Dr. Kirsty Sword Gusmao, Founder of Alola Foundation

Dear Friends and Supporters of Fundasaun Alola,

Political and economic uncertainty throughout the course of the past year has caused the national economy to contract, with resulting pressures on the livelihoods of women, particularly those in rural areas. This has made Alola’s work in empowering women to manage their household budgets and to access seed funding and markets all the more vital.

I continue to be tremendously proud of the work that the Economic Empowerment team does to support rural women, including weavers of traditional cloth and producers of handicrafts. Not only is this work significant from a livelihoods point of view, but it also serves to promote and protect Timor-Leste’s unique intangible cultural heritage. The 2015 Census showed that only 10% of households own a loom, a fact which highlights  the importance of Alola’s work to promote weaving as a viable source of household income as well as a centuries-old cultural practice. I commend the team’s efforts to document and encourage the use of natural plant-based dyes.

In spite of being an important pillar of Alola’s work and one of the first of the organisation’s programs, the Economic Empowerment program has been the most challenging to secure long-term funding for. So, it was with great pleasure that the 2019 Study Tour I lead annually was able to contribute its proceeds in the order of $AUD 40,000 to the work of the Economic Empowerment team. Study Tour participants loved having the opportunity to witness tais production at the Alola Esperansa Production Centre and snapped up a few beautiful hand-crafted gifts at the Alola shop.

At the end of July 2019, we said farewell to our dear sister and leader, Alzira (Azzi) Reis. After 6 years at the helm of Alola, Alzira leaves a legacy of strong management and of women’s leadership which extends far beyond Alola itself. On behalf of the board, I would like to extend the biggest embrace of gratitude and admiration to Alzira for her intelligence, grace and myriad contributions to Alola’s vision and mission. We have welcomed Maria Imaculada (Macu) Guterres back into the role of Acting CEO through to the conclusion of 2019.

One of Macu’s first jobs in her new role was to convene and oversee a Strategic Evaluation and Planning session in December 2019, involving all staff, members of the board and partner organisations. The process highlighted Alola’s strengths across all of its program areas, in particular the unity of purpose and openness to learning and improvement of all staff, and gave staff and partners an opportunity to reflect on the organisation’s strategic directions over the 2020-2024 period. The process affirmed Alola’s commitment to the four pillars of Education, Advocacy, Economic Empowerment and Maternal and Child Health, however also referenced the importance of making maximal use of digital technology. It also gave rise to some helpful proposals that Alola’s program teams document their 20 year history of working with communities as a means of preserving institutional knowledge.

I know that, like me, you will be moved and inspired by the ongoing achievements of Alola, details of which you will find in the following pages. I extend my sincere thanks, as always, to our many international and local partners, the committed members of the Alola board and especially to the strong women and men who are Alola’s Managers and staff – you are the brains, heart and muscle of Alola.

In friendship and gratitude,

Kirsty Sword Gusmão