Maria Skouras

Maria Skouras (eHomemakers): Maria describes herself as a life-long learner. She earned a BA from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, a Masters of Science degree from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, and a Master of the Arts from NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science in Cultural Sociology. She then worked for seven years as the Senior Policy Analyst in NYU’s Office of Government and Community Affairs. Maria has been an active board member of The Posterus Foundation, a nonprofit based in New York City, studied abroad in Italy, London, China and Hong Kong and traveled extensively through the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. After her fellowship Maria wrote: "Speaking with locals and living in a country is the best way to learn about the real lives of citizens, not just the stories in the mainstream media. I will be more critical of what I read as a result of this experience.”

Eco-Basket Challenges – Training, Retention, and Sales

02 Mar

The Salaam Wanita eco-basket project provides employment for women whose circumstances and health problems restrict their options for work.  While eco-basket trainings and sales help women achieve economic independence, there are a number of challenges and considerations involved.  Below are three of these complex topics.

1. Encouraging women to participate in trainings – Many of the women eH assists are not used to receiving opportunities.  Extreme financial hardships, disabilities, chronic diseases, and a lack of education have shaped their limited outlook on their own potential.  Many have become accustom to begging or selling flowers outside of mosques and temples to make quick money to cover their expenses and provide for their families.

Learning a new skill like basket weaving may seem too daunting for women who are not used to trying new things and do not have experience in handicrafts.  It also involves risk—they must spend time being trained; must invest in the basic tools needed to make baskets, such as measuring tape, eco-friendly paint, natural glue, a hammer, and other materials; and be willing to collect discarded magazines.  The more time they spend practicing how to make baskets, the more they will perfect their skills and be able to make the more advanced styles and designs.  Again, this all requires time that could be used to make quick money.  eH must educate the women on the long-term benefits that learning a craft can have for their families and overall  confidence that earning quick cash cannot provide.

2.  Retaining Weavers – The first constraint is tied to retaining the weavers after training.  The women may make it through the training, but then fall back into activities that provide immediate financial gratification.  Urgent family circumstances and the needs of ill children increase the necessity of income.  eH has tried to provide money up-front for women under extenuating circumstances, but this is not a sustainable way to assist the women or run an organization.

The women are also under no obligation to stay with the Salaam Wanita eco-basket project after the training.   They may decide to start their own microenterprise selling the baskets and not contribute to the Salaam Wanita project.   While this could be perceived as a negative outcome, eH views this as a success.  In addition to practical skills, the training is meant increase the women’s self-confidence and assertiveness so they feel comfortable making their own decisions.   As a result, eH encourages the women to decide how they can best sustain themselves.

3. Unpredictability of Basket Sales – At the same time that eH encourages women to learn weaving skills, eH must also inform them that a certain number of basket sales is not guaranteed per month.  Months with holidays and more bazaars usually produce more sales.  The sales are also contingent upon the time and effort the eH staff spends marketing the baskets and finding sales opportunities, the availability of volunteers to staff the eco-basket booth at fairs, and international demand.

When orders come in, eH contacts the weavers who are able to make the requested models.  Those who respond first with their availability will be given the order.  The weavers receive half of the selling price upfront for the baskets.  The remainder of the sale goes to cover eH’s office rent, equipment costs, and eH staff salaries, leaving little, if any, profit.

Ideally, eH needs to secure partnerships with wholesale retailers in countries around the world so they do not need to spend time marketing to individual businesses and stores.  This would also produce a more reliable stream of orders and income for the weavers.  eH is taking steps towards this goal, but first they need to calculate the pricing for packing, shipping, and bulk orders to be sure they are charging the right price for the baskets to comfortably maintain the project.

Posted By Maria Skouras

Posted Mar 2nd, 2011

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