What does Cyber Monday, a North American retail concept, have to do with artisans and craftspeople in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya and other emerging economies? Apart from an opportunity for enterprises like Far & Wide Collective to help artisans sell more products, seemingly not very much. But if we look closely at the technological progress that selling online takes, it becomes more interesting.
Penetration of technology, even in places with a low GDP per capita, is significant. Even in Afghanistan, still one of the world’s poorest economies, 60% of the population has a cellphone. In many cases, physical technology like cell phones is cheaper and the rates are much lower in developing economies than in North America. Although a much smaller group has access to the Internet, almost everyone knows someone who can help them get online.
One of the overarching reasons for poverty is isolation. With cellphone and Internet access – however limited – artisans are able to connect with the world in a way they never have been able to before. In Kenya, where Far & Wide works with over 800 basket weavers, a number of the women, as a result of increased sales, have cell phones. They typically communicate with us on WhatsApp to send basket images of new designs and colours and to tell us when the baskets are finished. Technology has made it much easier for artisans like our basket weavers in Africa to work with Far & Wide and other organizations. Indirectly, as a result of technological connectedness, they’ve been able to scale production and even help with planning Far & Wide’s sales.
To organizations like Far & Wide working with artisans in developing economies, Cyber Monday is not just another retail holiday. It is a reminder and realization of how, thanks to technology, the world is more connected, bringing tremendous opportunities for our partner artisans.