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Artisans' Open Source: PeopLink and CatGen
Robert Katz, 14 Aug 06

plate.jpeCan there be such a thing as a handicraft controversy? Long-time WC readers might remember one taking shape on this site last March, when we introduced Worldstock. Jamais initially suggested that Worldstock (a subsidiary of is worldchanging because it connects artisans from developing countries to mature marketplaces, where their handicrafts demand high prices – generating higher incomes for the artisans.

WC readers jumped all over it, railing against Worldstock’s parent company as a bad corporate citizen, among other things. Some were critical of handicraft marketing in of itself: "it keeps people in poverty by focusing on a cottage industry while glossing over the bigger structural problems of globalization". After a healthy debate, Jamais went so far as to retract his claim that Worldstock is worldchanging:

Upon further examination of the activities of the parent organization, and some internal discussion of the history of Worldstock, the suggestion that Worldstock is even "potentially worldchanging" is hereby revoked.

Keep all this in mind as you read about PeopLink and CatGen – two related, worldchanging projects that empower handicraft artisans in developing countries to – that’s right – sell their goods to high-income buyers, thus increasing their revenues.

PEOPlink is a non-profit organization that trains and equips grassroots artisan organizations all over the world to market their goods directly to customers over the Internet – thereby minimizing the impact of middlemen and maximizing return to the artisan. CatGen is a related open-source software application that allows minimally-skilled artisans to create and maintain effective online stores.

PeopLink and CatGen are the brainchildren of Dan Salcedo, a Colombian-American aid worker who, during the 1970s and 1980s, started a hugely-successful mail order catalog featuring artisan crafts called Pueblo to People. In 1995, Dan realized the coming importance of e-commerce and shifted his efforts away from mail-order to the Internet.

Salcedo and his team have developed technology tools that connect artisans directly with buyers. The whole enterprise is predicated on keeping costs down and maximizing returns to the artisan. It uses XML-based catalog hosting, digital cameras, and sophisticated aggregated shipping policies to keep costs down and environmental impact to a minimum. CatGen’s software even aggregates individual catalogs into powerful metamarkets that improve search engine results. The software was recently featured as a good third-party solution that runs with PayPal by a developer web site.

Selling local handicrafts to first world consumers to generate income isn’t a new idea. Non-profit organizations and for-profit catalogs have been tapping into this market for years – back in March, WC readers suggested some as alternatives to Worldstock. What sets PeopLink and CatGen apart, however, is their bottom-up approach. Rather than continue to treat artisans simply as producers, these tools allow weavers, potters, painters, and sculptors to harness their entrepreneurial skills. It gives them a low-cost, easy to use window into the world of eBay and PayPal – without handing over control of their business to a middleman or accepting huge markups by catalog businesses. With PeopLink and CatGen, artisans receive fair compensation for their crafts while developing business skills.

Is that worldchanging? I think so, but I welcome comments.

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Well, I guess it may not be doing all that all the poor in the world need but it IS changing their individual lives for the better, and perhaps giving them some self worth, knowing they don't have to beg to support their families.

Posted by: Emma on 14 Aug 06

Update: WC Ally and my co-writer Derek Newberry recently interviewed PeopLink founder Dan Salcedo. Listen to the entire conversation here at NextBillion.

Posted by: Rob on 14 Aug 06

From the CatGen website, I don't see anything about it being Open Source software, nor do I see any way to get hold of the source code.

It is NOT open source by any normal definition.

Posted by: Mike on 15 Aug 06

Mike -Thank you for the heads up. I took a closer look and found that it's a little more complicated than open-source vs. not open-source. From the CatGen web site: is marketing this platform to enterprises North America and Europe while the counterpart is focused on nonprofit work with training and low cost hosting solutions for SMEs in emerging economies and marginal communities. also handles an exciting Open Source initiative that grants free access to the CatGen client source code thereby enabling interested developers to modify the application any way that suits their needs. (My emphasis)

So the upshot is this - sells itself as proprietary software, while is a Free and Open Source Software initiative. Here's some specific information, including developer contacts, about the FOSS element.

Posted by: Rob on 15 Aug 06



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