FROM THE CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD
In 2022, there were several highlights, including training held in both the office and provinces of Sierra Leone, team expansion, new collaborations, and relationship building.
The year started with three students from The Art University in Iceland (LHI) joining us from January to March. These students, participating in the Erasmus Exchange program, engaged in creative activities and conducted training for young entrepreneurs. They also facilitated a workshop on sustainable housing and architecture for the Freetown City Council and a three-week product design ideation program. We value our ongoing relationship with LHI University and the meaningful cultural exchanges and experiences it brings.
Throughout 2022, Sweet Salone increased the number of artisans we work with to 44, and we are proud to mention that out of these 44, 40% are female artisans. We take pride in the 983% growth in production compared to the previous year. Additionally, we organized pop-up markets at our office in Freetown twice (May and November) and one in Reykjavik at Mengi.
In April, Regina and Suzanne and one of the Sweet Salone designers Roshildur from Hugdetta, traveled to the Netherlands to set up a B2B sales outlet for Sweet Salone Goods at Fairplaza in Culemborg. Another container was exported in June to stock the sales outlet further. In September, Regina and Suzanne presented the Sweet Salone brand and Aurora Foundation at the ShowUP fair, a tradeshow for home and gifts in Den Bosch, the Netherlands. And in the latter half of the year, Aurora Foundation established a new branch, Stichting Aurora, in the Netherlands, with the primary purpose of being able to market our Sweet Salone goods in Europe. And just before the year´s end, Aurora hired the first employee of Stichting Aurora, which will operate from the Netherlands.
Suzanne traveled with the musicians Loverboy and Zainab from the Osusu group to Accra in April. They sought Schengen visas for the musicians to attend the Reykjavik Art Festival, scheduled for June 2022. Unfortunately, the visas were denied, and the performance will be postponed until 2024, with another attempt to obtain visas for the two Sierra Leonean musicians. Other notable events under Aurora Music in 2022 included continued collaboration with Mengi and the Kraumur Music Award Ceremony in December.
At the Lettie Stuart Pottery Center, productivity has also been increasing, new solar panels were installed, and new machinery was imported to improve the efficiency of the production process. This was made possible by financial support from the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Aurora Impact programme also continued at full speed. Cohort 4 graduated in May with a demo day and an in-house pitch, for which the founders of Aurora Foundation flew to Sierra Leone to attend. Two start-ups were awarded pre-seed funding for capital acquisition. The team expanded to 4 members, and new courses were developed. With funding from the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Bank, additional courses were organized, with a strong focus on ICT-related skills. These included web development, Canva, and beginner and intermediate ICT training. Other notable events include the support provided to the Freetown Pitch Nights and the appointment of Alfred Akibo-Betts as a new board member for the Aurora Impact Advisory Board. Throughout 2022, a total of 18 short trainings were organized and facilitated by Aurora staff, partners, or external local consultants, for over 300 students.
The cost of projects in 2022 was substantially higher than the previous year. It was mainly due to increased spending on Aurora´s two main flagship projects, Sweet Salone and Aurora Impact, which grew significantly last year. The total cost for the six different projects in 2022 was 32m ISK or around 229,000 USD, with the majority of the funding going to the projects in Sierra Leone. Aurora also received the first instalment of re-payment of the fourth loan to GGEM, the microfinance institution Aurora has supported since 2014, of 4,5m ISK or around 32,000 USD.
The most substantial spending on a project in 2022, like in the previous years, was on Aurora Impact, which cost around 19m ISK (136,000 USD), but Aurora received grants both from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland and from the World Bank under the Sierra Leone Economic Diversification Project (SLEDP) during the year in the amount of 11,4m ISK (81,400 USD) to support the program. The project grew substantially through the year, supporting more start-ups and conducting more training than ever before. The second largest spending was on the Sweet Salone project, 5.5m ISK (39,200 USD), as Aurora took the first step in introducing the Sweet Salone products in Europe outside of Iceland. Even though the aim is to have Sweet Salone financially sustainable, it will take few years of larger spending to reach that point.
