Pictures of me
Empowering African Women
8th September 2006
The tyranny of distance, didn't stop the
So why should it stop me? Living on the sea.
Split Enz - Six months on a leaky
I was talking to this African lady.
She described her situation as hopeless and she felt powerless. It
just broke my heart.
Finding a way to empower some African is a fine
goal. My way of achieving it goes as follows.
them an online presence to sell their crafts
In a previous life I used to build web sites. Rather complex
web sites. They used to do all sorts of whiz-bang
stuff. One of them even won a Technological Innovation of the Year
award. *cough* Showoff *cough* The curious among you
can check out the case study for the project here.
So, I've had plenty of experience at building
My Big Idea to help the women of Africa is to
build them an online presence (the Internet) from where the can sell
their goods. This will help them to reach markets that have been
traditionally well out of their reach. It will remove, as Split
Enz said, the tyranny of distance.
Sachs, in his book The End of Poverty, identifies geography
as one of the prime reasons that Africa is so poor. Africa lacks navigable
rivers with access to oceans for easy trade - a situation which is intensified
for a land locked country like Uganda. Africans have tended to
live in highland areas where the rainfall is more favorable, but this
has made trade even more difficult. Driving goods up and down a
mountain is just expensive. 1
It is my hope that this website will help to
remove the tyranny of distance - and geography - for a small number of
Many a website has been beautifully designed and written, but
have failed dismally. They built it, but no one came. In my
opinion, many of them failed because of poor marketing.
The Invisible Children
campaign is a great example of a good message - young children being kidnapped
and being forced to fight in the armies in Northern Uganda - coupled
with great marketing.
One of their fundraisers is the selling of
bracelets made by the women of Northern Ugandan. Each bracelet
comes in a dinky little box and is accompanied by a DVD that features
one child's story. I bought one such bracelet for the princely sum
of $NZ 25 when I went on a Global
Night Commute. Did I get ripped off? Or was I swayed by
Here are my marketing ideas.
One women, one product
I'm sure everybody seen those World Vision advertisements.
They strongly push the angle that you can't save the world, but you
can save one child.
I'm going for a similar angle. You won't be buying a bracelet,
you will be buying Margaret's Bracelet. The money you will be
laying down won't be for every woman in Africa, it will be for
Margaret (or whoever).
Margaret herself will model the bracelet. You won't see the
bracelet without seeing Margaret. Here
is an example photo.
When you click on the bracelet you will get a short biography of
Margaret's life and the struggles she faces. Photographs of
Margaret and the inevitably large number of hungry children she is
looking after will also be shown. I even plan to have a link
to a video of Margaret. The videos will open with something
Hello. My name is Margaret. I live in the village of
Kitale and I make bracelets.
The video will show Margaret's day to day life, which - lets
face it - is not easy.
Focus on Women
I don't know why, but the women and children tend to get more
sympathy from me than the men. I don't know why and I don't
care either. I'm sure other people feel the same way too.
The women tend to do the lion's share of work. They tend to
the children, work the back-breaking land and prepare all the
This is not to imply that African men are lazy.
They're not. This is just the way things have worked out over
many of years.
A friend of mine asked an African man why he wasn't helping a lady
move a large number of boxes. He said that if he did, it
would be like a Western man walking down the street in a pink
dress. Rightly or wrongly, men just don't seem to help as
Global Volunteer Network
GVN (the Global
Volunteer Network) is the organisation I volunteer
through. I think they are aiming to place 2,500 volunteers
this year, so they are a large organisation.
GVN publishes articles and sends out newsletters to a large number
of people who obviously have a passion for helping the poor.
Yours truly featured in one of their articles.
I'm sure GVN would be more than happy to run such an article about
the website. Well reasonably happy anyway. I had a bit
of a tête-à-tête
with them a while back.2
Erina - a current
volunteer - is a budding journalist. I think she'd enjoy
writing such an article.
New volunteers - all bright eyed and bushy tailed - tend to
extremely keen and want to save the world. I ain't gonna stop
'em pushing the product.
I'm sure some previous volunteers - both from Uganda and other
countries - would love to buy some crafts from ladies they might
Or ladies they don't know.
