Second of two parts; an Avgeekery.com exclusive on Flying Scarfs which is on a “mission is to help bring people in under-developed countries out of poverty through economic opportunity.”
Flying Scarfs was conceived by a group of Air Force pilots while they were posted to duty in Afghanistan. They observed how women, and in particularly those widowed by the constant fighting, needed a way to sustain themselves. Flying Scarfs is an enterprise that empowers partners in developing countries to flourish in the global economy.
The organization’s business plan involves having women in those developing countries use their sewing skills to make scarfs which are then sold. The profits are returned back to the women who can use the funds to feed and educate their children.
“The next stage we’re pushing for is to go beyond having this as a non-profit organization and change the business model so it creates more profits for these women,” said Jocelyn Chang, the chief operating officer. “We’re all-volunteer but we’re trying to reach a bigger target audience.”
The biggest challenge involves the inventory and delivering it to buyers. The cost of transporting the scarfs to the United States. It’s a grass-roots organization that operates with no extra money.
“Shipping costs are astronomical, about $8-10 for each one,” Chang said. “It’s a beautiful product but we want to figure a way to make it more available to the American market. And we’ve got fighter pilots who started the organization trying to market a product for women. That’s where I’ve come aboard.”
Chang, who goes by the call sign “Viper,” is a Captain in the US Air Force Reserve with seven years of Active Duty service. She has a BA from Baylor University and an MA from American Military University. Chang, who lives in Houston, is also a research analyst for Special Operations Research Association (SORA).
When the organization first became known in 2013, it received positive publicity; it was a “feel good” story but sustaining that momentum was difficult. The goal now is taking the next careful step. A non-profit that operates with little margin for error has to be cautious.
“The last few years, we’ve tried to refine our product line and how market ourselves,” Change said. “We emphasize the messaging of what we are, who we’re helping and the products that are available. And we want people to understand how we’re trying to do something greater than being in the military, trying to help people improve their lives.”
For every 10 scarfs a woman makes they can provide the funds to sustain her family for a month. In Afghanistan, instead of the children having to help sustain a family, a woman who can make enough money through Flying Scarfs can instead allow her children to attend school.
“Our goal is to make sure these kids can go to school and have food in their bellies,” Chang said.
The folks like Chang are doing the work on Flying Scarfs in their spare time; they all have “day jobs.” Coming up with a streamlined production plan for scarfs being made in other countries is a complicated, time-consuming process.