SAI’s Livelihood Creation project is underway on the ground in India. The research project, supported by the Tata Trusts, aims to build knowledge and capacity around three key areas: rural livelihood creation (emphasis on the handicrafts and handloom sectors); educational, social and economic empowerment of women; and science and technology-based interventions for poverty alleviation.
By Kundan Madireddy, Project Manager and Shashank Shah, Project Director
From the state of Rajasthan, our team moved to the equally exquisite and culturally rich state of Gujarat. The western most state of India with the longest coastline (of 1,600 kms) in the country, it is known locally as the Jewel of the Western Part of India. Formerly a part of the Bombay Presidency, Gujarat was carved out as a separate state on May 1, 1960; when Maharashtra became the residual state with Bombay as its capital. The city of Gandhinagar is the capital of Gujarat and Ahmedabad is its largest city (with a population of 7.2 million) and also the commercial capital of the state.
Gujarat is also the birth state of the Father of Nation of India, Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi is born on October 2, 1969, in a place called Porbandar in South-West Gujarat. He is credited for playing a very important role in India’s non-violent freedom struggle; and a role model for a number of world leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. He was also a proponent of India being a self-sufficient nation with enormous emphasis on the empowerment of its 600,000 villages. To further this cause, he actively promoted the making and using of Khadi (hand spun and handwoven cloth). Besides being known for its association with the Khadi and Swadeshi Movement, Gujarat is very well known for its handlooms and handicrafts works like embroidery, leatherwork, Bandhani, hand-block printing, and beadwork. It is not a surprise that a large number of handicrafts and handlooms-focussed organizations are situated in this state.
During our field visits, the SAI team visited some of the well-known organizations in Gujarat. Some of these were:
- Gramshree: It was founded by Anandiben Patel (the current Chief Minister of Gujarat) in 1995. The SAI team was welcomed with a ceremonial prayer and all the staff at the store introduced themselves before the meeting began. Anar Patel, daughter of the Chief Minister, and her team members including Sandeep and Shilpa explained how the organization has worked with over 17,000 artisans in the last 20 years. Gramshree follows a hybrid model where the artisans are associated with the Gramshree Trust. Craftroots, the marketing arm, helps sell products that artisans in the trust makes. Craftroots also sells products from other NGOs and artisans. The store had a very good collection of products. The décor and layout was impressive.
- Aura Herbal Wear: A social enterprise, founded by Arun and Sonal Baid, it is involved in making natural and herbal dyes, and organic cotton for handicrafts and handlooms organizations. Natural dyes are those whose color is extracted from naturally available substances like leaves and barks of trees. Herbal dyes are those which carry the medicinal value of the ingredients being used in the dyeing process. Aura has done a lot of research on dyes that are environmentally friendly in terms of water conservation and also have health benefits for the consumers. Even the artisans using these dyes are
experiencing reduced health issues as compared to the use of chemical dyes.
- Bandhej: Founded in 1985 by Archana Shah, Bandhej has a strong philosophy wherein once it starts work with an artisan group it continues to work with it irrespective of business fluctuations. Bandhej also uses design interventions very effectively to make products to suit the current generation. It also uses quality control tools to ensure that only the best products are made available to customers. It sells products through retail and online stores. Taking care of its employees and artisans is a very important objective for Bandhej. Among its various initiatives, it offers interest-free loans to them. It is noteworthy to mention that there hasn’t been a single default on any of those loans over the last 30 years.
Parampara India: Parampara is a social business with a focus on embroidery-based handicrafts. The Parampara team, led by Payal Sheth, explained to our team how they train women in Ahmedabad and rural areas of Gujarat to learn embroidery craft and skills of different places of India. Some examples include Phulkari from Punjab, Kantha from West Bengal, and Kasuti from Karnataka. Making over 1,500 stencils for embroidery designs is one among the many innovations that Parampara has done. They also have plans of opening an exclusive facility in Ahmedabad to house their entire collection for display and sale.
- Villcart: The organization is an online retailer of handicrafts with operations in Vadodara, Gujarat. The SAI team met the founder of Villcart, Kiran Patil, in Mumbai. The Villcart website has a large collection of handcrafted products right from key holders and door handles to jewellery and idols. Villcart uses Information Technology systems effectively to run its entire operations in terms of inventory management, sourcing, and sales. As a unique practice in this sector, Villcart also offers ESOPs (Employee Stock Option Plan) to its employees based on their performance.
- Okhai: An initiative of the Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD), Okhai is a CSR initiative of Tata Chemicals in the villages of Okhamandal, Gujarat where it operates its Mithapur plant. Okhai works with the tribal women in those areas and helps them become economically and socially independent. This also turns them into change agents in their villages. Handicrafts became a very important source of livelihood for the women there as not many significant income earning opportunities were available. The SAI Team met Kirti Poonia, Head of Okhai, at Bombay House, the Tata Group headquarters in Mumbai. They explained Okhai’s vision of becoming a unique fashion brand and also empowering thousands of women artisans in the process.
The visit to Gujarat culminated in a detailed interaction with Professor Manoj Mishra from the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI), Gandhinagar. Head of the Centre of Micro Enterprise, Micro Finance and Sustainable livelihood at EDI, Prof. Mishra leads the National Resource Centre established under the Integrated Handloom Cluster Development Program of the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India. We benefitted from his two decades long experience in this field and his deep insights of issues and challenges faced by the handicrafts sector, and how our project can help catalyse many of the training and capacity building needs of institutions working in this sector. He insisted that we interact with select students of the EDI Program on Social Entrepreneurship and share our thoughts with them. That evening, Dr. Shashank Shah led a very interactive session with the students for an hour.
This concluded our visit to Gujarat and we headed to the next destination – the city of dreams, the land of opportunities, the commercial capital of India – Mumbai. In our next Blog, we’ll share the contribution that this city has made to the cause of handicrafts and their promotion.