The third most spending on Aurora´s project was on the Lettie Stuart Pottery, which slowly but surely is becoming more operationally sustainable, with Aurora´s contribution to the development of the center in the amount of 3,3m ISK (23,600 USD) in 2022. Aurora spent 2,2m ISK (15,700 USD) on Aurora Music, mainly as a support to MENGI in Iceland, a multi-purpose event space managed by artists in Reykjavik, where Aurora gives Mengi some financial support, and in return, Mengi hosts some events for Aurora. But part of the cost of Aurora Music in 2022 was related to trying to get Schengen VISA for two Sierra Leonean musicians who had been invited to perform at the Reykjavik Art Festival. The smallest of the Aurora´s own projects is also Aurora´s longest-lasting project, the Kraumur Music Awards in Iceland, which cost close to 1.8m (12,900 USD).
Two smaller projects were sponsored but not executed by Aurora Foundation in 2022. Fashion Industry Insiders organized a fashion show at the Country Lodge Hotel, in May. The event brought together creatives from various fields who participated in training and educational seminars and created collections showcased during the fashion show. The second supported project was established by Fatima Sesay, an entrepreneur from Aurora Impact’s Cohort 1. Her fashion label, Sew Lovely, was officially launched in late 2022. The launch featured three collections showcased through a fashion show at Hotel Cabenda. The Aurora Foundation supported these two events with a total contribution of 0,3m ISK (2,200 USD).
The loan agreement project with GGEM Microfinance Services began in 2019 and is still ongoing. We provided support to their clients at the beginning of the pandemic, and this year, in addition to quarterly meetings, we spoke to several clients from GGEM who shared their stories and the impact GGEM has had on their lives and businesses. The protests in August posed the biggest challenge for GGEM in 2022, as many of their clients’ shops were demolished. Additionally, currency denomination made it difficult for GGEM’s branches to disburse cash to their clients. GGEM paid back the first tranche of re-payment during the year in the amount of 4,5m ISK (32,000 USD), with the current contract ending in 2023 and the second and final payment due in February 2023.
Aurora also supported two other projects during the year, although not with direct funding. Aurora donated seven desktop computers set to Junior Secondary School in Lunsar to support the school´s ICT program and an MOU was signed with Innovation SL to collaborate on the Freetown Pitch Nights held monthly in Freetown. In total, Aurora collaborated on 4 Pitch nights throughout the year.
The board of Aurora remained unchanged, and they held their annual board meeting in person in France in August. Both founders visited Sierra Leone in April to attend the graduation and pitches for Cohort 5. Olafur made another visit in July, accompanied by Ragnar Axelsson (RAX), a photographer from Iceland.
Throughout the year there were quite some staff changes at the office. At the beginning of the year, Isata Kargbo joined us as Project Coordinator for the Sweet Salone project, and Inkia Wagay joined as part of the Aurora Impact team. They both left during the year. In June, we welcomed Hasatu Bah as part of the Aurora Impact team, and in September, Claire Kpaka joined as Country Project Manager for the Sweet Salone project. After 3,5 years, Suzanne Regterschot handed over the role of Programme Manager for Aurora Impact to Mavis Madaure, who joined us from Zimbabwe in November. Suzanne took on the Deputy Country Manager role in April and wore two hats until Mavis joined the team. At the end of the year, we said goodbye to Foday Balama, our finance and logistic officer, and Veronica Ogunade, who worked as part of the Sweet Salone team, and earlier in the year, we had said goodbye to Samuel Mansaray, who was part of the Aurora Impact team.
Our intern from Iceland, Urður Ásta Eiríksdóttir, bid farewell in June. In October, we welcomed Gudbjorg Lara Masdottir, who assumed the role of the international intern. Alongside the international internship position, we were also joined by a local intern, Daniela Sesay, who interned with us in Sierra Leone for four months.
