Looking back on 2020, we can say the year has not been boring! Even though the year did not develop as we all planned, we can definitely look back on an interesting year with many achievements:
Starting the year with a bang, we welcomed both Eva María Árnadóttir and Tinna Gunnarsdóttir from the University of Arts in Reykjavik to Sierra Leone. While Tinna was teaching a course for the pottery students at the Lettie Stuart Pottery center in Waterloo, Eva taught a fashion course in sustainability and creativity at our office in Freetown.
And then they were six! Another employee Makalay Suma joined the Aurora team in Freetown as the Project Coordinator for our Sweet Salone project.
Then, on the 23rd of January, we celebrated Aurora’s birthday with a very exciting event – our office’s official opening in Freetown! Even though we have been operating in this office for a while, we finally got the chance to formally celebrate, especially as one of Aurora´s founders and one of the two designers of our beautiful office Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir, was in town!
Finally, after a lot of preparations and interviews, the pre-accelerator programme commenced! Seven start-ups joined us at the office in Freetown, where they engaged in interactive sessions and worked together to develop their business ideas.
While the pre-accelerator programme continued, we invited guest speakers that shared their stories about doing business in Sierra Leone. We are very grateful for Alexandre Tourre, Henry Henrysson and Ajara Bomah, who donated their time and efforts to inspire the start-ups on different levels.
March was also a month of big shifts – as COVID-19 developed worldwide, the decision was made to close the office in Freetown and ensure the safety and health of our colleagues. This also meant that we moved our weekly team meetings to a digital space.
While working remotely, we acknowledged the (increasing) need to shop online. From there, www.aurorawebshop.com was born! While we have already been selling our goods from our Sweet Salone project in Sierra Leone and Iceland, we can now ship worldwide!
To support various initiatives to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone, Aurora donated 2500 face masks, 100 bottles of sanitiser and 100 bottles of hand soap to Grassroot Gender Empowerment Movement (GGEM), the microcredit institution that we have been supporting for over 6 years now. The masks were produced by Martha [link], and Aurora´s team in Sierra Leone handed over the donation to GGEM.
In line with our projects in the creative sector, Aurora Foundation signed an agreement with Mengi to cooperate over the upcoming years. Mengi is a multi-purpose space in Reykjavik whose purpose is to foster innovation, support grassroots initiatives, and nurture the heritage of creative art.
Aurora Foundation signed a contract with the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will co-finance further support to the Lettie Stuart Pottery Centre. With the support, Aurora can have two international potters joining the center for several months in 2021 to provide vital assistance in making the center operate sustainably.
Finally, the team was back together! All necessary COVID tests were done and came back negative, which meant we could resume our work in person. We also picked up the pre-accelerator programme after a couple of months of digital updates.
A documentary that Aurora supported the making of The Hero´s Journey to the Third Pole, was finally premiered after several delays due to COVID. The film was the opening film of the Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF). The film is about living with bipolar disorder and is an exceptionally sensitive and beautiful story. It is a travel story about an unexpected friendship, which opens a discussion of what it means to live with a mental illness.
We at Aurora are incredibly proud to have been able to support the film’s making and thereby raise awareness of mental illnesses.
We had a very proud moment in October as Cohort 1 of the pre-accelerator programme graduated! We amended their graduation to ensure COVID measures could be adhered to, but the start-ups were still able to pitch their businesses to an audience that existed of the previous guest speakers.
Furthermore, Aurora organised its first ICT course since March 2020. With a smaller number of students, we were able to organise a Beginner ICT training with our partner Byte Limited while business was picking up again.
While the first cohort graduated, so started a new one! This time, eight start-ups have joined us at the office, where they will be working for the upcoming four months. Interested in the different start-ups? Read more here!
Meanwhile, Aurora and the Sierra Leone Adult Education Association (SLADEA) signed a new agreement regarding operations at the Lettie Stuart Pottery Centre. This agreement, which will terminate at the end of April 2021, includes, amongst other things, the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iceland.
Last but not least, Aurora organised their first ‘get ready for Christmas market’ in Freetown! Together with the Lettie Stuart Pottery staff, we sold many items that were created by the artisans we work with in our Sweet Salone project. In light of the holidays, we donated 10% of all sales to the charity Uman Tok.
As for the part thirteen years, Aurora presented the Kraumur Music Awards in December, an award given to Icelandic albums that have excelled during the year in terms of quality, ambitions and originality. As the award ceremony could not take place in traditional matters due to COVID measures, it was decided to organise the awards outside in Reykjavik´s main shopping street with one of the artists giving a performance inside a shopping window at the end of the ceremony.
And for 2021? We are very excited to launch a new Ideation program, have new start-ups join us for our third pre-accelerator programme, welcome both Peter and Gudbjorg back in Sierra Leone to work at the Lettie Stuart Pottery, ship the first whole container of Sweet Salone products out of Sierra Leone and and so many more things coming up – it will be a year full of adventure and exciting things! Stay tuned!