Meet Achenyo Idachaba Obaro! She is the founder and Creative Director of MitiMeth. Achenyo’s aspiration is to create environmentally and economically thriving handicraft producing communities, so MitiMeth becomes Nigeria’s #1 choice in eco-friendly handcrafted products and a key non-oil exporter of artisan products.
MitiMeth is an Award-winning Social Enterprise based in Nigeria. Achenyo and her team recover natural fibers from invasive water plants such as hyacinth and typha grass, as well as agricultural waste such as banana bark, coconut shells and bamboo culms. From these natural fibers, her business designs and manufactures unique home accent furniture, stationery, baskets, gifts, fashion accessories, kitchen and dining-ware. To achieve her mission of improving the environment and empowering communities through craft skills training, MitiMeth does more than just create artisan crafts. Her company facilitates Craft Innovation Workshops in rural communities empowering women and youth to create income earning opportunities utilizing locally available resources.
Water Hyacinth – An Invasive Species
At first glance, water hyacinth appears to be a beautiful plant distinguished by its 6 lavender petals and one yellow spot on only one individual petal. However, looks can be deceiving. This plant reproduces rapidly in rivers and other bodies of water and doubles its population size every two weeks, choking out native plants and animal species. This wicked weed is responsible for disturbing fishing and transportation as well as eco-systems and local economies.
In Achenyo’s 2015 TedTalk, she provides an interesting revelation on the terminologies used to identify the aquatic plant and what those interpretations can mean to communities in each given geographic location in Nigeria. In some places, the plant is called “Babangida” a name of a dictator which is “associated with military coups, fear, and restraint” in her country. In other parts of Nigeria, the plant is known as “Abiola” which reminds those communities of “annulled elections and dashed hopes” since it is the namesake of a man fairly elected President, but who wasn’t allowed to take office. In other parts of the country, the name for water hyacinth is less politically charged, but still nefarious. In the Southwestern region, it is known as “Gbe’Borun” which translates to gossip. Achenyo says, “When you think of gossip; you think of rapid reproduction (and) destruction.” In her final example she lists the term “A Kp’iye Kp’oma” which translates to “death of mother and child”.
You can watch her appearance in its entirety on TedTalk here:
Names matter. Through her endeavor, Achenyo has sought to “change names, change livelihoods”; from the word “gossip” to “storyteller” and from “death of mother and child” to “provider for mother and child.”
Passion – A Conviction of Faith
Achenyo moved from the U.S. in the late 2000’s to Ibadan, Nigeria, the home country of her parents. It was a “leap of faith” to quit her job in corporate America and aid in the field of sustainable development in Nigeria. As a computer engineer by trade, a move into an unknown market was a remarkable leap of faith. She however proves that through perseverance and will, you can accomplish anything and make an impact on communities who need it. I asked her what drives her passion and she said, “My passion is driven by a conviction of my Faith. I have been blessed to experience life in different parts of the world. Having been so fortunate I came to a point where I realized I needed to give back to society in a practical and tangible way. To whom much is given, much is required. My passion is to address the challenges of poverty that are so prevalent in Nigeria.”
When asked what advice she would give to new sustainable entrepreneurs, she responded, “Keep at it and remain focused. There is no easy harvest and there are no sustainable shortcuts. Do not be afraid! And if you fail, don’t be too hard on yourself. Learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself and move on.” Her company has evolved since its inception 8 years ago. “I started with an army of 1. Mitimeth now has 10 full time staff and work with 80+ artisans on a contract basis.” Her team has developed a training package for Craft workshops held in the rural areas. The company has a wider product offering and now works with agro-waste fibers and non-timber resources.
Achenyo’s story and charisma is incredible, and the challenges she has overcome are an inspiration for not only sustainable entrepreneurs but start-ups of all kinds! I am honored to share her story and look forward to seeing her business take its next big step! May her company grow faster than the aquatic menace she harvests and weaves!
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