Improving the Lives of the Artisans of Sarawak

Tanoti is a community of craft artisans dedicated towards heritage craft preservation, women empowerment and rural community building.  

“Sarawak covers a very large area and 40% of Sarawak’s population do not live in urban centres. The further they live away from the city, the less chance of employment they have. However, the further they live away from the city, the higher the crafting skills they have,” said Jacqueline Fong Yean Yee, the founder of Tanoti Sdn Bhd.

“We realised that we could actually harness the crafting skills to help villagers from rural and remote locations get income,” she added.

How It Started

Tanoti Sdn Bhd consists of a group of Sarawakian women weavers and artisans dedicated towards the production, promotion and proliferation of hand-crafted fabrics. Its origins date back to 2008, when a foundation established by Her Royal Highness the Queen of Malaysia, the Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah, set up a research and development workshop.

In 2012, the foundation performed a restructuring exercise and Tanoti was privatised. Today, Tanoti continues to carry on its original vision and legacy, which is to improve the lives and livelihoods of womenfolk and rural communities through the ancient art of songket weaving.

“Sarawak has more than 40 indigenous tribes. Each tribe has its own colour, pattern, architecture and culture. So, Sarawak is a congregation of very colourful people. We started Tanoti to be able to capture all these colours and the beauty of our indigenous people,” she explained.

From a corporate finance job, Jacqueline decided to shift to focus her attention on Tanoti full time. She felt very honoured to be able to contribute to these people. She hoped that Tanoti can continue to help to improve the quality of life of the artisans and their families by providing income. 

As recognition for Tanoti’s good work, the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) gave it the Social Enterpreneurship Amplify Award and a RM150,000 grant in 2015 to help further its cause and grow its impact.

Growing the Social Enterprise

Because road infrastructure was lacking, Jacqueline was are not able to access very remote areas to connect with the artisans there. 

“We were very happy that PUSH provided us with funding that enabled us to access these very remote areas. The logistics to access these areas cost a lot of money and its time consuming too. Because of PUSH, we also now have IT resources to manage our inventory of artisanal products and we are able to monitor the artisans’ productivity and their output,” explained Jacqueline.

Tanoti is a part of the Pemangkin Usahawan Sosial Hebat (PUSH) programme, and supported by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and MaGIC. PUSH is a scale-up programme with an ambition to grow social enterprises and increase their social impact through a personalised capacity building and skills development training.

“If an entrepreneur wishes to pursue social impact and make the company sustainable and grow, PUSH wll give you the tools. It will help you to scale up to bring your company to the next level,” she said.

“When we started Tanoti Sdn Bhd in 2012, we only had 11 people. Now in 2021, we have 19 full-timers and 425 artisans across 200 villages in Sarawak. The sampling of our artisans from the rural and remote areas in Sarawak is more than 400,000 people,” she added.

Jacqueline hopes to grow the industry and Tanoti’s artisan base, so that more people can benefit from the social enterprise’s efforts.

During the pandemic, Tanoti has pivoted to producing personal protective equipment (PPEs) for medical frontliners and has so far supplied 100,000 sets of PPEs to Sarawak and Sabah, and all the way to Lahad Datu. It is a win-win situation. The artisans still get their income, while the medical frontliners get PPEs to protect them at work. 

“The training by PUSH made me very sharp as a person and ensured that my finances were in tip-top condition. Besides that, I developed the habit of proactively chasing for payments, which I didn’t have before I joined the PUSH programme. All this helped Tanoti to survive and thrive during the pandemic,” explained Jacqueline. 

How You Can Help

Members of the public and companies are welcome to support Tanoti in various ways. 

Products of Tanoti such as rattan totes, laptop bags and rattan face masks are available for sale on its website. You can also arrange for custom orders, gift packs or corporate gifts.

You are also welcome to support Tanoti’s efforts to produce and supply PPEs for medical frontliners in Sarawak and Sabah during the pandemic.

To find out more, please visit their website and social media pages.