I want to thank everyone that has made 2022 a very successful year – all board members, staff of Aurora Foundation, and other partners that have contributed to making this year a successful one.
Activities during the year 2022
The Board of Aurora Foundation held eight board meetings during the year, from which 7 board meetings were organized online. The Annual Board meeting was held in August and all board members met in-person for the first time since the last in-person board meeting in 2021.
There were no changes in the board in 2022. The board is composed of the following members:
- Ólafur Ólafsson
- Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir
- Ólafur Orri Ólafsson
- Stefán Ingi Stefánsson
- Ómar Berg Torfason
President of the board is Ólafur Ólafsson
The Foundation has its permanent residency at 7-15 Kjalarvogur, 104 Reykjavik, and the Sierra Leone office is located at 186 Wilkinson Road, Freetown.
The Fund Finances
The financial markets in 2022 took a real dip, amidst the highest inflation for years, after a good performance the year before, with all of Aurora’s main markets suffering during the year. However, the ISK weakened again against most currencies during the year, especially the USD, which somewhat offset the capital loss measured in ISK. Nevertheless, the capital loss of Aurora Foundation was just under 3% during the year, measured in ISK. Therefore, with more significant spending on projects and higher running cost, we severely drew down the assets of Aurora in 2022.
Assets at the end of the year 2022 were 851.459.614 ISK, a decrease of 94,5m ISK. Spending on projects during the year amounted to 31.898.980 ISK, while we received 11.428.915 ISK in project funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland and the World Bank. The operational cost of the fund was 53.734.759 ISK.
Website and Social Media
Aurora has its web page, www.aurorafoundation.is, where the Charter of the Foundation is published along with other information on Aurora Foundation and all the projects it has supported and implemented through the years. Information regarding the board members may also be found on the web page.
Aurora Foundation manages Facebook and Instagram account for Aurora Foundation, Aurora Impact and the Lettie Stuart Pottery Center, where all activities and highlights are published. Aurora is also on LinkedIn where we occasionally post various news, and we have successfully started using the recruitment option there.
Since 2020 Aurora Foundation has launched the web shop www.aurorawebshop.com to offer e-commerce options to customers to purchase Sweet Salone products.
Contribution to projects in 2022
Aurora contributed around 31,9m ISK (229,800 USD) to 6 different projects in fields such as arts and crafts, education, economic activity, entrepreneurialism, and music, both in Iceland and Sierra Leone. Out of the six projects, five are Aurora’s own executed projects.
1. Sweet Salone: Design, arts and crafts ………………………………USD 39,200
2. Aurora Music ……………….………………………………………………… USD 15,700
3. Kraumur, Music Award …..……………………………………………… USD 12,900
4. Aurora Impact ………………….……………………………..……………. USD 136,000
5. Lettie Stuart Pottery Center and School …………………………. USD 23,600
6. Other smaller donations ……………………………………………………USD 2,200
- Projects executed by Aurora Foundation
1.1 Icelandic projects
Kraumur Music Awards
The Kraumur Music Awards is an annual music prize awarded for the best albums released by Icelandic artists during the year. In 2022 the 15th Kraumur Music Awards were awarded in December. The award ceremony returned to its traditional form after a different ceremony last year due to the pandemic’s restrictions.
The jury panel in 2022 was made up of Árni Matthíasson (chairman), Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen, Helga Þórey Jónsdóttir, María Lilja Þrastardóttir, Óli Dóri, Rósa Birgitta Ísfeld, Trausti Júlíusson, and Þorbjörg Roach Gunnarsdóttir.
Please visit the website www.kraumur.is for further information on Kraumur and the work that Kraumur Music Fund has supported. The project will continue in 2023.
After signing a two-year contract with Mengi in 2020 to support the running cost of Mengi, Aurora extended the collaboration by another year. In return, Aurora is allowed to host some of its events there and used the space twice during December 2022, both for the Sweet Salone pop-up market and when the Kraumur Music Award ceremony was held. In addition, Mengi hosted a music series called the Kraumur Music series, which featured two musicians each night that had been nominated for the Kraumur Music awards in the year before. The series where a great success. Mengi is a multi-purpose artistic space managed by artists in downtown Reykjavik.
