Editor’s note: The following conversation is part of an ongoing series for ThinkChange India where we speak to social entrepreneurs firsthand. The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with first-hand insights from groundbreaking changemakers. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab.
From the Dastkar Andhra website: A weaver at the loom
During SoCap09 in San Francisco, I had an opportunity to converse with Annapurna Mamidipudi, one of the founders of Dastkar Andhra, an organization in Andhra Pradesh that works with weaver cooperatives. Their activities range from production to marketing assistance to training and research.
According to Annapurna, there are over 200,000 weavers in Andhra Pradesh and engage in the second-largest industry (after agriculture) in India, but 90% of the handloom weavers live on less than $2 a day. Although they are producing quality goods, they do not know how to reach centralized markets. The handloom industry can work as an engine to bring people out of poverty, and Dastkar Andhra (DA) is working with cooperatives to ensure that the engine is working just right. In addition to marketing, DA also does policy and advocacy work on behalf of weavers, holds design workshops, and imports appropriate technologies.
After hearing DA’s background, I was curious about what it takes to get an organization off the ground. For DA, it took three years to really establish itself. During the first year, the DA team worked with cooperatives to teach them about inventory management and other necessary skills; during the second year, the focus was more on researching what the market wanted; and, during the third year, DA took pre-orders based on market needs. They needed funding for the first three years, and found support from Dorabji Tata Trust and ICCO Netherlands.
But how does an organization convince larger funding agencies to get involved? As Annapurna explained, in the 1990s, no one was talking about sustainability. DA had a goal of scaling to 1 crore, and by the second round of funding, they found that they were indeed sustainable enough to achieve that goal. The ICCO funds toward experimentation and research and development were also extremely valuable in moving the organization forward.
Speaking of scale, I also asked Annapurna about plans to expand. She stressed the importance of scaling locally and strengthening cooperatives. There is a need to have local organizations in other states take up the work, because it is necessary to have people present. Scale also means building a brand. In order to build scale, the organization needs the capability to read and service the market. The brand for DA represents a contemporary, environment-friendly, and aesthetic product, and the team hopes to make it a recognizable name for a larger market segment. Overall, as Annapurna said, they believe in taking their time rather than rushing to scale up.
The other aspect of DA that makes it unique and successful, according to Annapurna, is its diverse team and women leadership, which helps keep them on track. And as for next steps, DA is looking for people to connect their products to new markets. If you’re interested in checking out DA’s products, visit their store in Hyderabad (Daram), various exhibitions, or through their exports.