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Virtual Souk
Institution: Aït Iktel Association, Morocco
Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development, Egypt
Community Development Consultation and Company Management, Tunisia
Essalem Association, Tunisia
Jordan Export Development and Commercial Centres Corporation
Ministry for Women and the Family, Tunisia
Tunisian Union for Social Solidarity
World Bank Institute
Theme: Electronic and Mobile Government, Knowledge Management in Government, Internet Governance
Implementation Date: Jan 01, 1998
Summary: Artisans in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have always crafted high-quality products using traditional techniques and ancestral know-how. However, shrinking local markets and difficulties in gaining access to more lucrative markets have led to a gradual disappearance of culturally rich crafts and with them an important source of income for poor people.

The Virtual Souk is an Internet-based marketplace that has been providing direct access to international markets for artisans from the MENA region since 1998. It offers handmade products by artisans of Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia who do not have access to the international market via the Internet. The Virtual Souk provides opportunities for small-scale, talented artisans who are at risk of being excluded from the benefits of the information technology revolution because of lack of access and information. Its main attraction is that buying and selling only with reliable, non-profit-making partners allow the producers to increase their margin and the middlemen to reduce theirs. At present, the Virtual Souk includes several hundred artisans from Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. Artisans from Egypt, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory are joining the network as well.

Impact: The experiences of the Virtual Souk demonstrate how new possibilities created by the surge of e-commerce create opportunities for small-scale artisans living in remote areas. ICTs enhance their trade and the conservation of their traditional knowledge. Having a web site that presents arts and crafts for the entire MENA region is an incentive to potential customers to come to shop for crafts from different countries of the region.

In addition to generating additional income, capacity-building is a key element of the Virtual Souk approach. The Virtual Souk provides its partners and artisans with training in the Internet, e-commerce, marketing, basic management skills, micro-credit, etc. It has organized three training workshops in Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. The concept of the Virtual Souk goes beyond the market place: it is a development tool designed to empower local artisans and NGOs through training and access to information and knowledge.

Source: World Bank Institute
Project Home URL: http://www.elsouk.com

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