UNDP Bridges Small Ethnic Minority Communities to Upscale International Markets

May 9, 2013

A UNDP project has helped to bring the culture and products of China’s ethnic Mosuo people to the international market. On 9 May 2013, a first order was placed by Tangs, a leading international department store in Singapore for eight Mosuo hand-woven products, totaling 160 items. Although a small order by Tang’s standards, this order represents a huge leap forward for the remote Mosuo society, allowing it to step out and claim its own market niche in the dynamic modern world.

The Mosuo are a matriarchic community living on the border of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces around Lake Lugu, where geographic isolation acts as a major hurdle to development and the pursuit of economic prosperity. Moreover, as they struggle with poverty the Mosuo are also hard-pressed to preserve their unique cultural identity. They are a small group – around 53,000 people in a country of 1.3 billion, or 0.04‰. The order by Tangs has validated a business model that will allow the Mosuo to use their culture rather than sacrifice it, a great success.

Since 2006 UNDP has been working with the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and the Chinese International Centre for Economic and Technical Exchanges, supporting 27 community-led initiatives around China to help reduce poverty amongst ethnic minorities based on unique local cultural and natural resources. The Mosuo community has been benefitting from one such project.

The project promotes a participatory approach and has established many community-based grassroots associations, to help communities improve their productivity and ability to manage their business competitively. The project also raises public awareness of different ethnic cultures, while increasing communities' own cultural self-recognition and pride.