Kate von Achen

Kate von Achen

Awava Founding Director

Exit dialog mode

Kate H. von Achen is the founder of Awava – an organization that uses a fair trade model to provide income generation and value addition opportunities for women artisans in post-conflict Uganda. During the week of September 10, she will be sharing her experiences and stories from the field. Please, join the conversation below!

Kate H. von Achen graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in Political Science with a focus on Women in Developing Countries in 2006. The summer following graduation, von Achen traveled to East Africa for the first time to study Fair Trade coffee cooperatives in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and immediately fell in love with Uganda and could not wait to return. Six months later von Achen found herself back where she belonged. In January 2007, von Achen returned to Uganda to study the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. It was then that von Achen decided to start her M.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda in August 2007.

Upon her move to Uganda, von Achen realized that she could combine her passion for the fair trade movement with her desire to see Northern Uganda rebuild itself, starting Awava with little more than a dream and vision.

  1. 382 days ago

    Dennis Scott

    Great Woman with great vision. I salute you ma’am for the hard work and dedication to your work and dream. Term Life Insurance.



  2. 736 days ago

    Fortune Wills

    thanks too,you are in my prayers for more wisdom,am always proud of women who want to give out there b est at all times.remain bless,love u



    • Kate von Achen

      Thank you Fortune for your appreciation of our work!

      735 days ago


  3. 736 days ago

    Fortune Wills

    you are right kate,not only in Uganda but most part in AFRICAN countries,just want to say congrats for Amava,for me i am trying to diversify more for my vision is a world where all families are happy and fulfilled all children,young adult are valued.sincerely i encourage you kate.warmth regards fortune



    • Kate von Achen

      Thank you so much Fortune. I wish you all of the success in your endeavors!

      736 days ago


    • Fortune Wills

      thanks too,you are in my prayers too,you will excell amen

      736 days ago


  4. 736 days ago

    Vanns Hokey

    hi just want to know whether you have any plans of extending this wonderful initiative in other parts of Africa. And if yes what are the elements one has to consider before considering the initiative.



    • Kate von Achen

      Hi Vanns, at this point we plan to stay focused in Uganda. While I’m always tempted to expand as there are so many beautiful materials and skills in other countries, we really want to focus on women in/from Northern Uganda until we have reached full capacity. We are, however, available for consulting others interested in similar initiatives in other countries, and are open to various types of partnerships and cross promotions.

      736 days ago


  5. 737 days ago

    Lauren Parnell Marino

    Hi, Kate! I know that your model involves you working with small producer groups. What strengths do these groups have compared to other, perhaps larger, businesses or organizations? And what unique challenges do these small producer groups face? Looking forward to your answer!



    • Kate von Achen

      Hey Lauren! Great questions! I think there is tremendous benefit to working with smaller groups, as opposed to larger groups. First, you get to build true relationships with the artisans. You get to build trust. Trust is crucial to any business, but especially when working in a post-conflict situation. In a place like Northern Uganda, people understandably don’t have a lot of trust, making this component even more important. Another major benefit to smaller groups is you not only get to monitor their progress (professionally and personally) first hand. You get to see the deeper impact that the income and skills are having, and you get to watch it spread. This brings me to the second part of your question, that of challenges. It’s more difficult for smaller organizations like ours, working with fewer DIRECT beneficiaries, to receive grants and other types of financial support. Donors of any type focus on quantity with quality frequently falling by the wayside. It’s hard to get across just how much impact you actually have with each individual artisan, but on average, for one woman in Uganda receiving regular work, 5 other people are directly affected. In Mama Lucy’s (our head tailor) case, there are 14 other people directly affected, but then even more when you consider her increase in buying power. That is our biggest challenge. We would love to have the capacity to expand, but we make sure we do expand (ie add more artisans) in a sustainable way. We want each of our artisans to be working the equivalent of a full time job throughout the year before we add more.

      737 days ago


  6. 738 days ago

    Lawrence Matolo

    Hi Kate…Awava seems to be replicable in many civil situations that aren’t necessarily post conflict.
    What is its position with regard to Business for Prosperity models or is it an entirely a donor dependent enterprise?



