Disability no obstacle for this ecommerce queen
Despite having to deal with her own disability, Zhao Yuan has succeeded in carving out a career in e-commerce and has helped more than 2,000 other disabled people sell agricultural products.
The 50-year-old was born in the Jianghua Yao autonomous county in Hunan province.
Before being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 24, Zhao was a dance teacher. Arthritis is a condition that causes permanent damage to the joints, especially the fingers, wrists, feet and ankles.
Eventually confined to a wheelchair, she had to leave her teaching post and began to make a living in business.
She opened a hotel in her mountain hometown and used some of her earnings to help pay for the school and college fees of 13 poor students.
"There are people who have helped me, and I want to repay them by doing good things for others," Zhao said.
In 2017, she set up an offline sales platform called Sanhao Xiansheng – or “good and fresh” – which mainly sold goods produced by Zhao's disabled friends.
Due to the pandemic, however, Sanhao Xiansheng stopped making money, so Zhao turned to online sales instead.
She became a livestream host on social media platforms, promoting goods like brown sugar, sweet potato flour and honey that her friends made, by telling stories about them.
"This is handmade brown sugar. Although the woman who makes it only has one leg, she grows over 333 hectares of sugar cane, and her business provides work for about 100 local residents," Zhao explained during one livestream session on June 26, which she shot at a villager's home in Longhui county.
That day, after introducing the products and telling stories for six hours, Zhao checked on the sales and concluded that two of the products – sweet potato powder and honey – were selling well. "Next time, I will spend more time introducing them," she said.
Zhao said that she always checks the quality of the products herself before promoting them. "Before selling anything, I inspect the products. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to ensure they're fit to sell," she said.
Although travelling is inconvenient, Zhao has been all over Hunan checking produce and teaching the producers how they can sell online.
In 2020, she sold 50,000 kilograms of oranges and other agricultural produce, with sales topping 2 million yuan ($298,600).
Zhao said that everything she sells comes from 55 agricultural centres around the province run by the disabled, which employ more than 2,000 people. She has also hired 57 hosts, all of whom are disabled.
With her career flourishing, Zhao has set up the Hunan Sanhao Xiansheng Agricultural Science and Technology Development Co, of which she is now chair.
"We are planning to train another 1,000 hosts," she said, adding that she hopes they will also be able to experience their personal and social value through work, just the way she did.
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