Virunga Artisans dedicates its efforts to bettering the lives of the local peoples in the Virunga/Bwindi region who live adjacent to the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
We continually seek to provide local artisans with assistance in developing value-added products from local resources, creating markets for viable crafts and food products, and encourage working conditions consistent with the integrity of local economic and social values.
In doing so, we strive to bring to the marketplace products of visual and tactile
delight, as well as outstanding quality. We recognize that the success of Virunga
Artisans depends entirely on the well being of the craftsmen we represent,
and we pledge to uphold their interests to preserve the rich fabric of their
Why Virunga Artisans was founded
Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Orinda, California and Kigali Rwanda, Virunga Artisans markets the hand-made products of the artisans who live adjacent to Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo)/Mgahinga National Park (Uganda), and in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a World Heritage Site in Uganda.
The Virunga and Bwindi region, comprised of Afromontane forests atop a chain of volcanoes, serves as the home of the last 700 existing mountain gorillas, the largest of the living primates. Human activity in the parks, caused by land scarcity and the lack of alternative livelihood sources, severely threatens the gorillas.
Virunga Artisans, working closely with the International Gorilla Conservation Program, provides local peoples with viable economic opportunities so they benefit from their proximity to these magnificent creatures and need not intrude on gorilla habitat. We market their outstanding baskets, carvings, wearable art, coffee and tea to the wider world. Working with ICGP, we also assist community artisan groups to design new products and improve the quality and marketability of traditional crafts. In addition, ICGP and Virunga Artisans provide training, materials and financial support; create sustainable business models; and source market outlets in the region and the U.S.
We also foster a sense of pride and recognition of the artisans’ contribution to Rwandan and Ugandan culture along with their role in economic growth and development.
All proceeds from the sale of Virunga Artisans products go directly to artisans through fair-trade wages, their associations and IGCP Business Enterprises, which re-invest these resources back into the communities.
The International Gorilla Conservation Program
The International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) seeks
to ensure the conservation of mountain gorillas and their regional Afromontane
forest habitat in the Virunga Range of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC) and Uganda.
Formed in 1991, IGCP is sponsored by three coalition partners:
African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and
the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Conservation is all about people. IGCP seeks to achieve maximum impact by working in close partnership with the park staffs of all three nations. Building capacity and encouraging regional collaboration helps park authorities to improve their individual and collective effectiveness.
A vital part of these activities is the development of more sophisticated monitoring techniques throughout the shared protected area. Socio-economic development and conservation are inextricably linked. By improving livelihoods, encouraging sustainable use of resources and tackling other local issues via a range of community initiatives, IGCP aims to strengthen positive attitudes towards conservation at all levels and reduce the threats facing the parks, forests and wildlife.
IGCP also works with key decision-makers to influence policy and ensure that
each country benefits from conservation at the local and national levels. The
17% increase in the mountain gorilla population over the past decade demonstrates
the efficacy of IGCP’s holistic approach to conservation.
Richard and Katie were experienced visitors to Africa and had seen much of the continent’s wildlife before their first trip to see mountain gorillas in 1980. Yet nothing had prepared them for the effect these magnificent creatures would have on their lives. The experience of sitting just a few feet away from a 500-pound silverback and his family, and making that connection with our closest relatives, was truly a life changing experience.
In 2004, after many more trips to Africa, several to see the mountain gorilla, the opportunity arose to assist IGCP’s Business Enterprise Team. Richard and Katie began working with women’s groups and artisan associations, taking traditional arts and developing sustainable businesses to support the communities living adjacent to the gorilla habitat.
Seeing the high quality of the artisan works and knowing there was an unfulfilled need in the both the local and international markets, they founded Virunga Artisans.
Previously, Katie had retired as a senior marketing executive at McKesson Corporation in San Francisco. She currently serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine and works with Art for the Animals Foundation. Katie has also served on the National Council of the World Wildlife Fund and is Past President of the East Bay SPCA.
Katie holds a BA from Bowling Green State University and an MBA from the Graduate School of International Management.
Richard made his entrepreneurial mark as owner/president of Parcourse Ltd. and BLOKS USA. He currently works with organizations providing strategy development, business and marketing consultancy; and is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board of the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine and the Population Community Foundation. He is a past member of the National Council of WWF-US.
Richard earned a BA from Miami University and an MBA from the Graduate School of International Management. He is retired from the United States Marine Corps Reserve.