In this episode I speak to Ann Wong who co-founded the Penan Women Project.
Ann lives in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.
I’ve known Ann for more than a decade starting from the time she came back from San Francisco. She used to study and work in the US before making the decision to come home to be with her mother in Kuching, Sarawak.
Ann got married and had her twins but settling down to be a full-time homemaker didn’t seem to be her goal in life although she adores her kids. She itched to do something with her art and design knowledge which she had gained when she was in the US.
She chanced upon Shida Mojet one day and became highly interested in what Shida was trying to do for the Penan women of Sarawak.
Shida was trying to help the Penan women, an indigenous tribe among the many tribes in Sarawak, secure their livelihood by making and selling woven bags and baskets.
This was how Ann ended up using her graphic design and art degree to help the Penan women.
The Penan Women Project is essentially about income generation while preserving the art of traditional weaving. Traditional Penan artwork is introduced to urban customers by giving a colourful and contemporary twist to bags, totes, baskets, clutches and household decorative items.
As a social entrepreneur, Ann uses her woven products to open up conversations about the need to help the Penan who live in hard-to-reach interiors of Sarawak, the largest state in the whole of Malaysia.
Beyond weaving, the Penan Women Project has given the Penan dignity and self-worth. They are slowly becoming independent while going back to their roots and reviving the craft of their ancestors.
Besides creating financial independence, the Penan Women Project extends its care and support throughout the Penan community with their medical and maternity care such as paying medical bills, providing milk, food and clothes for Penan mothers and babies.
As a designer-manager-spokesperson, Ann is always thinking about innovation given her desire to improve the woven products based on feedback from customers and friends. She has made many improvements to the products and works with a number of friends, retailers and supporters of the cause to showcase more of what the Penan women can do.
Listen as she talks about how she got started and how she markets her products among all the exciting things that she is involved with!