The advent of new technologies and ease in communication has opened up new vistas for women in e-commerce market, especially in the rural areas. You! takes a look...
There was a time when it seemed near to impossible for women in suburban areas to run and manage a business of their own. A woman artisan would need a mediator to help her product reach the market, which she would spend hours crafting meticulously. However, these artisans would often be ripped off by the middleman and not get a wager worth their craft.
Ameeran Bibi is a middle-aged artisan from a village in Rohri district, Sindh, and has extraordinary skills in making traditional ralli. Making a ralli is not an easy task and she has to put in long hours for days to make this hand-made product. She works with full dedication to supplement her family income but till late she had no idea of where these products were sold and who were the customers.
Ameeran knew a middleman who would come to her and place orders and after some time return to collect the finished products. He would pay her on average between Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,600 for a ralli and often try to find faults in the products just to bring down the prices he had to offer. Ameeran had no option but to accept whatever she was paid because her mobility was restricted to her village. She had to look after her family and travelling frequently to large urban centres to find market and customers for her products was not possible for her. The socio-cultural inhibitions also bar her from moving around freely.
But today, things are very different for her. She has an online presence which she could never have thought about. There is a virtual shop where she can display pictures and prices of her products along with their specifications and details of time required to deliver them. Having access only to a middleman some time ago, the whole world is within her reach and anybody from anywhere, within Pakistan or abroad, can order and receive these rallis.
The advent of new technologies and ease in communication has opened up new vistas for women in e-commerce market, especially in the rural areas. However, one wonders how women with little or no education would be able to use these modern e-commerce tools. Vceela is a social enterprise which hunts down and strives to empower artists and artisans spread across the country, and trained for this transition. Akeel Khalid, founder of Vceela.com talks to the scribe about how they operate, “We aim to connect the unconnected artisans to the local and international markets by not only providing them with a market place but also marketing them in an effective way.”
“Our organisation works for the revival of the dying crafts by fusing them with modern and marketable designs and by giving design consultation to the artisans. Under an arrangement, online marketplace is provided to both men and women associated with arts and crafts, working from home or otherwise, individually or in organised groups. The aim here is to connect the artisans directly with the market, cut out the middlemen and help them extract the actual profits out of their products which they truly deserve. This scheme benefits the buyer also because the undue profits retained by the middleman are also eliminated and the price becomes reasonable,” explains Akeel.
Vceela.com provides IT-based trainings to artisans, helps them set up online shops, trains them on how to download and benefit from the application developed by Vceela, guides them on drafting online shop polices, explains marketing strategies, and aggressively markets the products on behalf of artisans through diverse social media and digital tools. The crafts available on e-shops include basketry, blue pottery, paper craft, camel skin products, bone carving, wood craft, metal craft, laquer art, ceramics and pottery, ajrak, khussa, paper mache and truck art. They also do free and effective marketing, and do not charge artisans for listing their products on their website, provide free design consultation, do not charge commission on sales, help artisans contact their customers directly and also strive to secure microfinance and soft loans for them. Loans are extremely helpful for the cash-strapped artisans who need to buy raw material for their products. Payment modes are different including credit card, online transfer and cash on delivery.
For Ameeran, the big news is that recently she received an order from Canada and sent two rallis to the customer. The price she received was Rs 4,500 per ralli and there was no middleman involved and no exploitation at all. The cost of shipping and handling has to be borne by the customer. This means she was able to multiply her profit and the key to this breakthrough was that she was in direct contact with her customer, courtesy the technological advancement and an enabling environment. She stands motivated and has vowed to work even harder and transform the lives of her family members.
Abida Bibi is another example of how a simple artisan turned into an entrepreneur just by using the right tools. She used to stitch soccer balls and sell these on a footpath in Islamabad to earn livelihood for her family. Her earning was highly unpredictable and quite often there were no buyers. When there was rain or bad weather she had to leave the place and look out for shelter. But, when she created her online shop, she started selling soccer balls to customers all over the world. In just one week, she received more orders than what she was getting in two months’ time. The best thing is that she has the option of working from the comfort of her home and showcase her products to the whole world. Her potential target market is no more the handful of passersby, mostly pedestrians, who would often not even notice her sitting there and displaying her products on the footpath.
One may think the benefits of technology are for businesses and entrepreneurs only but the encouraging fact is that they can use it to earn by providing services also, that too from the comfort of their homes. An example here is that of the e-Rozgaar programme, launched by The Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) with the support of Punjab Youth Affairs, Sports, Archeology & Tourism department.
The plan was to establish e-Rozgaar centres in 36 districts of Punjab to provide IT-based training to unemployed youth and enhance their professional capabilities. One of the major objectives of this project is to provide training opportunities to youth for self-employment using internet-based freelancing.
Ahmed Islam, Programme Manager, e Rozgaar, Punjab, points out, “The programme has a special focus on women’s empowerment and a proof of this is that there are four dedicated training centres for women in addition to the all others where both the men and women are trained. Females take a lot of interest in the programme and more than 47 per cent of the trained candidates are females. The three domains out of which the candidates can select one for training are: i) Technical, ii) Content Marketing & iii) Advertising and Creative Design.”
Ume Laila Azhar, Executive Director, HomeNet (HNP) Pakistan believes e-commerce is the biggest hope of the exploited Home Based Workers (HBWs). “Under the project of economic empowerment of HBWs and excluded groups supported by the UN women, we designed and conducted series of capacity development exercises for micro-level own-account women HBWs in order to bring them into the mainstream business and give them direct access to the market. The capacity development initiatives held in Karachi and Thatta were designed to build the capacity of HBWs in Sindh and orient them on how to improve their personal hygiene, financial literacy skills and business/enterprise development. They were also encouraged to establish their own online shops.”
Ume Laila also tells the scribe that they engaged Vceela team to train the HBWs who were told how to download the application from the Play Store and register themselves. “They made their IDs and also filled the forms that they were supposed to. Following this process, the HBWs were able to open their e-shops under their own names. They also learnt how to capture pictures of their products and upload them on their e-shops.”
Ume Laila shares that a total of 226 women/girls HBWs participants got these 08 trainings in Karachi (126 participants) and Thatta (100 participants). The trainings were arranged in the vicinity of HBWs’ locations in Orangi, Baldia, Lyari, Malir, Saddar in Karachi and Gharo, Sakro and Makli in Thatta. Total 73 e-shops were registered by HBWs during this period.