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Rural Businesses Join the Global Economy. One Basket at a Time

By Shirley Bloomfield, Guest Columnist

I wish I could say this is my story, but it’s not. It’s the story of some hard working women looking for a way to be connected in the global economy. And it’s the story of my daughter, Kelsey Patterson, who is dedicating her talent and skills to help these women. My heart glows with pride when I share the work that she is doing in Mozambique.

Kelsey, a global development and international affairs major, is in her third year at the University of Virginia. She received a grant this year to develop a marketing plan to assist women crafters in Mozambique who are selling their homemade crafts by the roadside.

The women artisans are driven by a very simple need: They want to make enough money to get bus fare to travel to a health center to get free AIDS treatments. The irony is that the treatments are free, but they have to get to the center to get them—bus fare is not free.

Kelsey has been looking at ways to raise the visibility of their work and help them increase sales so that they can have a steady income and not have worry day-to-day if they can get to the health center for treatments. The challenge is that there is no Internet service available to these women in their remote villages.

Kelsey’s marketing plan is focused on trying to find delivery points for their goods. One mechanism in her plan is through international craft festivals. Sponsors from the U.S. help bring the goods to these festivals and a flow of revenue back to the women. Kelsey also helped build a website for the crafters at a local women’s center which has sporadic Internet service.

The website creates a mail order option for the womens’ crafts as well. These are small steps that may make a huge difference to these women. A steady income will enable them to ensure they have access to the health clinic and help them provide for their children. What mother doesn’t understand that drive?

Being Empowered to Participate in the World Economy

My point in sharing all of this is that it’s a pretty simple equation: the difference that the Internet can make for these women crafters is life-changing. Connectivity and economic opportunity go hand-in-hand. If they can connect globally, they can reap the rewards locally and provide a living for their family. This is a fairly extreme example in another country half way around the world. However, right here at home in the U.S. we have a similar challenge.

We are striving to ensure that rural communities, which are struggling to retain businesses or seeking to create economic opportunity, have the investment they need to bring connectivity and global opportunities to small town consumers. For education, business and health care, connecting to the global marketplace means the difference between surviving and thriving. I want every woman and every family to have the capability to take their wares from the roadside to worldwide. We should all want to make it so.

Shirley Bloomfield is CEO of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association.  She has worked in telecommunications policy for over 20 years. She also serves on the board of GlobalWIN, an organization of women leaders in the high-tech industry.  Visit her blog, Thoughts and Perspectives from NTCA Headquarters.

photo credit: PhotoAtelier (Glen) via photo pin cc

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