Either way is good.
I'm sure many of them will want to inflict the website onto their friends
and loved ones.
Friends and loved ones
And speaking of friends and loved ones, they too are a valuable
resource to be tapped into it.
I'm sure I could get my family
Janice, my sister, is heavily involved in her church. I could
give her marketing materials - videos of the ladies, sample crafts -
and she could take orders or point them to the website. *waves
to Janice* Send me an email
if you're interested sis.
Ditto for me Mum and the numerous groups she is involved in.
Both eBay and Trademe (the New Zealand equivalent) open up
massive markets for anybody that wants to sell anything.
I plan to sell the crafts on these sites as well. This will
Bring in more sales
Give me an idea on what the market
rates are for these products
Provide a link to the website for those
that are interested
I'm not sure how open they will be to having a commercial
website linked on their website. Hopefully I can twist
some arms and find someway around it.
Maybe not a link to the website, but to www.crazymalc.co.nz,
where their stories could also be found.
I don't really care how they are sold, as long as they are
www.crazymalc.co.nz gets about one hundred unique visitors a day.
Many of these are regular readers who are too shy to say
"hi!". I know you're out there! Drop me a line
The website will be heavily pushed on www.crazymalc.co.nz
The Feel-Good Factor
Repeat business is the best business. They are the cheapest
people to market to.
A good way to make people buy from you again is to make them feel
good about their purchase.
Ideas on promoting the feel-good factor include:
Some type of personal message from
This might be a pig of a thing to coordinate, but might be
well worth the effort.
Maybe a whole stack of hand written thank you notes that we
could hand out with each purchase.
Maybe a scanned copy of a thank you note could be emailed to
Maybe a photo them holding up said thank you note.
Stuffing a bracelet into an envelope and scribbling the
buyer's name on the front is not acceptable. The packaging
and the experience of opening the package should be paramount.
I'm not the best at this sort of stuff. I only know that
it is important. Could be something a different volunteer
could get their teeth stuck into. Not literally
though. We don't want to be sending spit overseas...
Phew! So those are my ideas for marketing. I'd be more
than happy to hear any ideas that y'all might have.
There is risk in every business. This website is a business,
and therefore a risk. Potential pitfalls include:
- Nothing sells
This is the most obvious one. If nothing sells then this
project will be a failure. The marketing ideas above provide
the best solution to this problem.
- Crappy Crafts
The crafts have to be of marketable quality. I won't be
selling crap crafts.
- Transport becomes a burden
Getting the crafts from the ladies who make it to the post
office may become problematic.
I may end up giving the ladies all the packaging materials and
get them to take the crafts to the post office. I'm sure they
could come up with creative ways to get the packages to the post
- Postage becomes a burden
Postage may get too expensive and may take too long. I've
got some crafts being sent out to people in the United Kingdom,
U.S.A., and New Zealand to see how long it takes and how much it
The "Thanks for buying!" email will mention something
We ask you to keep in mind that we are selling you these crafts from
rural Africa. Some of these ladies have to walk two hours just
to get water! So we ask you for your patience with regards to
receiving your purchase. A three to four week wait is normal.
Malcolm goes off the deep end
I haven't worked really
hard for a long long time. The most recent time was when I
worked hard in the Philippines
around exam time. It wasn't that hard though.
The time before that was at enabling
technologies, and that was a catalyst - though not the thing
itself - that led to all my mental health problems.
I'm obviously critical to this project and it is going to require a
lot of hard work on my part. Just collecting information on
the ladies and documenting their stories is a lot of work, let alone
all the technical stuff I need to do behind the scenes.
I need to be very careful that I don't push myself too hard and hand
off other tasks to people whenever I can.
If the project looks as if it is going nowhere and is going to
require a massive effort to turn it around, then I am going to pull
the plug on it. The last time I threw myself up against a
brick wall, I ended up a bloody mess.
for volunteers in waiting
Me old mate Mathew
Phelps did a power point presentation to try and raise money for
his volunteering in the Buduburum Refugee Camp. He raised no
money and most people replied, "Why would we want to fund your
It is a good question which, I assume, Matty had no answer to.
