Women Development Group (WDG) was founded in 2005 to support Lahu women in Northern Thailand who had a difficult time to make a living as they lacked proper registration and could only find lowly paid jobs paying 90 baht or 120 baht a day, with some fortunate to receive 240 baht.
Those women who worked at home, usually those who had young children, and got paid for pieces of work fared not much better. For putting together a bag they would get 12 baht, a shirt was good for 35 baht and wallets only 50 cents a piece.
They chose their name to show that they had the future in sight, and besides creating income for the women WDG was aware that working for better opportunities in education and better health care were as important. Besides that there was a need to strengthen the social structure and support women in their religious life.
At the start WDG had 25 members who, besides lacking legal paperwork, also struggled with the Thai language. Over the years members have been able to achieve Thai citizenship, learned the language and therefore were able to find secure jobs in Thailand. For this reason, WDG is now a smaller organisation with 7 members.
Inspiration for new products is found in magazines, shops and on the internet in addition the group listens well to what customers want. One technique that the group uses is to take two different designs and somehow turn that into one new design.
Materials for their products comes from a variety of places like the markets in Chiang Mai and Burma and from the many Thai villages that dot the area.
Selling the products is a challenge. The markets in Chiang Mai are known for their cheap products where genuine handicrafts are seen as too expensive. A network of customers orders directly at WDG and Borderline has been supporting WDG since the start.
The members of WDG work at home and the group helps them with their materials and tools like sewing machines. They show them new designs help with capital to make new products and in emergencies helps them with finances.
While overall the group is doing well, each year new challenges show that running an organisation like WDG is a long term project where there is never moment to relax.
The collaboration between WDG and Borderline consist of marketing the products, finding new markets, giving suggestions, helping with loans and other financial support, helping with designs and do follow up support.
The profit that WDG generates is just enough, and sometimes not even that, for the running cost like rent and electricity. Besides that to develop a new product takes time and often means making several try out versions that can not be sold.
For the future WDG hopes to improve the quality of the products and have a better quality control system, to continue using traditional designs and materials for their products, create a market so that young mothers with children can work at home while supporting their families, have workshops and training on issues like health, education, social life and religion.
In addition, WDG hopes to handover the knowledge of their community to a younger generation so it doesn’t get lots and a link with the past is assured.