Can ‘The Simpsons’ Really Improve Lives in Africa?

Posted by on October 12, 2009 in Africa, Entrepreneurship, Featured

Homer with branded Packaging

Many of us grew up watching The Simpsons, a humorous animated comedy about a family of 5 living in the fictional town of Springfield. This sitcom has made an impression in pop culture by recently becoming America’s longest running sitcom, but besides this big accomplishment, the TV series is also making an impact by improving the lives of those who live in Kenya.

In February 2009, UK organization, Craft Village, lead by entrepreneur Paul Young partnered with local artisans in rural Kenya to develop unique, sustainable, copyrighted product lines of Simpson memorabilia. Their first line of merchandise consisted of hand carved statues of The Simpsons characters. The business idea, developed by founder Paul Young, emerged after his sister, who had been living in Uganda, started sending home cravings of elephants and lions to him in the UK. As a graduate student at Darlington, he saw these cravings as an opportunity to bring local African art work to western culture while helping to bring financial support to these artisans. He recalls looking the cravings and thinking “if they could produce something a bit more Western, it might be really popular”.  After considering Star Wars, Paul decided to focus on The Simpsons as his initial startup.

A Daunting Task

Adding finer detail to a Bart statue.

The work of actually creating and then selling these Simpsons carvings was a tremendous task which Paul Young did not initially anticipate. Step one was to was find local artisans to do the carving, which also meant teaching these artisans who and what the Simpsons are. In Kenya, where the average wage is between $1-$50 a day, many locals live without electricity, let alone a television. So after making contact with two groups of carvers through a craft company in Nairobi, Paul started sending models of characters from the show. The cravers soon started to produce prototypes of the characters, sending back images of the statues to Paul for review. They quickly hit a snag when the first sets of statues were created weighing in at 10 times the weight they are now. With the high cost of transporting these statues 4,230 miles from Kenya to the UK, they had to completely redesign the product to make them lighter.

Once the prototypes were created and approved, Paul Young hit his second big task of getting permission rights from 20th Century Fox, the studio which owns The Simpsons, to distribute these statues. He wanted to ensure his merchandise was showcased and presented in the best possible light, so in 2005 he personally flew to Kenya to video tape and meet the carvers. He presented the video to 20th Century Fox, who were so intrigued by the merchandise and by the social benefits, that they allowed him permission rights.

Launching Craft Village

Enosh, Timothy, David, Paul

In February the company finally launched, presenting the statues across the world. Currently, Craft Village has a team of 28 sculptors and assistants, many of whom are showcased on their website.  They sell about a dozen different statues and with so many characters on the TV show, each sculptor is given a personality to work on and develop.

Expanding Human Welfare

The lives of these artisans have drastically improved since the company started. The artisans are paid 450 shillings or $6.50 per statue, which has allowed many workers to put their children to school. But the one the biggest improvements for workers is the regularity of work. Prior to Craft Village, artisans would go for weeks without work, but now there is a steady flow of work for not only the sculptors, but also the miners who dig up the soapstone rocks for carving, and the female assistants.
If Craft Village is able to succeed, Paul Young hopes to be able to train more young people, further providing opportunity and improvement to the local communities of Kenya.

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An Dao

An is a hardworking professional committed to making a positive change in our world. She has a passion for creating innovative designs and promoting organizations that are working to make a difference.

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