Connected and Aligned

ImageAgustina Soly lives 2 days travel from the nearest surfaced road. Her community in the remote highlands of West Sulawesi is beyond the reach of most Indonesian government services. People are very self-reliant here. Agustina is the school teacher and the coordinator for 7 weavers’ cooperatives with a total membership of 56 women. Weaving is an important source of income, and making traditional textiles is a huge source of cultural pride.


Last year, Agustina and six other weavers joined thirty other participants from across Indonesia for a four-day workshop in Bali. Several sessions explored the shared values across our network. We often do this, but it is always worth re-exploring. The common themes were: improving family welfare, strengthening cultural values, increasing cooperation, and enhancing mutual respect. Agustina made an insightful observation. She compared the weavers’ values to those in the mission statements of Threads of Life and the YPBB Foundation, noting that “Our values are not the same, but they are aligned and connected.”

We then explored weavers’ ideas about the values of Threads of Life’s customers, to whom they are ultimately marketing their work. This generated some powerfully unguarded comments. The majority of responses were a variation of, “They buy our work because they feel sorry for us.”

I can imagine where this idea might have come from. Development work is often performed by organizations with a particular focus, looking for communities with matching problems. When the problem is solved, the organization moves on. Communities’ defining relationships with the outside world are then those of being the recipients of help. Perhaps this unintended consequence leaves people feeling that the outside world feels sorry for them. Whatever the reason, it’s a disempowering self-image. In the case of Threads of Life’s customers, I think it’s also largely inaccurate: Our marketing is based on the assumption that our customers’ values are also “aligned and connected” with the weavers’.

The weavers’ textiles, baskets and other expressions eloquently convey their values to our customers. It seems, the act of buying has not been enough on its own to convey our customers’ values and aspirations to the weavers. We could tell the weavers they are wrong, but this would be nowhere near as powerful or convincing as you telling them. Overturning the weavers’ misconceptions could be achieved by some kind of meeting and respectful conversation about shared values between weaver and buyer. Impractical as this sounds, could there be a very simple way of achieving the same end?

Imagine if you could send the weaver a photo portrait of yourself printed with an accompanying 150-word translation of why you bought their work. Imagine each weaver getting one or two such cards per year; each cooperative getting a dozen or more. Everyone’s reasons would be different, but together and over time could build for the weavers an informed image of who their buyers really are, and what they value. The portraits could make this new intellectual understanding into a heartfelt connection. Imagine if this unleashed the potential in the weavers’ shared values: improving family welfare, strengthening cultural values, increasing cooperation, and enhancing mutual respect.

Further imagine that you could chose to have your image and text posted on Threads of Life’s website, so each new image and message could be informed by and dialogue with the previous messages. Might a conversation emerge that helps us refine and express our deepest values too? What power might that unleash within us?

There may be a better way of achieving this than the portrait-and-text idea, but I feel there is a deep reservoir of potential in sharing our values more explicitly. So this post is an invitation, too. If you think the direction of these ideas has merit, or you can see another way to do it, we’d like to hear from you. Please leave a comment on this blog. If this idea has merit, you will hear more about it in the future.


11 thoughts on “Connected and Aligned

  1. My name is Eleanor Ward and I visited Bali two years ago with my family. I had been there 20 years ago as a solo traveller and was keen to show my family the beauty of the country and its people and their culture. One thing I considered before I left was what I might bring back from Bali to remind me of the rich cultural heritage of indonesia

    I had alsways been impressed the variety and quality of textiles in Indonesia so I did some reasearch on the net. What a lovely suprise to come across Threads of Life. What a wonderful organisation. Providing support for women who hold a enormous resevoir of knowledge about traditional weaving and dying. And what a wide reach they had into the archipelago. I really admired the women who had kept up these traditions under difficult economic circumstances when pressures to earn income in othere ways may have been great. This continuation of weaving practice and knowledge really emphasised the cultural importance of the weaving. Motifs tell stories that are central to the way of life.

    When I purchased my cloth in your Ubud gallery I really felt I was priviliged to be part of supporting such strong , clever and positive women. I did not see it as charity. I was very happy to be able to take home such wonderful works of art and also know that my money had helped support women and their families in another country. I hoped my contribution would help continue the great work of Threads of Life and that of your many talented weavers. My children could also see the beauty of the weaving and the importance of supporting traditional knowledge in a changing society. It was a learning experience for us all.

