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Contact: Sara Orr
April 16, 2001

Maasai Warrior-Style Sandals Offer Entrepreneurial Opportunity to Kenyans and New Style to Internet Customers Worldwide

Ann Arbor, Michigan—A student-run website sold thousands of dollars of African-made tire sandals and attracted thousands of web users worldwide in its first six weeks online as part of an innovative effort to harness e-commerce to spur community development in the blighted Kenyan slums. Online sales have already doubled the number of employees of a community-owned shantytown business.

The Wikyo Akala Sandal Project trains young adults in the production and sales of the sandals, recruiting sandal-makers from the large Korogocho shantytown outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Participants use recycled tire rubber to make the soles of the sandals, modeled after traditional sandals worn through much of Africa. The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based website then imports the sandals and sells them via the Internet. All proceeds from the sandal sales go directly back to the Kenya-based project.

Matthew Meyer, a second year University of Michigan Law student, started the project with a Kenyan friend, Benson Wikyo, in Korogocho in 1995 with a grant from the Samuel Huntington Fund. "It has been exciting to see this project grow in a place where so few express hope for the future," Meyer said. "The project gives Kenyans experience running a small business and enables them to use the Internet to share aspects of their culture with the rest of the world."

For Meyer, the project also demonstrates the significant impact the Internet can have on developing economies. "This project shows the power of the Internet as a tool for international development," Meyer said. "Through the Internet and international cooperation," Meyer points out, "isolated communities that are materially destitute can access international markets with their products. With the help of the Internet, these sandals have given a struggling Kenyan community jobs, capital, and hope."

If you would like to learn more about the Project, please visit http://www.ecosandals.com.

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