Khalifa Fund throws a lifeline to traditional Emirati crafts

Emirati artisans who stopped making traditional crafts years ago have rediscovered their skills with the help of an initiative by the Khalifa Fund.

Sougha, a non-profit initiative, is not only creating opportunities for Emirati craftsmen and but also keeping tradition alive. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
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A weaver from Abu Dhabi had all but stopped making her traditional handicrafts because she could see no market for them in the modern world.

But today her camel chokers and key chains woven from traditional threads are on sale in one of the capital's newest shopping centres.

The weaver, of Al Rahba, Abu Dhabi, who declined to be named in this report, rediscovered her weaving skills with the help of Sougha, a non-profit initiative established by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development. The enterprise was launched three years ago to create opportunities for Emirati craft workers.

Representatives started by visiting small towns and villages in the Western Region. But almost everyone they met had stopped making their handicrafts.

"In the beginning, of course it was a big challenge because they did not feel their craft could find a place in today's modern malls in the UAE," said Leila Ben-Gacem, a senior manager in the entrepreneurship development department at Khalifa Fund. "Some of them believed that we would help them bridge the marketing gaps and attended a few workshops."

Seven women signed up initially, but today Sougha sells items on behalf of 200 artisans based in 10 towns across Abu Dhabi.

Its stall, which has been provided free of charge in the Central Market, sells handicrafts that range from bags to business cardholders and mobile-phone cases.

About six months ago the initiative's remit was extended to the rest of the Emirates.

"In Ras Al Khaimah, there are amazing crafts, and we have very talented ladies we have started training in Fujairah and also in Ajman. We are also headhunting skilled ladies in Sharjah and Dubai. We hope that in time Sougha will become a social enterprise that represents all Emirati crafts," said Ms Ben-Gacem. "Through Sougha we are trying to create bridges between cultures."

Sougha has held several workshops with Alliance Française, the latest of which was on Thursday at the Central Market.

"Every now and then we introduce them to a craft, to an artisan. As a micro business which we hope to empower, it gives a really big impact," said Ms Ben-Gacem.

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