Press Release: It's all in the text

The New Straits Times, 8 Aug 2011: Home-based entrepreneurs are using a specially developed PC-to-mobile phone collaborative tool to earn an income. ROZANA SAM finds out more about eHomemakers' (Corpcom Services Sdn Bhd) Salaam Wanita project.

AS housewife Norzihan (not her real name) tends to her 17-year-old son (who suffers from cerebral palsy) in her modest home in Ipoh, her mobile phone beeps. After she has fed him and made him comfortable, she picks up the phone and sees a text message.

It is the coordinator of the Salaam Wanita project, a component of Kuala Lumpur-based community network eHomemakers (Corpcom Services Sdn Bhd) which promotes working from home. Salaam Wanita has a pro-poor project focusing on eco-baskets production and service provision to empower women to be self-reliant. Norzihan is one of the participants. Under the project, the women help support their families by making handwoven baskets from old magazines, in their own homes.

The text message inquires whether Norzihan is able to make 50 special-order baskets in two weeks.

Norzihan quickly checks her stock and keys in a reply. She is up to it but needs more old magazines. Then she presses the send button and waits for a reply.

A few months ago, Norzihan would not have been able to communicate as efficiently with the coordinator, says eHomemakers (Corpcom Services Sdn Bhd) executive director Chong Sheau Ching. She would have to be contacted physically or go to a neighbour's house to receive or make calls.

"Urban poor women in the Salaam Wanita project support their households as both caretakers and income earners. They face challenges due to their immobility and lack of affordable public transportation. Isolation combined with low selfconfidence and their status as low-income women prevented them from venturing outside the home to seek an income.

The cycle of high risk aversion, being victimised and passivity, is difficult to break unless there are appropriate solutions.

"In this case, it came in the simplest form of technology, a mobile phone linked to an integrated platform," says Chong. Distributed Work Management Application (DWMA) is a PC-to-mobile collaborative tool on an integrated platform that enables one person to efficiently coordinate people in diverse locations for group-level socialeconomic missions such as income-generation and bulk distribution/group production.

Developed by eHomemakers (Corpcom Services Sdn Bhd) over more than five years, the system makes use of SMS as an alternative communication channel for the homebound urban poor to enable them to earn income through a self-help e-community without leaving the house. The administrator coordinates them in the office without tedious phone calls.

"DWMA is also used to organise NGO volunteers, affiliates and mobile beneficiaries. It is an excellent tool for community organising, sourcing, distributing and information collating," adds Chong.

While DWMA has beenfully developed for two years already, its potential was not fully realised until eHomemakers (Corpcom Services Sdn Bhd) went into partnership with DiGi.

Telecommunications Sdn Bhd. Digi will provide up to 30,000 free SMSes per month over the next two years for eHomemakers (Corpcom Services Sdn Bhd) to communicate with its members.

"DWMA transmits product orders to organise production lines located in diverse sites for timely delivery. eHomemakers (Corpcom Services Sdn Bhd) also uses DWMA to organise training, donations of money or products to the poor, and bulk C-to-B(consumer-to-business) purchases by members. It will be used for micro-credit deployment soon," says Chong.

DiGi head of Business Environment Management Sumitra Nair says it has found a platform to deliver a useful service to help make a difference in the lives of home-based entrepreneurs.

"DiGi is committed towards achieving the national vision of a Connected Malaysia by providing quality communications and affordable information access to improve lives of the ordinary Malaysian."

Chong hopes to extend DWMA to 30 NGOs to conduct timely and frequent communications with its members, volunteers and beneficiaries by year-end.

"SMS is an alternative communication channel that is low-cost and efficient for participants who are homebound or on-the-go," she says.

New Straits Times