The UNESCO "Award of Excellence for Handicrafts" aims to encourage artisans to produce handicrafts using traditional skills, patterns and themes in an innovative way, in order to ensure the continuity and sustainability of these traditions and skills. This programme also aims to support craft producers. It is UNESCO’s flagship programme for supporting craft producers.
In 2008, 144 new products have thus benefited from the UNESCO Award of Excellence for Handicrafts in Asia.
The extension of the programme to other sub-regions is planned : a meeting for the implementation of this programme in the Andean countries is to take place in Madrid (Spain), on 27 and 28 October 2008, in cooperation with the Fundación Española para la Innovación de la Artesanía and an information meeting on the UNESCO Award of Excellence for Handicrafts in Africa will be held on Monday 3 November 2008 in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), in the framework of the SIAO (International Crafts Market of Ouagadougou).
Originally initiated in Southeast Asia in 2001 by the UNESCO Office in Bangkok in cooperation with the ASEAN Handicraft Promotion and Development Association (AHPADA, Thailand), the UNESCO Award of Excellence for Handicrafts has been expanded further into Central Asia with the Central Asia Crafts Support Association (CACSA, Kyrgyzstan) and into South Asia with the World Crafts Council Asia-Pacific Region (WCC APR, India), as from 2004; and since 2006, this programme has been extended to East Asia, Western Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean region.
The UNESCO Award of Excellence for Handicrafts programme has four main objectives.
1. Establish rigorous standards of excellence for handicrafts
The UNESCO "Award of Excellence for Handicrafts" aims to promote quality crafts that upholds rigorous standards of excellence. It aims to ensure that when consumers buy awarded handicrafts, they are buying high quality, culturally authentic products that have been manufactured in a socially-responsible manner with respect for the environment.
2. Encourage innovativeness
While it seeks to promote the continuation of traditional skills, the UNESCO Award also encourages product innovation in order to ensure that handicrafts remain relevant, valuable, and marketable in modern life.
3. Offer training and support services
The UNESCO programme aims to provide capacity-building and training workshops to assist craft producers in the improvement of their product design and marketing, development of their markets, and protection of their intellectual property rights.
4. Provide new opportunities to ensure sustainability of handicraft industries
The handicraft sector plays an increasingly significant role in local economic development and poverty eradication. By providing new market opportunities, the programme aims to enable handicraft producers to establish sustainable livelihoods. This will be achieved through developing networks of handicraft producers and buyers, including the higher-end of the market, and through exhibitions and trade fairs.
Rewarded artisans already had the opportunity to display their products not only at regional exhibitions but also at international fairs such as the Paris Fair (France), the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market (USA), the Maison & Objet Trade Fair (France).