Gives Global Artists a Voice


Roberto Milk,  Co-Founder and CEO of NOVICA, says the “Ah-ha” moment came while in a Portuguese class at Stanford University. The professor was explaining to the class how difficult it was for traditional Brazilian artists to make a living off their craft and Roberto says this just didn’t sound right.  He knew there had to be a way.

After graduating Roberto went on to work as an investment banker but says the idea of  giving artisans around the world a global platform stayed with him.

“I knew there was a way to empower artists in developing countries, connect them with the rest of the world and also help preserve local traditions and craftsmanship,” says Milk.

“It was the Internet that really gave life to this vision as it gave access to unique art by master artisans in remote areas around the world.”

In 1999, NOVICA was born in a Los Angeles basement ( It is an e-commerce site that allows artisans around the world to set their prices and sell their art directly to consumers.  This includes jewelry, art, ceramics, clothing and home furnishings.  NOVICA provides detailed information and bios on each artisan and cuts out the middleman to establish a direct global connection that supports entrepreneurs and small business in Peru, Brazil, Central America, Mexico, India, Thailand, Bali, and West Africa.

In the past 16 years, NOVICA has given back almost $65 million dollars to artisans worldwide and provided quality, one-of-a-kind handmade art to consumers in the US. The company also developed a Microfinance Program to supply artists with working capital to grow their businesses.

Awadu Saeed-Edited

Since co-founding the company, Roberto has received many awards and honors for NOVICA, including being chosen as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and being recognized by the Schwab Foundation as a Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

Today NOVICA stands as a model for social entrepreneurism.  It partners with National Geographic, UNICEF, Grassroots Business Fund, the online lending nonprofit KIVA, and its mission of empowering, connecting, preserving has been cemented by a new ethos:  Global Happiness.

“Who wants to make art for middlemen?” says Milk.

“They have all the control, they negotiate down prices, they want cheap materials, they water down designs, and they crush creativity.  Does that sound like fun?”

It may not be fun but it’s the dominant system for selling artisans work worldwide and one Milk decided to change.

In the NOVICA system artisans set their prices, tell their stories, and earn real-world recognition for their artwork.  This way they generate a lot more income and are also a lot happier in the process.

“We are channeling that happiness.  Spreading it through artisan communities and into collectors’ homes worldwide.  From a buyer perspective, it is a lot more interesting to know who they are buying from and feel the attachment and positive energy from the hands that created it.  This way, we’re not just selling art, we’re spreading happiness.”

Text by ELLEN georgiou
Photography courtesy of Novica