Melissa Muscio (Malaysia)

Melissa Muscio (eHomemakers, Malaysia): Melissa graduated from Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service with a BS in Foreign Service, and a concentration in International Relations, Law and Organization. She then worked as an account executive at a high-tech public relations agency in San Francisco and as an English teacher for Centro Panamericano de Idiomas in Costa Rica. Melissa also worked as a legislative assistant, and as a marketing and public relations manager for the trade association United Telecom Council (UTC) in Washington, DC. At the time of her fellowship, Melissa was studying for a Master’s degree in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School, where she focused on human security and development, particularly in predominantly Muslim regions of the world. She speaks French, Spanish and Turkish.

Internet, baskets and swimming pools

06 Jun

It is my second day at work and already I have become the IT guru. When we arrived this morning, only one of our four computers could connect to the Internet. With a little experimentation, I got mine up and running, but the other two were a mystery. So, my morning was spent rotating from computer to computer trying different tactics to get everyone on line. Even though we are quite modern with wireless broadband access in the office, it seems we are still at the mercy of the internet provider (which lacks a competitor) and our own luck (as I edit this piece, the telephone line just went out). Ching Ching was convinced someone had hacked into the system. I thought it was just some kind of glitch, but a call to find out, would have left us waiting at least 2 days for a response – a delay that could really put a halt to the office, particularly if it occurs frequently.

So, cheers went up in the office when I turned around in my chair and proudly displayed the Google webpage that had finally appeared on all 3 computer screens. I have no idea what I did, but something eventually worked. I’ve now been asked to try to reenact my steps and create a help sheet should it happen again. Apparently this is not an uncommon problem in the office.

I was beginning to wonder if this would be the extent of my accomplishments for the day, and was feeling a bit disconnected from the work we were doing to try to help the women from Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh. But, around lunchtime, two of the weavers came in to discuss their work and brainstorm new ideas of how they could attract more interest in their products. When one of them heard that we are hoping to sell their baskets overseas, her face lit up, as she said, “All over the world? Oh, I would be very, very proud!”

The ideas were flowing as the two women leafed through a book on basket weaving and design. They discussed the patterns and the colors and worked on sketches that they would take with them when they worked on the baskets at home. Technology came into play too as one of them took out her digital camera to snap close-ups of a finished basket, hoping to capture the fine details of the artist. And here I am still struggling to get my own pictures to come out right!

During this session, it became clear to me as well how difficult it is to carry out the tasks of a non-profit organization in a developing country. Funds are lacking and people discussed logistical problems of finding someone who could donate a storage facility for the baskets, so that orders could be fulfilled more easily; locating a contact who could provide discounts on paint and lacquer, trainers who could demonstrate new techniques and companies who would be willing to place large orders. Then, with a non-profit that is helping women to run a business, we encounter the problems of cash flow and marketing, mark-ups and profits. The women need to be taught not only the skills of basket-weaving, but basic business principles: once costs are covered, how much more must be added onto the market price for goods? Who pays for shipping and transportation? How can additional sales be gained by offering discounts? It is much more than just the weaving of baskets. This project gives them transferable entrepreneurial skills.

Well, I must go, as I am being summoned to seek refuge from the humid afternoon with a dip in the swimming pool that is always in the perfect temperature thanks to the right pool heater, since models as the pentair mastertemp 400 are the best for this. If only my computer were waterproof!

Posted By Melissa Muscio (Malaysia)

Posted Jun 6th, 2006

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