As the photo blog Humans of New York attests to there are a lot of interesting people out there with something to say. People from all walks of life with very unique perspectives.
Similarly, I believe that there are a lot of people out there, from all walks of life, who have come up with great ideas that are well worth sharing. Ideas based on their own unique life experiences and perspectives. Ideas that could very well change the way we live and make the world a better place.
Samantha Pettit, a recent ASU graduate and aspiring social entrepreneur, has one such idea: an Etsy for the developing world. Samantha came up with this idea while on a trip to Africa last year when she met with locals who made beautifully, hand crafted items unlike anything she had ever seen state side. It seemed like such a shame to her that these local merchants didn’t have a way to share their beautiful creations with the rest of the world.
That’s when she came up with the idea for an Etsy for the developing world. This wouldn’t work exactly the same way as Etsy since the local merchants don’t have internet access and wouldn’t be able to set up their own digital storefronts. Rather, employees of Samantha’s organization would serve as middlemen and handle all of the logistics, ensuring that the products reach their destination and that the creator gets paid. This would be a win-win scenario and could help ensure a brighter economic future for people in developing countries.
I recently spoke with Samantha to find out more about this wonderful idea. Here’s a look at what she had to say:
1. I love your idea and I love the fact that you came up with it based on real world experience. Do you think there’s a market for this idea? Are the people that you met receptive to the idea of selling their wares around the world?
I do think there is a market for this idea. In the age of customization and individuality, I think people are thirsty for ways to be unique and often express their uniqueness through their purchases. Additionally, in a world defined by immediate updates and impacted so strongly by social perceptions, consumers are becoming increasingly more concerned about where their products are coming from and how they are being created. It is no longer simply about the product, but also about the impact (positive or negative) that the creation of that product has on the world.
The people that I met are incredibly receptive to the idea – it actually spurred from a conversation that I had with a man named Noah, in Kenya. They have amazingly crafted, hand-made products that they sell in their local markets for very little money (by American standards). However, they know that these products are worth much more in other countries, especially where they are less commonplace. They have an idea that if they could reach a Western market, they would be profitable, but I don’t think they’re aware of just how extreme the price difference could be.
2. Wouldn’t it just be easier to provide internet access to these people like Mark Zuckerberg and the folks over at Google want to do so that they can open their own Etsy stores? Or do you think they need to form a partnership to achieve their goals?
Well, to be honest, I don’t think that would be easier. I think that an advance like that would make a greater and more lasting impact, but would actually require a lot more time and effort than something like this partnership would. There are so many social and political issues to overcome in order to make that approach work. For instance, there is currently a legal feud going on in Kenya over the rights to provide internet access. There are some groups that want to provide it free for all people, but then others that see the potential for profitability. They latter group does not want to allow anyone to provide it for free, because then why would people pay for their service? Additionally, providing internet access is only one piece of the puzzle. They would also need a device that allows them to utilize the internet, assuming that they have electricity to even keep such a device charged (or have a solar powered device). I think that ventures like those of Zuckerberg and Google definitely have their place, and actually have the potential to make a more significant impact, but they are meeting different needs than this project would.
My goal in this project is to help individuals create sustainable incomes for themselves and their families, and to make that impact now. I have a long-term goal of influencing the political landscape in third-world countries in order to change things on a grander scale, but this project is separate from that goal.
I do not necessarily think that the individuals who would participate in this project need to form a partnership to achieve their goals, but I think it would make it easier for them to do so. Rather than expecting every person in the project to have a camera to take pictures of the items they wish to sell, a computer to use to post the items, internet access to reach a world-wide audience, and the knowledge of world-markets, it would be more efficient for one organization to provide those services for all participants. Additionally, this model would allow for individuals who have the greatest need to participate. It is not the individuals with all of these resources who need the assistance, it is those who have only enough to stay alive and provide for their families that we would seek to help.
3. A lot of the Western focus on Africa has been centered on clean water initiatives, micro payments, providing healthcare, and empowering women. Based on your personal experience what else do you think is needed over there?
