SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS PROJECT
To develop and document a model that teaches e-commerce to village women in four distinctly different cultures in Asia: Turkey, India, Cambodia and thePhilippines.
One of the sites is already underway and perhaps if I describe it, it will give you the best idea of what I hope to accomplish.
|The First Site:|
In a small village near the Goreme Valley of Cappadocia, Turkey where I live part of the year, I'm setting up a tiny weaving shop in which local craftswomen can produce and sell their products. However, the real purpose of the program is to introduce computers and the process of e- commerce to the local women.
The shape this will take is as follows: I have rented a storefront on the main street right in the middle of many other storefronts and small businesses, so as to have the most exposure to curious passersby. I want the women of the village to feel comfortable dropping in, and the men to be able to see what is going on.
In the shop I plan to have an open office with chairs and tables with computers on them, and two looms for weaving the local rugs known as kilims. In this village there are a few older women who still practice the art of weaving the old designs and they have consented to come into the project and spend part of each day weaving kilims.
All of the weavers' activities (via web-cam technology) will be viewable by anyone who logs on to the webpage. There will be two computers at first, one to teach basic skills like typing and more advanced computer skills such as web-site design, and the other to maintain the e-commerce website, its web-cam, e-mails and all other aspects of commerce.
On the website is a photo introduction to the village and its people. There is also an "educational" page that presents a brief, illustrated history of kilim weaving and the meaning of the symbols, including the way the woolens are dyed in the old style, and the wide differences in colors and styles between villages and nomads.
When the looms and the web-cam are fully operative, buyers and prospective buyers will be able to watch the kilims grow hour by hour. There will be a separate page for each kilim under production, with the craftswoman's words beside her photo, explaining the symbols as well as telling a introducing herself and talking about her life, perhaps showing photos of her children, so viewers can get a sense of a real flesh-and-blood person behind each kilim.
Custom-woven kilims (I already have 2 orders from women in Silicon Valley --which I find fitting) will be called by the purchaser's names and given a separate page of their own: "Janet J's kilim" will be the name of one page, for instance, and via the web-cam, the purchaser (and hopefully, her friendswho could become purchasers as well) can watch the rug being woven.
The kilim school may also draw paying students from other countries who wish to learn this ancient craft (I've had some interest from Japan). Art teachers in the U.S.tell me they're eager to have access to a webpage where the symbols and techniques of ancient crafts are explained.
What will happen on an average day:
Inside the storefront, the older women will weave for half the day. Some younger girls will come in to help and earn money to allow them to go to better schools. The manager, an educated woman from the village, will be on the computer sending information and filling orders. The villagers will walk by and peer in (they are shy but very curious) and be welcomed to enter where they'll see the screens of the computers displaying pictures of their friends and neighbors as well as the kilims themselves. They will also see two or three local women and girls sitting at the keyboards of the computers, running various programs.
TO BENEFIT THE WOMEN IN THESE VILLAGES IN 3 WAYS:
The second site: India
I'm presently in touch with the Indian Consulate and have been invited to meet the IT minister when he visits in the spring. I've been put in touch with a chief minister of state of who is a great internet enthusiast, and am assured that he'll be very interested in my project.
My interest in India began when I was invited by a group of women to Bangalore to run one of my entrepreneur workshops. It's their goal to gather a group of women psychologists together and bring in customers for them to give services too. Investigation of local economics suggests that this may not be a practical goal since the local economy can't support the services of many psychologists. Instead, I'm hoping to persuade and assist them to set up an e-commerce/computer center for women. Shortly thereafter, I'll go to go to a village in another state in India to develop another craftswomen's e-commerce site like the first, but adapted to the local situation.
The third site: Cambodia
An informal feasability study has been undertaken by volunteers to see if a version of this model can be taken to the women of a Cambodian village. I've chosen Cambodia because it is desperately poor, because the people have a strong work ethic and finally because I want to develop a model for any country without a developed communications infrastructure.
I believe that starting with village women will not only do an enormous amount of good, but also has enormous publicity potential that could help put e-commerce development high on the Cambodian government or United Nations list..
The fourth site: The Phillipines
Because the need is so great and I have Tagalog-speaking volunteers who have a special interest there, I'm investigating the possibility of including the Phillipines in this project.
|Publicity and marketing|
My profession is writing, career coaching and public speaking. I have been a presenter to women's professional organizations and Fortune 100 companies all over the U.S. for many years and am a member of Women in Communication. Eventually, I hope to present women's business groups, craft associations and other organizations with an opportunity to "adopt a village." That is, to raise funds and find volunteers to go to villages in Asia to set up an e-commerce site for local women.
|The Economics of the Project in Turkey|
In the past the weavers have been vastly underpaid for their carpets by big-city merchants who resold the carpets at high prices. It's my goal to sell the carpets online, keep a small percentage of the profit to run the program, and give the rest of the money to the weavers.
The average monthly income for a small family is about $100 - $200 a month.The smaller kilims sell for $250 - $350 each, so a little money goes a long way, and I believe that a few sales will result in great local interest in learning e-commerce as well as helping these women and their families in day-to-day living.
At present, I don't have a credit-card setup on the site and given the state of credit card-security, I have decided to let buyers fax their credit cards to my New York home office where they'll be processed and then wired into the account of the site in Turkey.
|What the first site already has:|
|What's needed (email us if you can help):|
I think with a modest amount of money used in the a way that is sensitive to the culture, it's possible to make an enormous difference in the life of village women. I'm also hoping that with enough publicity it might be possible to start a groundswell of interest in micro e-commerce in Asia.
If these pilot programs create a successful working model, I plan to publish the documentation of every step (with photos), and make it available to foundations and/or other micro-independent "philanthropists" like myself.
For over 15 years, author, speaker and career coach Barbara Sher has been teaching Entrepreneur Workshops for Absolute Beginner's pro bono in Bulgaria, Jerusalem and the U.S., as well as sending her technology to the Women's Entrepreneur Associations of Nepal and Siberia. A more complete bio with her best-selling books, lists of corporate clients, testimonials and other information can be seen on her webpage: www.barbarasher.com
Sher is especially interested in grass-roots projects which teach the skills of micro-business to women. "My favorite is a one and a half person business. That means a single parent and a child who's old enough to lick stamps." She should know. She raised her two small sons alone without support in New York city, even spending a stint in welfare hotels until she could get a child daycare center and take a job. "It's become a passion with me to put survival tools into the hands of women. Now the Internet has given me a first-rate way to do it."
To those whose only goal is an IPO and/or a million-dollar stock option she says, "A business that pays for a decent life, lets you send your kids to school, hire a local person to assist and bring cash into your community is a magnificent business. But it's so far below the radar of the typical entrepreneur-success dreams that it's overlooked. There's a superb movement in operation to give micro-loans to women in third-world countries and it's doing an enormous amount of good. But so far I've found no one who wants to use e-commerce to bring village women into the twentieth century while helping them perserve their treasured way of life.
Nobody seems to have claimed this space, so I'm just going to go ahead and do it."
In April, 2000, Ms Sher opened a weaving and e-commerce shop in a small village in central Turkey where she has a home.