WEAVE Small Business Builders- to empower displaced and disadvantaged ethnic women

WEAVE Small Business Builders- to empower displaced and disadvantaged ethnic women

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

WEAVE Small Business Builders raises women’s awareness of their right to a livelihood and powers up their economic literacy and self-reliance. Over 3.5 million people in Burma have been displaced by the ruling military junta and 147,000 have fled to Thailand. However, these refugees are not recognized and cannot earn income outside refugee camps. Women especially lack access to training and livelihoods and what employment they find outside the camps brings high vulnerabilities and risks. WEAVE Small Business Builders provides safe space and an enabling environment for displaced and disadvantaged ethnic women from Burma and Thai villages to acquire culturally-appropriate knowledge and skills for income generation, small business management, marketing channels and small capital funding.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Ethnic Burmese women have been displaced due to a variety of human rights abuses perpetrated by the ruling military junta. There are over 3.5 million displaced persons in Thailand and other bordering countries, as well as internal displacement in Burma’s ethnic states. WEAVE engages: 1) Registered and unregistered refugees in 7 refugee camps in Thailand: This totals 147,000 people, of which 60% are women and children. Most of those in refugee camps have been there for more than 10 years, resulting in a whole generation growing dependent on external aid. The refugee situation has caused an increase in impairments within communities, through poor nutrition and health conditions, and trauma and injuries related to conflict or violence. 12,111 Burmese refugees left Thailand for resettlement in 2010; 65,000 have now been resettled since 2006 (International Organization on Migration). 2) Economic migrants living outside the refugee camps in Thailand: 900,000 illegal migrants live as unrecognized refugees outside the camps and cross-border populations and are highly vulnerable to all forms of violence and abuse, without access to any formal aid. 3) Displaced persons on the Burma border: At least 451,000 people are estimated to be displaced in rural areas, with 224,000 living in temporary ceasefire areas. 4) Marginalized and disadvantaged Thai communities along the periphery of the refugee camps: Over 70,000 people live in rural villages and border towns along the Thai-Burma border and northern Thailand. They are also marginalized and do not have access to quality education, affordable health care and safe employment. Over the past 20 years, 9,300 women and children have directly accessed WEAVE programs for women and children’s education, health, income generation and alternative livelihoods, capacity development, and community development. Over 30,000 people have indirectly benefitted from these programs.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

WEAVE Small Business Builders advocates changes in labor regulations and access to employment in Thailand. Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 147,000 displaced persons cannot legally work outside refugee camps. The program aims to change the status quo by making women aware of their right to a livelihood and by lobbying the government to understand the benefits of opening doors toward economic self-reliance for refugees, migrant workers and marginalized ethnic groups in Thailand. Loosening restrictions will enable these groups to participate in their local economy, provide valuable labor for businesses and create better relations with their host communities. The program increases women’s business knowledge to build self-managing and self-sustaining women’s organizations and community projects, a benefit for the women participating and for the host communities, who can then access the goods and services provided. Humanitarian groups in the refugee camps sometimes have difficulty in collaborating with locals, rushing to provide relief as they see fit. Currently WEAVE is the only organization providing concrete income generation opportunities inside the camps, while other organizations provide only vocational training. WEAVE brings this to the next level by empowering craftswomen to organize themselves and recruit and train new artisans. All earn real income, while still abiding by government parameters.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

For displaced persons, economic empowerment is one of the first rights they lose, making them vulnerable to exploitation and dependency on outside aid. One of the key ways to build their skills, confidence and hope for the future is access to safe employment. Displaced persons from Burma also face the challenge of economic literacy because there is a lack of formal education, training and sustainable jobs inside their country. Being displaced only compounds their economic and social vulnerability, whether there are seeking safety inside Burma or in Thailand. WEAVE Small Business Builders is a unique social business directly aimed at the most vulnerable of this group- women. As a leader since 1996 promoting safe income and economic opportunities for refugee and marginalized women on the Thai-Burma border, WEAVE is well-positioned to continue its advocacy work for economic empowerment and the right to a regular livelihood for over 1,000 women. WEAVE Small Business Builders will provide: 1) Technical skills, including product development, pricing models and sustainability, using fair trade principles 2) Cost-effective marketing and promotion 3) Learning and sharing of best practices 4) Materials and educational tools in women’s native ethnic languages on how to develop projects and businesses 5) Business development- crafting business plans, budget planning, and proposal writing to seek independent funding 6) Start-up capital for new enterprises
About You
Women's Education for Advancement and Empowerment
About You
About Your Organization
Organization Name

Women's Education for Advancement and Empowerment

Organization Country

, 49

Country where this project is creating social impact

, 49

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment (WEAVE) is a non‐profit women’s organization established in 1990 by a group of socially conscious women led by Australian Marti Patel. Based in Chiang Mai, the mission then was to empower indigenous women and support their needs and basic human rights. WEAVE believes that by encouraging the leadership of women and the development of their status, the whole community benefits.