Some volunteers sign up, stay quiet for six months, and then arrive.
Some volunteers sign up, go gung-ho crazy raising money for six
months, and then arrive.
All this wealth of videos, photos and marketing materials could be
sent to these people so that they don't face similar problems to
those that Matty had.
Water Pumps, Mosquito
Nets, Malaria Medication...
I want to push the idea to the ladies of setting aside a portion
of every sale to a project. Maybe 75% of the sale goes to them
and 25% goes to a project fund.
The project fund would be used for things like water pumps, mosquito
nets and malaria medication.
Exactly what it would be used for would be up to the ladies, which
bring me to my next point.
I am going to insist that each group of craft making women form
a committee so they decide on things such as:
How the money is distributed
I suspect that some of the crafts will sell like hot cakes
and some will be dead ducks. So Margaret's bracelets might
sell ten times more than Susan's necklaces. I imagine that
Susan will end up helping to make Margaret's necklaces.
To ensure that everybody benefits, the committee needs to decide
how the money will be divided up. An equal share of all
sales seems the most obvious choice, but I'll leave them to make
Who is in, who is out
This sounds like a harsh sort of a thing to say. But
if Lazy Lisa suddenly starts helping when she sees there is
money to be made, then what sort of share does she get?
Once again, this is up to the ladies.
What project to save for
I've suggested 25% should go towards buying something like
mosquito nets, water pumps or malaria medication.
Exactly what proportion of the money goes towards the project
and what the project is will be up to the ladies.
Automated text messages
Uganda is experiencing a kind of technology leap-froging.
No villages have land lines, but a villager or two have cell phones.
This provides us with a great opportunity to send them text messages
on what crafts are required.
Every time a sale is made, a text is sent to someone in the village
that says something like:
3 x Margaret Necklace, 6 x Blue Susan Place mats, Malcolm Trevena
19A Sheen Street, Roslyn, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Handing it over
I want to have nothing to do with this project when I leave Uganda
on the 30th of January 2007. I want it to be completely in the
hands of Ugandans, or possibly future volunteers. To accomplish
this I plan to:
Web access for adding of product
New products can be added from any internet portal. It
will be made as simple as possible and will require no knowledge of
fugly things like HTML and databases.
Hosting costs money. I'll initially pay for the domain
name and hosting (maybe about $10 US) a month. These costs
will need to come from the sales somehow.
Which also opens up the whole question of accounts and financial
statements, which is a thought for another day.
Someone local will need to take the lead on gathering more
information from more women. I'm sure future volunteers won't
mind lending their digital cameras for all the photography and video
Let's apply my Best
Practice Volunteerism questions to this project.
- Would this of happened if I wasn't here?
Nope. It is my idea and I can't imagine anyone local
coming up with the idea let alone lead it to completion.
- Will this continue to happen when I am gone?
I hope so at this point, but I don't know so. I have plans
- as discussed in the Handing it Over section above - and I hope
they work out. I do have my doubts though.
I have concerns about the technological literacy - and literacy
itself - of the local Ugandans.
Someone will need to take the lead on this project when I am gone
and run with it.
Goals should always be specific and measurable. So, if I am to achieve
this goal by the time I leave, then the following needs to happen:
Little of no minimal involvement on my
I'm lazy. What can I say.
For this project to be truly successful it needs to continue to
happen when I am gone.
A working web site
Won't get far without this one!
Money flowing smoothly into the hands of
the people that need it
This project is big and will require a lot of work. It has
risk involved and might turn out to be an almighty flop.
I can no longer stand the though of being a
tourist doing some volunteerism on the side, so the risk is worth it for
At the very least I am going to learn some
valuable lessons on the way!
1 Jeffrey Sachs, The End of
Poverty, 2005 Edition, p. 208.
2 My tongue is firmly place in cheek
here. I'm sure they'll publish the article.
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2005 and 2006 Malcolm Trevena.
All the stuff on this site is written by me, Malcolm Trevena. Feel free to
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want. Just make sure you sight me as a reference.