In April, Suzanne Regterschot travelled with two musicians from Sierra Leone to Ghana to apply for Schengen visa. Both musicians, Zainab and Loverboy, were invited in 2020 to play at the Reykjavik Art Festival, which was postponed due to COVID-19. The invitation was extended for the Reykjavik Art Festival held in June 2022, but unfortunately, the visas were denied, and the musicians, therefore, could not perform at the festival. However, the Reykjavik Art Festival has decided to re-invite them for the next Art Festival in 2024, when another attempt to obtain visas will be made. The invitation to the festival is done in collaboration with Aurora, which will organize and finance the VISA application process and the transportation to and from Iceland.
1.2 Sierra Leone projects
Sweet Salone Design Project, Sierra Leone
The Sweet Salone project continued with great momentum. The sale of Sweet Salone products increased significantly during the year, resulting in substantial orders to the artisans. The Lettie Stuart Pottery is struggling to keep up with demand, but Brama town weavers, Lumley Beach market artisans, and others are easily growing their production substantially. In the latter half of the year, the sales in the shop in Freetown really started to take off, and it is interesting to see our clientele broaden as local customers have started to value made in Sierra Leone products. One container was shipped from Freetown this year in July with Sweet Salone goods that will be sold in Europe and Iceland.
In April, Sweet Salone expanded to The Netherlands by creating B2B salespoint at Fairplaza in Culemburg, a home and living goods wholesaler focused on fairtrade production. The space was designed by Rosa from Hugdetta and is fully equipped with Sweet Salone items. In addition to establishing the salespoint in The Netherlands, Aurora Foundation was also registered in The Netherlands as Stichting Aurora, with the main purpose of facilitating sales and marketing in Europe. In September, Aurora participated for the first time in a Trade Fair SHOW UP to showcase the Sweet Salone products and officially started marketing in Europe.
Another collaboration agreement was signed with Barnaheill – Save the Children in Iceland on making both hand-crafted bracelets and keyrings for fundraising purposes in Iceland for projects that Save the Children in Iceland implements in Sierra Leone. We added two more artisans to the group, so twelve artisans (of which eight are women) from Lumley Beach Market were contracted for both products, and the production of 12,000 bracelets and 10,000 keychains for Save the Children was started in the autumn. This collaboration has already had a substantial impact on the lives of the artisans involved as they receive large amounts in a relatively short period, which has helped them in various ways, such as paying University School fees, buying plots of land, and building their own accommodation.
Some attempts were made to increase the variety of handcraft during the year, such as raffia weaving and wood carving. However, no reliable raffia weaving artisans were identified, and due to the lack of knowledge of sustainability in using different kinds of woods, no further development was done with wood despite identifying excellent wood artisans.
In May, a pop-up market was held with the Sweet Salone products in Freetown, and in November and December, two were held, the former in Freetown and the second in Reykjavik. Both were great success.
With increased export on the horizon, Aurora started renting a warehouse to store and pack Sweet Salone products before shipping them to Europe.
Aurora continued carrying out Impact Assessments to measure the impact of this project on our partners. A Sweet Salone Impact Assessment for 2021 was published in April, showcasing the economic effect on collaborators and the rise in production.
The project will continue in 2023.
Lettie Stuart Pottery Center and School
The Lettie Stuart Pottery Center continued to grow its operations in 2022. To facilitate increase in production, five of the previous apprentices were taken on as full-time employees during the year, the solar system was expanded, new machinery was bought, and a new Machine Room was added to the structure in Campbell town. This was made possible with funding received in 2021 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland.
The Center thus grew to nine full-time employees. However, towards the end of the year, a goodbye was said to Brima Koroma, one of the lead Potter at the Center from the start, as his health deteriorated rapidly throughout the year, and he moved to retirement. Unfortunately, his health worsened, and he passed away at the beginning of 2023.