    • Kate von Achen

      We actually don’t have any real donors. We have operated primarily out of pocket with a few limited “gifts”. Our major struggle has been getting a hold on inventory/having too much stock. This has been a learning experience for all of us, and still is! But, if done right, social enterprises similar to our model can break even relatively quickly. And yes, it can absolutely be duplicated in many situations. I picked post-conflict Uganda because it was dear to my heart, and I personally find post-conflict areas to be the most vulnerable generally speaking. Since I started, I have watched many somewhat similar organizations/social enterprises pop up, many of whom aren’t working directly in post-conflict situations. While I can’t vouch for all of them and their “behind the scenes” operations, I have had the opportunity to see profound positive social change from a few.

      738 days ago


  7. 738 days ago

    Puneet Srivastava

    Hi Kate… Nice post. How many people/micro-enterprises does your initiative cover as of now? And what would be the over all business turnover?



    • Kate von Achen

      Thank you Puneet. We currently have a group of tailors (there are 6 but we’re working on adding a few), a group making baskets (4), 2 groups making jewelry (one with 5 and one with 9), and then another individual. We’re looking to partner with a couple of new groups/organizations in the coming months (need more working capital!!) and we’re very excited for that. As for business turnover, our numbers keep growing each year!

      738 days ago


  8. 739 days ago

    Fortune Wills

    i love your innovation,keep it up,am always happy see women taking their rightful place in the society



    • Kate von Achen

      Thank you so much Fortune! It’s amazing, it seems (without having actually looked at the statistics…) that development work might be one of the few female-dominated fields out there! At least it seems that way based on my observations in Uganda.

      738 days ago


    • Fortune Wills

      you are right kate,not only in Uganda but most part in A FRICAN countries,just want to say congrats for Amava,for me i am trying to diversify more for my vision is a world where all families are happy and fulfilled all children,young adult are valued.sincerely i encourage you kate.warmth regards fortune

      737 days ago


  9. 739 days ago

    David Cadia

    Hello Kate, congrats for Awava. I am trying to create something similar in Nicaragua called NIC Boutique founded on the belief that design, collaboration and goodwill can be used to combat poverty and create sustainable growth. I first came upon the idea to create NB when I met a jewelry artisan named Carlos Jimenez in a local market in Nicaragua. He had talent, a nice product and story but needed help in branding, marketing his story and finding access to new markets. At that time I had a small design studio that serviced very high-end clients and specialized projects with innovative design services. I knew that if I could offer these services to artisans like Carlos I could make a huge difference in his life, his family and also together we could create cooler stuff. I have been working for over 2 years to be able to get this project going.

    1. What suggestions do you have on how to raise the necessary seed capital to start operating? IT is almost impossible to get financing in Nicaragua and I never wanted to create an NGO but a social enterprise that is sustainable.

    2. What tips do you have for scaling products so that you are able to create impact?

    I appreciate any tips or feedback. Thanks.



    • Kate von Achen

      Hi David. This is great! I wish you all the luck in your endeavor. As for raising money, I wish I could tell you! I have funded Awava out of pocket and with some assistance from family. I frequently have a second full time job, so it is quite tricky. We apply regularly for grants, but find ourselves up against a lot of stiff competition so have sadly been mostly unsuccessful with that to this point (fingers crossed that changes soon). As far as scaling products, the one thing I can say is START SMALL. I didn’t. I got so excited about so many products that I couldn’t choose, and now we have a pretty impressive range. Once we opened up to wholesale, it got even trickier. We wanted to make sure that we had enough of each product in stock for wholesale orders so our clients wouldn’t need to wait, and this is still a balancing act that we perform with our inventory. I would basically set a number that you keep in stock for each item at any time, and get a realistic picture of how long it takes to make each piece. That way you can give wholesale customers a realistic “lead time” for their orders, but you still don’t have too much capital wrapped up in inventory that you may or may not sell. As for producers, be clear about the work load, and what it depends on. You could purchase 10 necklaces today, and they could be sold tomorrow, or you may still have 5 of them six months from now. Managing expectations is important, especially in the start up phase. Does any of that help you?

