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 MetiMeth becomes Nigeria’s #1 choice in eco-friendly handcrafts and an exporter of sustainable 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, 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 through job creation that utilizes 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 ecosystems 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”.
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 United States in the late 2000s to Ibadan, Nigeria, the home country of her parents. It was a “leap of faith” to quit her job in corporate America and join the sustainable development movement 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 works with 80+ artisans on a contract basis.” Her team has developed a training package for Craft workshops held in 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 are 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!
Be sure to check out their products and follow Mitimeth at Mitimeth.com
Written by E. J. Wise.
E.J. is a management student at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and aspiring entrepreneur