Wednesday 22 March 2017

Time to get crafty about being searchable online

Crafters, artists and designers need to link with suppliers and retailers

Yenza, made by a number of craft groups in eThekwini
Arts, crafts and design have huge potential as sustainable income generators across South Africa but in order for this to happen in a meaningful way, our crafters, artists and designers need to be searchable, particularly through mapping services, or products will not be known.

Sustainability, like an African pot, sits on three legs. If you only care about people and planet, without due care for profit, true sustainability is not possible.

Invariably, we ask how can an enterprise do social good, but he reverse question also needs ot be asked - how can what is socially good become an enterprise?

It is popular to talk of finding new models of doing business, of the need for hybrid skill sets and of the importance of change agents.

The reality is, however, that those drawn to the business world do not readily make the transition into the non-profit world, and vice versa.

The profit and non-profit secots require different skills, partiuclarly in relation to business and marketing. Often, fledgling community-based craft organisations whose capacity has been developed by the non-profit sector attemtp income generation through selling "expensive uglies with a tender story".

The market for non-funcitonal handmade products is extremely limited and typically high-end apart from the usual tourist curios. Businesses need to understand what sells before they produce good; in the high-end, commission-only Persian carpet industry, the loom is only strung once the carpet is sold.

Community Foundaitons are relatively new to South Africa and although like others in the non-profit sector, they must fund-raise, they are also grant-makers.

The question that the eThekwini Community Foundation has been asking is: How can crafters take a product to market without any marketing budget? To answer this, we drew together a diverse group of people from the profit, non-profit, academic and government sphere. The interesting initial answer has been: data and mapping.

The world is searching on digital platforms, partiuclarly mobiel phones, for products. In the five largest European economies, 50 percent of internet users access maps online and 35 percent of smartphone users do so through their handsets. In South Africa, home to 60 million cellphones, 65 percent of Google searchers over a weekend come through cellphones.

Unless our crafters, artists and designers are searchable, their products will not be known. On our mobile- first continent, the need for better mapping and mobile go hand-in-hand. However, such mapping or geo-services are considered and intermediate good - they are not valuable in themselves, but enable consumers to engage in other activities.

Yet the economic benefit of such geo-services is high, for at the least they provide a platform which enables transactions to take place.

Mapping goes beyond and immediate benefit of knowing who, where and what; information is needed for us to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources such as the ilala palm, which is harvested from the wild, is slow-growing and increasingly under threat by a burgeoning trade in Zulu hand-woven baskets. such information can help stimulate conservation agriculture and specialisation of skills in that weavers should not also have to harvest hte palms, and procuess them through dying them different colours using other natural resources.

Competition is beneficial for consumers and it increases choice for the producers of high-quality goods.

No enterprise can afford to make decisions that are not data-driven. Data is needed to stimulate our arts, crafts and design creative communities. We must map our artists, crafters and designers, know who they are, where they can be found, what their products are, where these products can be bought, the type, nature and variety of items available, price and quality.

A geo-coded craft database can bring crafters, suppliers of raw materials and retailers into the same virtual space for the first time in this country.

First published on August 24 2014 in the Saturday Star Marketing and Media pages

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