      739 days ago


    • David Cadia

      Thanks for the tips Kate. My partner have also funded everything out of pocket I know the feeling. It is just so frustrating because there is such a need for our services and we

      739 days ago


    • David Cadia

      have also applied to any funding possible because right now we are at a point where we need it or it will be difficult to gain any traction. The only reason I have lasted so long in this endeavor is because of how much i truly believe in what we are doing. I also agree with your strategy. At the beginning I wanted to start out with a lot of products but thanks to a friend of mine’s advice started small pilots in the airport. That has developed into our strategy. We test products out in a few stores and see how it goes before trying to scale. Our focus right now is on Artisan Food products and woodwork. Thanks for the tips. Look us up on facebook https://www.facebook.com/NicBoutique

      739 days ago


    • Kate von Achen

      It is SO difficult! I completely understand. There are options. I don’t know if you have already or have considered applying for membership to Fair Trade Federation, but that can help. It helps “legitimize” your endeavor to a lot of consumers and possible wholesale clients. Also, they have a partnership with a UK-based nonprofit called Shared Interest. They provide low-interest loans to producer groups and fair trade businesses for various things. We’ve been talking with them for a while and are considering moving forward to help facilitate some expansion. Check them out here: http://en.shared-interest.com

      738 days ago


    • David Cadia

      Excellent, thanks for the info Kate. BTW Your making some cool stuff!

      736 days ago


    • Kate von Achen

      Thanks so much David. We love it!

      735 days ago


  10. 739 days ago

    Robert Modrall

    Kate,

    Love the work you are doing. Are you enjoying your study abroad experience? I would like to hear more about graduate studies at Makerere. How do tuition and living expenses compare with those in the US? Are you able to communicate with your peers and professors without considerable difficulty? How does the Peace and Conflict curriculum there compare to what you might have expected domestically? Would your organization benefit from a platform to encourage and facilitate multi-lateral communication and trade?



    • Kate von Achen

      Thank you so much Robert. I love it too!

      739 days ago


    • Kate von Achen

      I finished my graduate studies at Makerere University in 2009, and I think things have changed quite a bit since then, but I can tell you what it was like at that time. My tuition, as a non-Ugandan, was $2,800 per YEAR plus books and fees, so quite a bit cheaper. Living expenses, there’s a wide range. The first flat I rented was basically in the village. It was 2 bedrooms and cost about the equivalent of $200 per month. However, when a place is unfurnished in Uganda, there is no refrigerator, no water heater, no nothing. It’s just walls, a roof and some doors (and security bars). But you can easily fine rent equal to probably anything in the US, depending on the amount of “fancy” you need. Communication with my peers wasn’t too difficult. English is the official language of Uganda due to British colonization, but there is a trick to the English. Being American, I had to get used to some British English, but also what I call Ugandlish, simply different ways of saying things, generally much more literal. And pronunciation is important. I have a different way of speaking English when I speak to many Ugandans. Many of my friends were used to my lazy American English, but not all!

      739 days ago


    • Kate von Achen

      As for the curriculum, and the education system in general at the University, it was very different from what I was used to. It is a system of wrote memorization and limited discussion. We were supposed to take 5 core courses each semester and then pick 2 electives. Well, both semesters of lecture there were only 2 electives offered, which sort of made them hard to elect to take. They became mandatory. I’m not sure where the Peace and Conflict Programme is at today. I know they were funded through DED for some time, and they have partnerships with Royal Rhodes University in Canada, but I think any potential to increase the capacity of the program would be great. Makerere used to be heralded as the “Harvard of East Africa”, and sadly, due to several issues such as corruption and general lack of funding, many faculties have suffered and professors and lecturers often don’t take their jobs seriously because what they’re theoretically paid is next to nothing WHEN they get paid. Faculties such as CIT and Technology have received quite a lot of support from the Norwegian Government, which is great, but other areas of study have largely been ignored.

      739 days ago


    • Robert Modrall

      Thank you for your prompt response and informative answers. I’ve been researching graduate options as I fully intend to focus on International Relations and Diplomacy. I have a certificate in Conflict Analysis from the US University for Peace and a bachelors in Global Business Management. In 2010 I received an invitation from the Research Triangle Institute to meet with delegates from Zimbabwe at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Around the same time in the fall of that year while researching and attempting to procure a position description worthy of a Franklin Fellowship with the State Department I was contacting all of the worldwide embassies and noticed that embassy.org had not been updated in quite a long time. I contacted Dr. Ross Stapleton-Gray and received verbal authorization to redesign the site. I believe this is an exellent opportunity for the non-profit community to expand more rapidly into developing economies and exponentially increase their impact. While it would not immediately benefit such enormous and fully global organizations such as the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity it would benefit others with a sound mission that I support such as Big Brother Big Sister, Make A Wish, United Way, and Room to Read. I have allready been blessed with an opportunity to facilitate the international market entry of Room to Read to Zimbabwe at the request of the delegates and spoken with Mr. John Woods the founder and CEO personally. I’m convinced that in addition to being exellent public relations with our global neighbors redesigning embassy.org would provide opportunity to organize and facilitate the growth of these other reputable organizations. I would appreciate any feedback, suggestions, or concerns you may have with this idea.