It’s funny that you ask this because my answer is not necessarily in line with the goals of this project. After being in Africa and seeing the impact of the different types of initiatives you mentioned, I realized that you can only do so much within the constraints of an unsuccessful or corrupted government. While I think that all of the work that is being done in Africa to help people is valuable and valiant, I do not think that is the solution. In order to really solve these issues, you have to address the cause, not just remedy the various effects. Therefore, I think that a solution lies in exterminating corruption (easy enough, right?) and implementing a stable government. Not being an expert on the politics of the situation, though, I cannot give much input as to a potential way to achieve this. I am not sure whether it is something that can be done by groups outside of the countries, either. It may need to be something that is done internally. In any case, I hope to continue to increase my understanding of the subject and hopefully make a positive impact in the future.
As I mentioned, that answer is not exactly in line with the goals for this project. [However], this project will tend to address the effects of the current problems – unemployment, poverty, and limited resources. But I still think that it, along with all the other initiatives currently in progress in Africa, is important for its own reasons.
[All in all], if the key to creating a significant and lasting change lies in the hands of those who live in these countries, then those individuals need to be in a place to do so. Living day-to-day and working simply to survive is not very conducive to achieving political stability. It is a bit of a ‘chicken and the egg’ situation, where major social and political factors need to be addressed in order to improve the general quality of life, but citizens are unable to address the issues because the quality of life is so low. Therefore, projects like the one I am beginning as well as initiatives like the ones you mentioned above, can create the changes on an individual level that are needed to break this vicious cycle. By meeting the immediate needs of citizens (food, water, shelter, safety, and health) we are all aiding them in having the opportunities to then do more – politically, socially, legally, etc.
4. Samantha, you’ve described your idea as an Etsy for the developing world. In your opinion what other websites or tech based services would be ideally suited for implementation in developing countries? And don’t say Uber! We’ve heard enough about the Uberification of various industries.
Haha! Don’t worry, I don’t want to see Uber in more places than I have to.
Along the same lines as my project, I would think something like GoDaddy! may be ideally suited for developing countries. Resources like this provide tools for systems that are already in place. As these countries become increasingly more “on-line,” they will have more access to new channels of communication. Having guidance in how to make these channels work for them could be a significant advantage.
5. As great as your idea sounds I’m sure there are going to be a lot of logistical concerns and regulatory hurdles that you’ll have to clear before you’re up and running. What concerns you the most? Do you foresee there being any issues?
Yes- this is the kicker. The biggest concerns I have at this point are whether the costs of shipping the items will be prohibitive to any revenue gains for the creators and whether regulations of the countries will be restrictive to sending the items anyways. I have done some preliminary research on these topics, but have not gained much headway. The answers to these questions will be critical to the success of this project.
6. Aside from your idea is there a new product or invention that excites you? What do you think the next big thing is going to be?
In terms of technology, I am into convenience, improvement, and connectivity. If something can make people’s lives easier, improve the way things are done (for people or the environment), or bring people together, then I am all for it.
I know it is not exactly brand new, but the most exciting recent advancement for me was Tesla Motors. I think these great leaps in advancement are what propel each generation of technology.
Additionally, a fun device that glass company, Corning, is striving towards seems pretty awesome.
7. How does it feel to be interviewed on this blog?!? Is this the greatest thing that’s ever happened to you?!!
Being interviewed at all is a huge honor. I am so happy to share my idea with others and receive feedback from those with significantly more technical knowledge. Improving the world is something I am extremely passionate about, so any opportunity I have to discuss it is always welcomed.
If you’re interested in reading more about my experience in Africa, or contributing to those I met while I was there, feel free to check out my blog from the trip: http://kenyasicklecell.blogspot.com/
Additionally, if you would like to discuss my project or any related ideas or topics, feel free to email me: SamanthaPettit26@gmail.com
Well, there you have it. An interesting idea from a very interesting person. Which begs the question: who else has a great idea that’s worth sharing?
Samantha pictured with villagers from her recent trip. Would her idea give these kids a more sustainable future?