During the year, the Centre participated in two pop-up markets at the Aurora office in May and November, and numerous workshops were held during the year, which have become an important part of the running of the Center. Sales of the pottery products are very good, and the demand is there, but the production is still not as high as expected, and the Center staff will continue to work on improving that. Hopefully, with the new machinery, we will see a substantial increase in 2023.
Clay research and testing continued throughout the year as the potters still face inconsistency with the clay, and leakage and cracking is still happening, but some progress is happening.
The Center welcomed Gudbjorg Karadottir at the beginning of the year, as she supported improving the production process, and students from the University of Arts in Iceland also visited the Center and conducted workshops with the potters.
The project continues in 2023.
The Aurora Impact program, created in 2019, grew significantly in 2022. The program, whose main focus is job creation through (digital) skills training and entrepreneurship support programs, expanded its team and obtained funding to expand the number of training organised, reaching more young people across Sierra Leone.
In total, 18 training were organized, providing training to over 300 students this year. This accomplishment was made possible in part by the funding granted by the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the World Bank as part of the Sierra Leone Economic Diversification Project (SLEDP). Both funds were allocated for short training aimed at enhancing students’ employability and promoting job creation through entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs funding also enabled two local women to participate in a four-month internship program at the Aurora Foundation. The first intern joined the team in November.
With the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland, various ICT-related training were conducted, including beginner, intermediate, Canva, and web development training. Additionally, a new training program was designed to reach youth outside of Freetown, which took place at the Ernest Bai Koroma University in Makeni.
A new event organized by Aurora Impact was the Inspirational Tok (‘tok’ is Krio for ‘talk’). The event aimed to motivate and inspire Sierra Leonean youth to dream big and carve their own paths. Two inspirational speakers shared their unique stories, and the event garnered enthusiastic participation from over 40 young attendees
Graduation ceremonies were held for entrepreneurs from Cohort 4 by means of a demo day, and two of them secured pre-seed funding after presenting their businesses at an in-house pitch competition. In the latter part of the year, Cohort 5 commenced, consisting of the largest group of start-ups thus far, with a total of 19 ventures.
The advisory board continued to meet in 2022. We express our thanks to Hamid Gbawuru Marah, who was replaced by Alfred Akibo-Betts as advisory board member.
The Aurora Impact program continues in 2023.
- Projects not executed by Aurora, only supported by funding or other means
2.1 Icelandic projects
No projects in 2022.
2.2 Sierra Leonean projects
Fashion Industry Insiders
Aurora supported a fashion show organised by Fashion Industry Insiders, an event that aims to bring together people working in the creative industry, mainly in the fashion industry. Part of the preparation included training, for example in tie-dye, education seminars, and model scouting and training. Everything came together in a fashion show at Country Lodge Hotel, where different local designers showed their collections. The support provided by Aurora Foundation consisted of a financial contribution, staff support during the event’s preparation and execution and lending of Aurora´s facilities for some training.
The second supported project was initiated by Fatima Sesay, an entrepreneur from Aurora Impact’s Cohort 1. Her fashion label, Sew Lovely, was officially launched in the latter part of 2022. The launch featured three collections showcased through a fashion show at Hotel Cabenda. The Aurora Foundation provided funding for the launch.
Computer donation to Junior Secondary School Lunsar
In early 2022, the Aurora Foundation received a request from God’s Will Academy Junior Secondary School in Lunsar to donate computers to their ICT lab. The team visited the school in Lunsar and generously donated seven desktop computer sets to support the school’s ICT program. The school currently has three classes and ten teachers benefitting from this initiative.
Freetown Pitch Night MOU
An MOU was signed with Innovation SL, organiser of the Freetown Pitch Night, to collaborate on the monthly event, held at Limkokwing University. In total, Aurora collaborated on 4 Pitch nights throughout the year.