Spotlight On: Monkeybiz

Craftswoman holding a handmade Monkeybiz beaded animal

Monkeybiz is a nonprofit income-generating bead project started in January 2000 by ceramic artists Barbara Jackson and Mathapelo Ngaka. Through creating sustainable employment, Monkeybiz focuses on black women’s economic empowerment in the most economically under-resourced areas of South Africa.

Two smiling women beading together

Monkeybiz is dedicated to reviving the tradition of African Beadwork by creating sustainable employment for a vibrant community of over 300 bead artists in South Africa. Each Monkeybiz artwork is unique and created by hand using traditional methods of beading with needle and thread.

Plate with multicolored beads and needle for creating beaded animals

Every colorful and creative beaded artwork is signed by the artist to ensure individual artists receive recognition for their work while encouraging buyers to collect certain artists' work. All of the profits from Monkeybiz beadwork is reinvested back into the community.

Woman standing with city below

Monkeybiz states that it is critical to spread a positive message in this time of increasing global disparity in wealth, health, and ongoing women’s struggles in the world. This unique and progressive project, modeled on the African notion of “Ubuntu” or compassion and humanity, adopts alternative economic empowerment, progressive business philosophies, and inclusive ways of working in communities.

Monkeybiz Goals

Woman beading in her home

To empower women to become financially independent for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Monkeybiz aims to empower these artists and build their self-esteem through skills training including nutrition, banking, and financial planning - ensuring that the venerable art of beadwork does not die in South Africa.

The artists work from home, enabling them to be homemakers as well as to earn their own money every day. The bead artists are paid for their work immediately directly into bank accounts. Monkeybiz also provides every artist with food vouchers and a funeral policy for themselves and their extended families. Traditionally, funerals and the travel back home to their villages can be very expensive.

Two hands molding the beads on a Monkeybiz beaded animal

To revive the art of beadwork, which has been lost due to the modernization of the art world and lack of interest among young artists.

Originally, traditional beading was done to communicate a message through colors. It was also primarily flat, mainly done to adorn clothing and jewelry. Monkeybiz artists use traditional methods of beading, with a modern twist of vibrant, funky colors and patterns. They bead onto 3D shapes and some very irregular surfaces, which is what makes the designs so unique. Additionally, the elders in the communities teach their young people how to bead, thereby passing traditions, skills, and ancient crafts along to the younger generations.

Woman beading with plate of beads in front of her and needle in her hand

To create a platform for the crafters to become artists in their own right.

Monkeybiz aims to maintain the authenticity of craft while marketing highly collectible artwork worldwide. The Monkeybiz team is continuously guiding the bead artists to develop their skills, techniques, and color palettes – keeping the pieces fresh and incorporating the current trends of décor and design.

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, Monkeybiz believes its story is more relevant today than ever.


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