1.3 million individual artisans trapped in a zero sum game waiting for their next savior who controls all access to opportunity.

Yes, we understand the concern of whether or not artisans can actually manage and set the direction of an increasingly complex organization. But while creating equal access starts with ownership, creating equal access ends with you. You play an important role in the growth and success of our artisan led community. Each time you tell a friend about your experience buying directly from artisans on Anou, it might just drive that much more traffic to the site and encourage more artisans to reach out and join the cooperative. Each time you like a new product an artisan lists on our Instagram account, that artisan may just gain that extra burst of confidence to believe they can help other artisans in their community. And every time you make a purchase, it gives the artisan leaders validation that their work and effort matters, fueling their ability to make the prescient decisions that will grow their community.

With our cooperative structure and your support, the dream of creating equal access to global markets is quickly becoming a reality for all Moroccan artisans.