    Please pass on my thanks to the weavers for their committment to produce marvelous art works. I have them hanging in my house and their beauty and complexity is always a source of joy,

    Regards Eleanor

    • Dear Eleanor,

      Thank you for your long comment. It was good to get such nice feedback from the first post on my first blog. Your comment on the learning experience of visiting Threads of Life was just what I needed to hear. We have always felt that there was a need to educate our audience, but you reminded me at just the right time to help me see this in a new way. In the context of what I was writing about, Threads of Life can be seen as a learning organization: between weaver, intermediary and customer, mutual understanding and a respect for each others needs and aspirations are the foundations for a just and sustainable world.


  2. Great idea.
    I would love to be connected and aligned with my fellow human beings in Sulawesi, Savu, Timor, Sumba and Java…
    Harriet, California

  3. Hi William,

    Our conversations on this topic piqued my interest in our recent trip to Bali. I, too, am concerned that the weavers have a misconception about why we purchase their handmade articles. Stanley and I commissioned the weavings from Nusa Penida a few years ago to complement the colors in our home, to create a colorful and light transmitting divider between our living and dining rooms and to convey our appreciation of well-made handcrafts. We both have mothers and and grandmothers who were masters of handcrafts of various types: crochet, tatting, quilting, knitting and we have heirloom pieces from our own ancestral lineages that we value and use in our home.

    The two workshops I recently participated in at Threads of Life gave me a much deeper appreciation for how these weavings are used both practically and as part of sacred ceremonies in cultural traditions on the various islands in the Indonesian archipelago. I wish that our grandmothers’ handwork had such an important role to play in traditions here. We don’t have such traditional uses, especially the sacred in our culture. These weavers and villages have given me a model of how these works of art serve such an important function and provide symbolic meaning of the influences of so many diverse peoples in their lives. They have so beautifully incorporated and integrated (woven, literally) these influences symbolically into the fabric of their lives.

    Thank you for facilitating this “conversation.” I hope these thoughts can be conveyed to the various weaving cooperatives to help shift their perspective. I’m not sure how to add a photo here of the weavings hung in our living room, but I think I sent them previously to Jean when we first installed them.

    Anne Muth
    Talent, Oregon, USA

    • Dear Anne,

      Given the good feedback we have been getting I am going to work on this some more soon. I wanted to have personal portraits to give to the weavers to make that person-to-person connection, rather than having images of the textiles in their new homes, as I think we don’t want to have the women comparing their homes to those of their customers, which could lead back into the “pity me” mode.

      More soon!

      • Thanks for your comments, William. It was not my intention to spark such a comparison, but of course, it is human nature. How are you thinking of achieving a person to person connection? My real point was not to showcase their work in our home, but rather to say that handwork was created by our ancestors and yet not included as part of a sacred tradition or lineage. In this culture it usually didn’t contain symbols or power that was drawn on in sacred ceremonies. I think this culture could benefit from seeing how weavings are used in Indonesia, both in practical usage and in ceremonial settings.
        It is difficult to create “new traditions” when living in such a melting pot of cultures as is the USA.

        I saw your comment to Simon, above. I will send a photo of us to threads…
        Thanks for your work,

        • Dear Anne,

          Other people I have talked to about this agree with you: we should not limit customer’s images to just a portrait, and neither assume how the weavers will react nor limit what they see. The dialogue I am imagining will emerge over time as the number of images received by each cooperative or weaver grows. This sending back of images and text to the weavers is still a virtual person-to-person connection, and not direct. But it’s more direct than is currently happening.

          Thanks for the continued input,

  4. Dear William,

    I think it’s a great idea. Apart from the basic of providing an income for your weavers, and giving them a sustainable outlet to continue to weave their wonderfully skilled and beautiful textiles that are steeped in their own cultural identities and traditions which reach a world-wide audience, your organization is constantly seeking to better peoples lives by empowering them though their craft.

    I never would think of buying these pieces of art so skillfully dyed and woven with the enormous stores of traditional knowledge as an act of charity. Quite the opposite. If you go into a shop and something is amazing, WOW is WOW. You just have to have it, and if you can’t afford it, you regret it. If and when you do buy it, you are the one who feels lucky. Lucky to have got something so special. It’s that special buzz from a fab purchase. That fabness is also greatly enhanced by knowing where something is from, who made it, and how they made it. So to be able to communicate that feeling of happiness and contentment to the actual person that made the piece you bought is even more special… It’s a way of sharing one’s joy directly to the craftsperson themselves. We all know how empowering heart-felt words of acknowledgement can be.

    Simon, Penestanan

    • Hi Simon,

      I like your perspective! I think it will surprise some of the weavers. But you’re absolutely right. We are all lucky to be working with such exquisite expressions of human creativity.

      We will soon be working on the next issues of the YPBB Foundation’s quarterly magazine, Suara Budaya, for the weavers. Could you send me a photo of yourself so we can put it beside your comments? (I will ask this of everyone who has commented so far.)


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