Since then, WEAVE has expanded its work and offices along the Thai-Burma border, witnessing first-hand the lack of rights and economic opportunities for displaced people from Burma because of government restrictions in Thailand. WEAVE staff recognized early on that women especially lack access to income generation opportunities and are highly vulnerable to exploitation.

To counter this, WEAVE explored ways to help women build their skills and find income-generating activities. The concept for WEAVE Small Business Builders developed from WEAVE staff dreaming of a business centre to work closely with individuals and groups to provide skills training, production, micro-finance and marketing- in essence to nurture their skills and development at every stage of the business.

To achieve their dreams and aspirations, women will be able to gain basic financial management skills, enabling them to manage their household income better and to invest towards their social, economic and financial goals.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

To date, WEAVE has expanded capacity development, income generation, community development and enhanced collaboration. As a social business , WEAVE measures its project success by:

-Number of artisans and entrepreneurs working and the income they earn
-Frequency and quality of involvement and participation of women artisans in project undertakings
-Level of artisan’s self-confidence
-Number of supported/assisted community projects from earnings
-Number and quality of collaborations with and between women’s groups
-Provision of technical and financial support for small business projects activities

This information is supported both by quantitative and qualitative measurements from income reports, in-depth field interviews and data collection for participants’ impact studies, as well as artisan narratives and stories and customer surveys.

Over 1,000 women and community-based representatives have been trained on women’s issues and development. Over 500 women have become home-based entrepreneurs and 15 women’s groups have participated in leadership and organizational development and have successfully used capital funding.

Over 2,000 adult and senior women artisan have increased their English literacy. WEAVE has supported approximately 500 young women and senior women’s learning through women studies and women’s literacy project activities in two refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border.

Income generation activities have brought sales of USD $1.3 million in 2010, which continue to cover almost all expenses (excluding some salaries paid by other funding).

Here is how refugee artisan Naw Ka Pru Paw sees WEAVE's current income generation project: When she arrived in her refugee camp, she struggled to take care of three children. However, "When I have income, I can be healthy and strong," she said. She uses her income differently than her husband, explaining that "If he makes money, he spends it (all) the next day." In contrast, she spends her income on nutritious food, like fish and fresh vegetables, as well as school uniforms and medicine.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

1,001- 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

To further create a sustainable social business that invests all profit back into its work, WEAVE Small Business Builders will become a separate entity from WEAVE NPO and be registered as a business. This will open more opportunities in Thailand and globally, avoiding restrictions placed on NGOs by Thai authorities.

WEAVE Small Business Builders also plans to:
-Enable 1,200 displaced Burmese ethnic women in and outside refugee camps to become social entrepreneurs
-Improve access for 1,200 displaced and vulnerable girls and young women to non-formal education such as women’s issues and development, life skills
-Forge 20 strategic partnerships with community-based organizations to design, plan and manage economic empowerment projects
-Become the biggest fair trade shop in Thailand

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

WEAVE faces four potential barriers to the success of its project, but is already taking active steps to overcome or avoid them.

The security situation remains unstable both inside Burma and on the Thai-Burma border, creating potential difficulty for women who live outside the camps to access activities. However, since the project taps into and will further build women’s networks, women can use these networks as bridges to receive training and share information.

Resettlement to third countries has already had an impact on the loss of leadership and skills in income generation activities, resulting in more women needing to be recruited and trained. However, WEAVE uses a Training of Trainers (TOT) model to impress knowledge on women who then share that knowledge and recruit other women in their own communities to get involved. This will help offset the loss of artisans available for handicraft production.

With the downturn in economies where WEAVE operates, handicraft sales decreased in 2010. However, first quarter figures for 2011 have already increased by 30% due to increased marketing support, identification of revenue-generating products, successful launches of new product lines based on market trends, forging strategic partnerships and alliances with institutional customers. This increase is expected to continue rising into the next three years and a strengthened business plan will be implemented this year.

WEAVE is officially registered in the Philippines as a non-profit organization. The Philippine registration covers WEAVE’s regional work with Burma’s neighboring countries – India and China. In Thailand, WEAVE receives annual approval from the Royal Thai Government’s Ministry of Interior to provide humanitarian services to Burma’s displaced persons and communities on the Thai-Burma border. This allows WEAVE to do humanitarian and education work and does not include concrete economic and business activities.

In 2009, WEAVE forged a partnership with Thai Tribal Crafts, also a fair trade organization promoting livelihood opportunities, to create the Fair Trade Shop in Mae Sot, Thailand. This partnership allows WEAVE to operate its business legally. To fully legalize the business operations in Thailand and be independent, WEAVE will soon register as a business. The business will ultimately manage these activities, and if successful, WEAVE’s legal business identity will provide strong direction to pursue sustainability of its economic development work.

