The silk road meets the information superhighway

silk-scarfThe Kohtrad Silk Project is a social enterprise that works with the silk producers in the Isaan area of North East Thailand. The project provides an online platform for the silk producers to sell their products worldwide. This is done via two online shops - specializing in high quality men’s silk shirts and -  specializing in beautiful  silk scarves. Despite being only six months old the social enterprise has already begun an ambitious project to provide better internet access to it’s silk suppliers. Using profits from the silk shirts and scarves sold though the project, building is underway for a community internet hub in the rural Thai village where many of the silk products are made.

The essential element for this social enterprise is the provision of an online retail platform for its producers. For the first time the independent weavers across the Isaan region were able to market their produce to buyers abroad. The area is rural and poor and so extra income generated from Internet sales could make a big difference to their lives. With the extra profits weavers could pay school fees for their children, build a business, stay in the area, enjoy their everyday work and keep their silk weaving skills and traditions alive.

Initially the main challenge of the Kohtrad Silk Project was teaching the older silk weavers how to use the Internet. The idea from the social enterprise was that the project would “run on autopilot” with orders coming in via email directly to the silk weavers who could then send the product in the post. However for the older generation of weavers, who had never experienced the Internet before, using online orders as part of their business was a very difficult transition for them. Fortunately the social enterprise helped to overcome this problem by getting the children of the weavers to take over the role of receiving the email and sending the product. This in itself had a positive impact. It encouraged more of the family members to get involved in the project and meant that the different generations were working together to teach each other the skills they had.

Now the Kohtrad Silk Project is stepping up to the next big challenge. This is the lack of Internet access for its producers. The social enterprise sees the Internet as a great tool to help alleviate poverty, providing information and opportunities for communication and commerce to the local community. They are currently in the first stages of creating an Internet hub in the village of Si Sa Ket. The land which the internet hub will be built on is owned by a local of the village. The hub is adjacent to the village school and already the framework of the building is in place.  The next stage is to finish the building off, and get the place filled with desks, computers and printers. When it is completed the internet hub will give the local community cheap access to the internet. The social enterprise estimates that the hub will be completed in a year’s time. Of course the more silk shirts and scarves sold the quicker the hub will be built, which is all the more reason to buy a scarf or shirt and tell friends and family to do the same!

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