22 July 2016
Removing the middle men so that Moroccan handicraft finds its way directly from the producer to the buyer. This was the idea devised by the Anou cooperative, which uses the internet on a daily basis to put dozens of products on sale. By creating a network of artisans, the cooperative has been able to achieve two objectives: first of all, to create jobs and economic opportunities for a poor community and secondly, to ensure that customers are able to buy authentic and quality products.
The Aït Bouguemez valley in Morocco does not have many sources of wealth. The majority of the people who live there are Berbers and the women spend their time making carpets. But since they are short of means and resources, in the past they have only been able to sell their products to large organisations at a low price. This vicious circle made it impossible for them to lift themselves out of poverty. This is something which Dan Driscoll, a volunteer in a relief camp, could see every single day and that is why he came up with an idea to improve the situation. Although he had no running water in his home, he did have an internet connection and he realised that technology could offer something new and different to the people living in the valley.
“Anou represents a fundamental change in the fair trade industry. Rather than asking how the organisations can provide help, we are asking ourselves how we can build a community of artisans which no longer needs foreign aid and the help of free trade organisations”, says Dan Driscoll.
So Anou was established. In Tachelhit, the language spoken in the region, its name means “water well” and since water reservoirs are at the very centre of the communities which live in the valley, the name given to the cooperative is an expression of the hope and desire that it can become the community’s point of reference.
The cooperative has established an on-line platform which serves as a showcase for all of the artisans who wish to take part in the project. Anou has been set up as a cooperative in which all of the producers are its owners.
So how does it work? The products are presented alongside a profile of each artisan and the customers can interact with the cooperative at any time in order to ask for more information about the articles for sale or to ask for changes to be made to the products.
Once an agreement has been reached, a courier collects the merchandise and delivers the product directly to the buyer.
When a new artisan expresses an interest in working as part of the Anou community, he is contacted by someone who has already been a member for some time and is shown how to work with the platform. The first step is to create a profile on an account which is free of charge. The platform then enables the new member to add photos of each product, to manage orders and to send the products anywhere throughout the world using a delivery service. Many of the producers have never worked with the internet and some of them have never had access to the technology. Anou provides them with free training and is able to support them at all times should this be necessary.
The cooperative is financed by a small percentage of the sales, although a large part of the profits goes directly to the producer. The platform facilitates contact with the buyer and guarantees the authenticity and safe delivery of the products.
All sorts of products are available for sale on the platform, from jewellery to carpets of all sizes and colours. The artisans have responded very positively to the initiative and more than 500 of them are already active on the platform, including 6 who work in the head office which centralises all of the operations. Just a few weeks ago, the cooperative was proud to announce its transfer to David Beach, from where it controls all of the work carried out on the system and processes the requests submitted by new members.