With her keen sense of Western consumer preferences, Patti Carpenter, president and creative director of New York City’s Continuum Home, Inc./Carpenter + Company, works with artisans in emerging markets to design products that can be produced using indigenous forms and methods, and then she pitches them to such well-known retailers as Bloomingdale’s.

Through organizations like Aid to Artisans and ACDI/VOCA, Carpenter has travelled to Latin America, Africa and Haiti to help artisans make useful, attractive and above all marketable products. After working with unorganized, albeit talented, groups, she’’s learned the advantages of the cooperative model for artisans and producers trying to compete in a demanding marketplace.

She says, “The cooperative structure gives a small group of artisans or producers the ability to present themselves not just as hobbyists but as a business. The cooperative has leaders responsible to its members, and it allows member input in quality control, overall business practices of the co-op, costing and pricing. New members keep the leadership fresh and vibrant. The level of commitment required by cooperatives provides benefits to the whole group and not just each individual. The strength of working in numbers allows for more opportunities to obtain information, entertain larger orders and conduct training.”

So what is different when women rather than men own a cooperative? Carpenter has visited many cooperatives that produce textiles, beading and basketweaving, the majority of which are women-owned and -operated. On both sides of the Atlantic she has found that women want to educate their children and improve the health and welfare of their families.

“When women are members of a cooperative we see the entire community benefitting,” she says, adding that men too can be successful and operate strong cooperatives, but they tend to focus on their individual family economics and building their own careers; there is less of a communal focus.

Women say that being members of a cooperative affords them higher self-esteem in their households and as members of their communities. When women are given leadership opportunities through cooperatives, their diplomatic as well as organizational skills are developed. As a result they are in a better position to negotiate and succeed in the business world, which in turn benefits their cooperatives as well as the broader world.