Increasing Business by Going Online

October 19, 2005Andrea Calabrese
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Most of the inquiries handled by Marvelous Batiks now come online. Above, Ms. Masawe displays samples of her beautiful textiles.

Tanzania

In Tanzania, more than half the population lives on less than one dollar a day, and per capita income is roughly $320. But entrepreneurial drive can triumph even in this setting. By adopting high-tech tools, one entrepreneur has increased demand for her products and watched her business grow.

In 1992, Flotea Masawe started her own company selling batiks. Her idea was to empower women economically by training them to create beautiful textiles and generate income. The company, Marvelous Batiks, produces apparel and home decorations featuring designs with motifs using animals of the Serengeti and simply drawn figures adorned with geometric shapes.

For years, Ms. Masawe traveled around with samples of her wares to local shops, fairs, and open markets. She carried large albums stuffed with pictures of her products and samples of the material. Her marketing strategy relied heavily on word of mouth.

In 2004, the Tanzania Development Gateway, a nonprofit organization designed to share resources on economic development, advised Ms. Masawe to establish a Web site. Its staff created an online product catalogue template so she could upload pictures of her products. Encouraged, she took the next step of registering the site. She also received additional assistance to learn how to update and maintain it.

Ms. Masawe now attracts visitors to her site and links to other Web sites. She uses e-mail to build relationships with her customers and has witnessed the effect of the Internet on her business. Since going online, Ms. Masawe has been able to train six people and has hired 18 employees. Previously, she had to go through intermediaries for both domestic and international sales. Now more than 60 percent of the company’s external market access is online. Marvelous Batiks has expanded its market in East Africa and now exports to the United States, Europe, and Australia.