Inside the Innovator: a Q&A with Newly Elected Ashoka Fellow Dan Driscoll
Inside the Innovator: A Q&A with Newly Elected Ashoka Fellow Dan Driscoll
Kicking off 2020, we elected two new Fellows to our network of now 112 Fellows enacting systems-change across the Arab World.
One of these new Fellows is Dan Driscoll, the founder of Anou, Morocco’s first national service cooperative and an online platform for artisans to sell their products and glean 80% of the revenues. Before his innovation, the Moroccan artisan sector did not favor the craftsmen behind the products -- in fact middlemen previously had a monopoly on the market, keeping 96% of the final selling price of artisan-made products, which left artisans bereft of agency and profit and trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Driscoll witnessed this destructive cycle first-hand during his stint in Peace Corps, where he spent two years living in Moocco’s highland mountains. During his time living among mountain communities, he became frustrated when he learned that the carvers in these areas remained poor and paid hefty bribes to middlemen, even after selling to fair trade organizations. He worked with the carvers in a two-pronged campaign: assisting them in negotiating with the government to legalize their wood carving shops and training them how to sell their products on Etsy and EBay – with incredible success. This experience convinced Driscoll that even the most marginalized communities could find a way to change the trajectory of their own lives if provided with the right tools.
This experience led him to found Anou, a customizable language-free platform for artisans that requires only basic numeracy skills -- making it accessible to potentially illiterate populations. Members are trained on how to make an account and then use it to sell their products, receiving advice on growing their businesses, pricing their products, and taking photographs along the way. As part of this educational process, participants are invited to join the cooperative’s executive team to help with the platform’s overall management, making it fully owned and managed by craftsmen. And its success is palpable -- Anou now works with 70 cooperatives and 600 artisans across Morocco with annual growth rates of 25-30% per year!
Learn more about Dan and Anou, and get his insights into the challenges he faces in his work and the ways he hopes to grow his initiative now that he is an Ashoka Fellow in this Q&A below!
Q: How did you feel when you first got the news that you are an Ashoka Fellow?
A: Relieved and excited to be honest. I think the work of Anou has been difficult because it goes against the grain of how things are typically done. Trying to figure out how to get artisans to run things on their own as opposed to the status quo of just doing things for artisans is difficult because the status quo is so easy, prevalent, and generally accepted. Working against such a status quo has been difficult. So one of the reasons why I'm excited to be a Fellow is that the Fellowship is a continuous reminder that such work matters, that working for the genuine empowerment of marginalized communities matters, and that I'm not necessarily alone in the change I'm trying to create.
Q: What aspect of your work energizes you the most?
A: I love working on behalf of marginalized communities and helping them prove themselves to others who doubt what, in fact, they are capable of.
Q: Tell us about an experience with your target community or a particular beneficiary that stands out to you as reflective of your impact.
A: Too many stand out to count. But if I could summarize my favorites into one sentence, it’s really the moment when an artisan leader of Anou begins to realize they themselves are capable of influencing the future of Anou, the future craft in general, and that the future they want for themselves is up to them.
Q: In what ways do you see your initiative growing in the coming years?
A: 2020 will be the first time in Anou's existence that it will be properly funded and we'll have a full team of great people mentoring the artisan team. I hope that with the proper support in the coming years, we'll finally be that much closer to ensuring Anou is fully run by the artisan community.
Q: When did you start to identify as a leader?
A: I don't know if I really identify myself as a leader. I simply identify myself as a person who saw a problem and decided to do something about it when no one else would.
Q:Who is your hero?
A: My family for sure. Someone more specific might be Lebron James. Huge fan of how he competes through his teams and leverages his fame for the betterment of his community.
We’re a fan of how Dan competes too -- and how he brings an environment for fair competition to the artisan sector in Morocco. Keep your eyes peeled for articles and posts about Dan’s work going forward.
Welcome to Ashoka Dan!