Anya with her creative collaborators at ANTHILL gallery
Anya with her creative collaborators at ANTHILL gallery

We took the time to catch up with CSC Masters alumna Anya Lim, a young social entrepeneur who is Creative and Managing Director of ANTHILL which turns the local textiles of indigenous weavers into high fashion.  

Briefly tell us what you’ve been doing since you left the Masters at UQ.

I am running ANTHILL (Alternative Nest and Trading/Training Hub for Indigenous/ Ingenious Little Livelihood seekers), a social and cultural enterprise I co founded that works to preserve and promote the use of Philippine weaves  through contemporary applications among the younger generations to provide sustainable livelihood among community enterprises. 

I also did one year consultancy work for a local coffee chain in the Philippines. I provided strategic direction for their homegrown rebranding and incorporated social procurement in their business value chain. I led a team that worked on the brand's advocacy communications. 
  
What is your current role at Anthill? What is a normal day for you?
I am currently the Creative and Managing Director for ANTHILL. As a start up enterprenuer, I wear multiple hats and I have to perform most functions across the business. When I am at the office, I usually do check ins with my team first thing in the morning to track our work and progress. I go through emails and do finance monitoring work to manage cash flow, issue payments to suppliers/ community partners. I monitor all social media sales and inquiries. Afternoons are usually meetings with clients for project proposals or proposal preparation. I do field visits in our urban partner community once a week. I visit our rural and indigenous communities once every quarter. We spend time in dialogue and assessments on how we can futher improve their community enterprise. Late afternoons are usually spent on product developement research or doing operations and human resource work. 
 
What are the values that drive Anthill’s work? How did it begin?
ANTHILL is highly driven by a (1) strong sense of Filpino idenity and Filipino pride, (2) collaborative and communal spirit, and (3) creativity and innovation. 
 
ANTHILL was prompted by the following: 
 
1. Witnessing how weaving is a dying culture among different indigenous groups and communities. Most weavers are in their senior years and there is a huge gap in cultural transmission among the younger generation. The younger generation do not have any affinity to their weaving culture. They do not find any relevance to it and would choose to migrate in urban areas for easier means of income.
 
2. The lack of availability and accessibility of wearable weaves in the market which leads to it not being worn or used as often. It is deemed "uncool" to wear a weave as it is mostly undervalued and used only as home accents. It's either too expensive or something that's only worn during formal occasions. It is labeled as "costume" rather than our traditional wear. 
 
3. A trip to India and seeing how much appreciation and pride they have for their traditional wear. I envied them and wondered why its not the case in the Philippines. I discovered Gandhi's great love for his "charka"/ spinning wheel and how much he worked on reviving the cottage industries of cotton spinning. 
 
What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What’s most surprising?
ANTHILL is simply an enabler to the rich talents of our Filpino artisans. I enjoy it the most when I see our partner communities realise the value of their skills and take ownership of their enterprise. The fulfillment comes when you see the transformation at the grassroots and artisans discover their potential and become empowered. The little milestones like knowing the difference between maroon and red, being able to design on their own, being able to do a product inventory list or do proper costing is so inspring. It is a joy when we are able to use the weaves in wearable designs and transform them into beautiful apparel. When younger generation of weavers are able to see younger generation of weave wearers wear their weave with pride, their skill becomes relevant to them. They are now able to see the bigger picture, the potential of their business. It's witnessing that AHA! moment that's priceless. 
 
I am most surprised how engaged and involved our clients can get when it comes to giving suggestions in product development. Most often than not, their suggestions or custom orders are what becomes best sellers. It's heart warming to know we are gaining a community of weave wearers who are genuine advocates. 
 
What are you most passionate about achieving in your career?
I want to be able to see an established ecosystem from designers to weave wearers and seamstresses that wiill support our weavers. I dream of every Filipino having an ANTHILL in their closet that they can wear everyday. I want our little ANTHILL to be able to set a strong foundation in the Philippines so it can expand , grow to the rest of the world and put our local weaves on the map.
 
Do you think that the work you do now is communication for social change? Why/ why not?
Yes, it definitely is. I learned that a well grounded communication platform, communication processes and its outputs are what provides balance in social enteprises to constantly return to its social mission. CfSC is very valuable in order for social enterprises to be sustainable. 
 
There are so many aspects of CfSC that are applied to the work we do especially because we work with urban, rural and indigenous communities. We engage Participatory Development Communication and use these tools amongst our various stakeholders at the grassroots level in different cultures and contexts. Listening and dialogue is a constant practice especially because of the unique nature of partnership between the community enteprise and ANTHILL. We use CfSC principles in dialogue for capacity building, to develop leaders, socially responsible enterpreneurs and  to make our partner community artisans understand that this is their business, not ours. CSC values paves the way for both partners to be able to create a culture that is independent yet collaborative. We apply CSC tools in implementing our Community Enterprise Program to our partners as well as monitoring and evaluating our socioeconomic and cultural impact.
 
We also utilised video storytelling for our advocacy communications. The communities expressed how they felt it was a way for them to connect the story of their culture to the world. One tribal youth said, "Now the world will know we exist and we can do this (pertaining to their talents)." That made me very happy. 
 
What is the most important thing that you learnt during the Masters?
I learned that listening means not knowing yet seeking to understand. Listening is the art of silence to honour the voice. I also learned from a mentor that as CSC practioners, it is not our task to empower people. Power is innate in each one of us already. Our task is to pave way, provide enabling environments for people to discover their power, their talents and their fullest potential so they can empower themselves. 
 
How has what you’ve learnt at UQ helped you in your work?
The lessons I've learned at UQ has helped be rooted to my why. It is a constant reminder that we've established ANTHILL to communicate and effect social change and provide sustainable economic development for our partners. 
 
What would be your advice to people coming up through their Masters now?
The progam may be very niche in a way but the lessons you will learn in communications cuts across all disciplines, even in business. The program will not just have a transformative impact on your professioal growth but also in your personal development. 
 
Never underestimate the power of storytelling. Just listen and learn. 
 
What are your dreams and ambitions from here?
Australia is where I embraced being social enterpreneur. My course and internship fuelled me so much so I could be better in what I do when I came home. 
 
It will be awesome if we can expand in Australia. I feel I'll come full circle when that happens. 
  
    
ANTHILL take the textiles from local weavers and make them into contemporary designs in their gallery.
 
 
 

 

 

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