ISLAMABAD: In the Hindu Kush mountains craftswomen painstakingly stitch flowing scarves, skilled artisans who were unable to sell their products beyond the remote region until mobile internet came to Pakistan and dropped the market into the palms of millions of previously marginalised people.
The women of northern Chitral are among the unlikely profiteers of an e-commerce boom since 3G and 4G Internet arrived in the deeply conservative Muslim country in 2014, suddenly able to market and sell traditional products without leaving their villages or in some cases even their homes.
“The online platform eliminates the middleman,” says Nasrin Samad, the entrepreneur behind the artisan brand Kai, which works with women across the region.
Now, Chitrali women “have access to a global audience,” she says.
Kai products are sold on polly & other stories (pollyandotherstories.Com), which launched late in 2015 to connect traditional artisans like those in Chitral with consumers hungry for “authentic” products.
“Years of working with local community and craft groups had shown us how difficult it was for local small businesses, even the most talented, to access mainstream markets or connect with buyers, both within Pakistan and abroad,” founder Amneh Shaikh-Farooqui said.
To bridge the gap, says co-founder Ange Braid, the pair built a website to give “small, creative businesses, many of them led by women or young students, the chance to market and sell”.
Opportunities like this in a country like Pakistan are “huge”, says Adam Dawood, head of online marketplace Kaymu.Pk.
In the first quarter of 2015 smartphone shipments to the country soared by 123 percent, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s annual report, one of the fastest growth rates in the developing world.