Roberto Milk

Year founded: 

Novica seeks to improve the economic prospects of artists in some of the world’s poorest areas, preserve traditional art forms and provide a platform for personal expression.

Focus: Culture, Handicrafts, Enterprise Development
Geographic Area of Impact: Brazil, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Thailand, US
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 75,000 (2010)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 100%
Recognition: Schwab Fellows of the World Economic Forum

Traditionally, handmade goods from developing nations pass through a lengthy process before reaching primary retail markets. Artisans in rural villages typically work with local intermediaries who then sell to national-level ones. Customers purchase the goods at retail stores, often at more than 10 times the producer price. Usually very little of the profits go to the artists, and as a result, they are faced with dire economic situations. In many cases they have two options: either they abandon their labour-intensive traditions to suit local tastes and purchasing power, or they enter new forms of labour. Among artistically talented younger men and women, few see the possibility of making a living from their work, even when they are passionate about their craft.

Innovation and Activities
Novica works directly with artists and artisans to reduce the effect of the two most significant factors that prevent them from earning a living from their craft and keeping traditions alive: geographic distance and multiple layers of middlemen. Novica has opened up global markets to those long restricted by local distribution, and has helped artists set their own prices, often earning 10-50% more than the going local rate. In addition, consumers benefits by paying below-market prices.

Novica works with a growing pool of over 3,000 artisan groups representing over 15,000 artisans and their families worldwide. Novica taps into a growing market for handcrafted home decor, gifts and apparel that exceeds US$ 10 billion in the US alone. It takes advantage of two effects of globalization: one is a social phenomenon, wherein more consumers care about how their items are made, who made them and under what conditions; the second is technological, the increasing speed and potential of the Internet.

Novica’s website not only promotes handmade goods but also the people whose inspiration is embodied in their works of art. One of the major goals of Novica is to communicate the personal stories of the artisans on the website. This allows artists to see the actual price their work is being sold for and receive feedback from buyers. Novica is strengthened through key partnerships that include National Geographic, eBay, Amazon and National Public Radio. In 2009, Novica announced a partnership programme with the Grassroots Business Fund, which started with Guatemala in 2010.

The Entrepreneurs
Roberto Milk, a Peruvian-American, and Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira, a Brazilian, co-founded Novica. From a young age Milk loved going to local markets and collecting indigenous artefacts. He met Nercessian de Oliveira in 1995 when he was finishing his undergraduate degree at Stanford University. Within a week of their meeting they had created their idea for Novica.

Armenia Nercessian de Oliveira has been a lover of traditional handicrafts all her life. A sociology professor at the Universidade Federale of Rio de Janeiro, she served as a UN officer for 16 years, primarily working with refugees. Both travel extensively to the regions to work with Novica artists and to discover new ones.