The Kuyu Project interviews small business owner Ida Horner of Ethnic Supplies. Ida uses a range of social networking tools to develop her business and is also interested in lifting others out of poverty through business. The African handicrafts that she sells through her website are ethically produced and fairly traded. We spoke to Ida about her use of social media to promote her business.

Deb: We at The Kuyu Project are curious about what social networking tools you use in your business and why?
Ida: I think I have millions of them. Starting with the most obvious ones I use Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and online forums such as ecademy and some Ning groups. My favorite one would have to be Twitter in terms of business specifically. On one or two occasions I have posted a photo of something from the range of products at Ethnic Supplies a photo from my online shop and someone has placed an order immediately because that happens to be something they have been looking for and if it is not the online shop, they ask "where can I get it" and I've been able to work out details and send out an order. The results are almost instant. But it also goes beyond just the selling of products. Twitter, like any other online networks, is important for building relationships, finding about what everyone is up to, what's new, what's going on. And that really surprised me, due to our busy schedules I didn't think people would have time to use it, but they do. And being able to source online information from your network is priceless.

Deb: Do you also have Twitter followers who are not just shoppers, but also own small business owners?
Ida: My followers are a mixed bag, I know many of them from other networks, some of them are the reason I joined Twitter. Some are small business owners. I suppose they use it the same way I do for selling/earning new business, learning from others, and networking. To pay someone to source information for you is exorbitantly expensive.

Deb: You have several websites that promote your business, how important is branding a new company on the Web?
Ida: I use blogs and I write two blogs, is about my networking activities, and really nothing to do with EthnicSupplies, and I also use as main business blog. I use it to comment on the policies and politics of poverty which is the main area of my work. The blog is a great place for putting me out there as an individual that understands what I'm doing and it provides a platform to debate the issues that affect the women I work with. People seem to come out of nowhere to have a debate about the things I write about and that extends my brand. It is not enough to say come and buy this. People want to know what's the background, why should we buy this. I almost need all of these tools to remind people that I'm here and to explain why I'm doing what I'm doing. I hate the word justification, but that is what it is really feels like. For example, shortly before big elections in UK, there was a big debate about immigration. Some in the debate insisted that migrants need to go back to where they came from, and all manner of ideas. Many were preying on people's discriminating tendencies. They don't appreciate the contribution that people are making to a community. So I'll take these topics and take them apart and look at some of the reasons behind the debate. It's not that straightforward why people immigrate, so I used my blog to widen the debate but also put forward my point of view. There is a central question "Why do people risk their lives and end up on the beaches of Europe?" If you stop and analyze the reasons behind this phenomena, it's not as clearcut as you think. I use my blog to air my views. I couldn't do that on my main page, but the blog allows this.
Deb: Yes, I agree, I think blogs are great for reflection, and conversation. As a matter of fact, I think that the way we learn best is through dialogue, whether face-to-face, or via phone, via blogging, or Twitter - dialogue allows us to really exchange ideas.

Deb: Also, there's a big movement in US right now with indie designers and it seems more and more people want to know where products are made.
Ida: Yes, there's a section of people who are especially shopping more ethically, that's really encouraging.

Deb: Tell us about your work with fellow Ugandan @tmsruge and the Women of Kireka project?
Ida: Teddy and I were meant to be speaking at the very first Africa Gathering conference (which by the way came out of a conversation with the organizer on twitter), and for some reason he didn't make it. But I caught up with him on twitter, I mentioned to him, you are the guy who didn't make it and it turned out we are fellow Ugandans and both interested in lifting others out of poverty through business. I met with him and Tracy from his team in UK in October and in December we happened to be in Uganda at the same time so we went down and met the women. The idea behind that is to try to find a market here in UK for the beads that the women produce. This is to pay school fees for their children. It's been a really good relationship. It really all started on Twitter, you couldn't make it up if you tried - priceless really. It doesn't cost that much sharing what you know. Also in addition to finding markets, I've been able to advise on some of the design process. Selling is not easy in this economic environment.

Deb: Your business is based in the UK and your artists are based in the East Africa region, what types of technology do you use to stay in touch?
Ida: Email, mobile phones to call and catch up, those are main basis of communication.

Deb: And travel, is that critical?
Ida: Yes essential, I do meet the groups that I work with. I recently met the group in Rwanda. If I can't get there then I team up with someone. It is important to put a face to a name, to make sure that the people, that their work is not being exploited in any form or shape. The only way to check that is physically going there. If we discover that people are not being honest, then they have to come out of the group.
Deb: So the fair trade aspect is critical?
Ida: Yes, that's the whole point of it - it ensures fairness and authenticity. I like our customers to have confidence - confidence is from I'm telling them that I've been out there, and seen and met producers. I couldn't sleep easily to be honest if I didn't - I need to be sure for my customers.

Deb: What role do you see mobiles and mobile apps playing for women in regards to entrepreneurship?
Ida: It isn't that different for women entrepreneurs when you compare to farmers, everyone wants a fair price. Unless women are aware of what things cost, then there is no way of knowing what price is fair. Previously w/o mobile phones, people had to travel distances to try to determine what the costs were, now all they need to do is make a phone call. It cuts down on travel and ensures they are getting a fair price for products and opens up markets that weren't available to them previously. If I couldn't get in touch with producers, this couldn't work. But they do use other platforms and they learn easily it is a case of us sharing our skills with them. In Tanzania for instance, I spent time with cooperatives showing women how to use Google Picaso to share photos. Stuff we might take for granted, but I share what I know.
Deb: So are you finding that the women are using laptops and Internet to share, what about mobiles?
Ida: Yes people in other regions don't realize how advanced some of these women are. It's all about convenience, mobile phones are more convenient, and laptops not that accessible, are expensive if you don't own one - you have go to an internet cafe. But if you can have access on your mobile phones, people would prefer that. It often takes a bus ride to internet cafe. I can't see how they would prefer that form of internet access or laptops as the cost would exclude them.

Deb: What advice do you have girls who want to learn more about tech?
Ida: A lot of it is down to attitudes which have their basis in cultural origins/norms such as this isn't something that a girl gets involved in. Girls will have to change their thinking and say to themselves, I'm good enough and I can be whatever it is I put my mind to. That is a starting point, overcoming stereotypes. And parents have a role in reinforcing stereotypes. Having been able to overcome those stereotypical notions, I say just go out and do it. Network, go out and find those who have done it.
Deb: Yes, I think that finding role models and asking them how you did it, is key.

Deb: What advice do you have for teens who want to be entrepreneurs?
Ida: Find something that you're passionate about. Passion is not enough to make a business, but learn what you can about it, and network. So long as numbers stack up, it will work, but there's no point in doing something you're not passionate about. It can become tedious and next thing you know you get bored with it and want to walk away.
Deb: Yes, and when you’re younger you may not really realize how much hard work is involved.
Ida: But people are very generous and youngsters don't realize that and think they have to do it all themselves. But that's not quite true, people out there are willing to help. Just seek advice and people will support you, but it's up to you to ask and seek.

Deb: Ida, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with The Kuyu Project. We really feel that youth will learn most about digital media skills from those role models who are using the tools.
Ida: I think it is important to share what you know so others can learn and vice versa. Any time you need my help let me know.