Tell us about your partnerships

WEAVE has worked with Oxfam-Novib for the past eight years focusing on a wide range of programming, including education and training and women’s economic empowerment in the form of small social funding and community development.

In 2009, WEAVE partnered with Thai Tribal Crafts (TTC), a fair trade organization that supports northern Thailand hill tribe women with livelihood activities. TTC has three main fair trade outlets in Thailand, namely in Mae Sot, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. WEAVE and TTC products are featured in the stores and our organizations share overhead costs and management.

WEAVE has also made progress in developing stronger partnerships with fair trade organizations which are supporting the marketing and awareness of handicrafts, resulting in regular income for our artisans. Partners include Greater Goods Network, Global Goods, World Fair Trade Organization and World Fair Trade Organization- Asia.

WEAVE continues to collaborate with the Burmese women’s umbrella networks, the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) based in Thailand and the Women’s League of Chinland (WLC) to provide complementary activities which further advance women’s status and development.

WEAVE also provides collective safe marketing space for eight local organizations in Mae Sot to sell their products.

Explain your selections

WEAVE’s Income Generation Project is a separate revenue source and will in future be a separate entity from the WEAVE Foundation. Revenue from store and online sales of handicrafts (USD $40,000 in 2010) cover basic expenses, including some salaries.

WEAVE receives some funding from Oxfam-Novib and Bernard van Leer Foundation (USD $20,000) to carry out capacity building of women participants in the income generation project. This is done through technical and training assistance as minimal capital to start their small business.

WEAVE also receives occasional individual donations from customers at our shops and friends and family of WEAVE staff (USD $2,000 received in 2010).

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

WEAVE now has the foundation to build a new sustainable business that can generate sufficient income to cover all expenses separately from its foundation and be able to invest all profit back into its development activities. In order to become a successful social business, WEAVE Small Business Builders will strengthen its activities through:

Entrepreneurs: train and involve more women artisans by tapping other producers and workers from the Burmese migrant-women groups and Thai village tribes; introduce a benefit plan.

Sales: increase by 25% in the next three years by creating consignment deals with fair trade shops in the area and accessing new markets

Marketing: conduct staff development; join fair trade events; create promotional materials for domestic and international use; increase social media presence

Production: introduce new designs; increase the efficiency and operation of women’s collectives making products

Research: identify customer behaviour, top-selling items, increase of bulk orders

Exchanges: facilitate forums and events where artisans can discuss, share and learn subjects that will further enhance their small social businesses, including appropriate technologies, fair-trade, business skills to mention a few.

Finally, to enhance the development of self-managing and self-sustaining women’s organizations and community projects, WEAVE Small Business Builders can become a prototype for like-minded organizations or groups around the world by increasing its visibility in Asia and abroad through collective networks and social media.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Need for regulatory/policy support


Lack of visibility and investment


Restricted access to new markets

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Working together with UNHCR and the Committee for Coordination for Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand (CSDPT), a network of humanitarian NGOs along the Thai-Burma border, WEAVE is developing a border-wide plan for the Royal Thai government for refugees to access employment outside the camps.

To address lack of visibility and investment, WEAVE provides job training for displaced people that can be used directly to earn income from handicrafts, while women’s groups can receive small capital capital for their social business.

WEAVE also finds different channels to sell products outside Thailand, opening up new markets and revenue streams. It bridges the accessibility gap between customers and producers due to government policy and technology and language barriers.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.



Grown geographic reach: Multi-country


Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

1) Identify more disadvantaged and vulnerable women inside refugee camps and in Thailand and use peer committees made up of ethnic women to explain the opportunities available

2) Extend access and opportunities to women in Thailand’s rural villages and border towns along the Thai-Burma border who also lack opportunities, and collaborate with existing groups to contribute complimentary assistance towards poverty alleviation

3) Build networks with kindred organizations and seek new partnerships that extend programs inside Burma and provide much-needed capacity development and funding to small enterprises there

4) Influence other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices and share its business model with other marginalized groups

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

NGOs/Nonprofits, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

AS a member of the Committee for Coordination for Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand (CSDPT) a network of humanitarian NGOs working along the Thai-Burma border, WEAVE does advocacy work with UNHCR to develop a Comprehensive Development Plan and Strategic Framework. This includes advocating to the Royal Thai government for refugees to access employment outside the camps and has furthered WEAVE’s commitment to “A livelihood is a right for all”.

WEAVE has benefited from collaboration with academia/universities in its internships with Wharton School of Business, where students developed marketing studies, among others. With Ateneo de Davao University, Philippines, International Studies students learn things such as fair trade and developing new channels of fundraising.