      739 days ago


    • Kate von Achen

      Wow, Robert, that’s an impressive resume you’re building! I think any way to keep resources more up-to-date, and anything bridging gaps in the development world is a good thing. Lack of access to resources is typically the main source of conflict, and that can be within a university, a government, or a country at large. So I say keep pushing!

      738 days ago


  11. 740 days ago

    ThienVinh Nguyen

    Hello Kate!

    I enjoyed reading your blog post very much. I’m going to include the link here for others to check it out: http://bit.ly/NX3EIo. Regarding Fairtrade, I hear people saying that it’s just “too expensive.” Interestingly, some cafes here in the UK that only serve Fairtrade coffee and tea actually sell their drinks at lower prices than shops that don’t serve Fairtrade goods. Further, I’ve also observed that Fairtrade products can at times be cost-effective since you’re buying directly from the producer.

    Can you explain and clear-up from your experiences, the misconceptions about Fairtrade? Is it really more expensive? Is it anti-capitalistic?

    Many thanks! :)



    • Kate von Achen

      Thank you ThienVinh for the insights and questions. I think Fair Trade being too expensive, or more expensive, is a common misconception. Sometimes it is “more expensive” (I’m talking sticker price), and sometimes it’s “less expensive”. And the same goes for free trade items as well. A lot of factors go into pricing in both fair and free trade, but a lot of the actual pricing is hidden to general consumers. Retail outlets pay companies a wholesale price, and then it really is to their discretion what they mark their items up to. Generally the company, in our example, Awava, would give a “suggested” retail price, which matches our online price, BUT we don’t have the same overheads as brick and mortar shops. We have fewer staffing, rent, and utility expenses, for example.

      739 days ago


    • Kate von Achen

      Oops, hit “send” too soon.

      739 days ago


    • Kate von Achen

      As for Fair Trade products sometimes being more cost-effective, yes, sometimes they are, depending on the structure. Commodities (coffee, tea, cocoa, etc.) have much more rigid, and in turn expensive, certification and monitoring processes than crafts and fashion. And often times with both, there are still types of “middle-men”. One example is the fair trade coffee cooperative I worked with my first visit to Uganda, Mirembe Kawomera (Delicious Peace). The coop didn’t have the capacity to deal with customs and shipping, so an over-arching organization was contracted out to assist in those matters. MK has been working on building their own facility to generate the capacity to handle these things in the future. And then fair trade brick and mortar stores that do not participate in direct trade with artisans, go through producing companies such as Awava. In that instance I suppose we could be seen as acting as a “middle (wo)man”. All of that said, I have had multiple people tell me that we need to raise our prices on certain items! So I’m pretty sure we’re not falling in the “too expensive” category! We actually make an effort to keep our price points lower, in order to make our goods more accessible to more people. We would like to sell more items so that the women have more work and more income, and we can add new artisans regularly. We have seen quite a few fair trade companies mark prices up quite high and it always makes me a bit nervous when I see that. But generally no, Fair Trade doesn’t equal expensive.

      739 days ago


    • David Cadia

      Hello Kate, congrats for Awava. I am trying to create something similar in Nicaragua called NIC Boutique founded on the belief that design, collaboration and goodwill can be used to combat poverty and create sustainable growth. I first came upon the idea to create NB when I met a jewelry artisan named Carlos Jimenez in a local market in Nicaragua. He had talent, a nice product and story but needed help in branding, marketing his story and finding access to new markets. At that time I had a small design studio that serviced very high-end clients and specialized projects with innovative design services. I knew that if I could offer these services to artisans like Carlos I could make a huge difference in his life, his family and also together we could create cooler stuff. I have been working for over 2 years to be able to get this project going. 1. What suggestions do you have on how to raise the necessary seed capital to start operating? IT is almost impossible to get financing in Nicaragua and I never wanted to create an NGO but a social enterprise that is sustainable. 2. What tips do you have for scaling products so that you are able to create impact? I appreciate any tips or feedback. Thanks.

      739 days ago