The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with interviews with people we believe are at the brink of something special but have for the most part been overlooked by the mainstream media. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tag.
In this edition, TC-I Changemaker features Aporv, a company aimed to improve the incomes and livelihoods of India’s handicraft makers via an e-commerce platform that helps tell the stories underpinning each product (follow them on Facebook). The company hopes that by educating consumers about each product’s narrative, it will encourage customers to purchase the goods, and those profits will then be reinvested in the artisans. TC-I’s Vinay Ganti spoke with one of Aporv’s co-founders Sudip Dutta to learn more about the venture. What exactly does your organization do?
At a very high level Aporv creates livelihood opportunities. This is done through various means by Aporv, by help create market linkages, create demand for the products, sell authentic products for the Indian artisans though the online platform. Through our model we are bringing 12 differentiations to the market which will be beneficial to both, the artisans and our appreciators.
Aporv provides a platform for artists to come out of the traditional middle – men selling paradigm and directly sell to the consumers which facilitates these artisans to move from ‘labor’ focus to ‘entrepreneur’ focused economy. Aporv also facilitates in creating a stronger rural economy which helps conserve the art form. Through its business model, Aporv helps eradicate the corruption of the Indian art and help drive more business as well as creating a completely new consumer segment. Aporv makes a significant social impact by empowering the artisans and helping this community to access the global market and at the same time sustain the diminishing Indian art form.
Why start this? What personally drove these entrepreneurs to start this?
This started from our own need to find authentic, Indian handicrafts which are unique and creative craft artifacts. Our search ended in finding products which were either fake or very expensive. At the same time we also realized that these artifacts were being sold just as any other product; that’s when we realized the opportunity and the social impact Aporv could make with access to the second largest occupation in India with close to 23+ million people. Almost 7%-10% of these artisans leave their craft in search for better livelihood opportunities. Thats when the whole idea of creating this unique platform originated to make a social impact and at the same time try to sustain the Indian craft.
What do you think is lacking in the sector of your organization’s interest in spite of your intervention?
Livelihood opportunity is just one aspect we are currently targeting. There is healthcare, education, water, etc. still to be taken care of and we have plans to take few of these aspects in our next phases.
Who are the founders and management? What do they do?
We are two founders, Sudip Dutta and Subhra Banerjee. Other than us we have great team members who are putting in their time and effort. The teams’ varied experience ranges from the Indian craft sector to Information Technology, from Hospitality to Luxury Management and Management Consulting. Our team members also have prior associations with corporations like Bain & Company, Infosys, Trident-Hilton and Oberoi Hotels. We have a wide educational background that covers premier design institution, BITS-Pilani, Stanford, Wharton Business School, INSEAD.
How is it funded?
Aporv is currently self funded and we would be happy to talk to investors.
How do you measure your effectiveness?
Since we are concentrating on creating livelihood opportunities we measure our effectiveness with respect to (1) sales and its impact on the artisan, (2) fair value, and (3) educated purchases. Going forward, we would also like to measure it on minimizing urban migration and making an artisan self-reliant and independent.
Assuming this problem exists in similar forms throughout the world, what unique challenges do you face in fighting it here in India?
Quite a few of them – first and foremost being the language. On an average any Indian who has traveled a bit speaks 4-5 languages, thats close to 20% of the official Indian languages. Thus communicating with artisans gets a little difficult unless you know their language and this hampers an effective conversation.The craft sector is so old that most of these artisans have actually got the knowledge of the craft from their fathers, grand fathers, great grandfathers. Thus it becomes a little difficult to get them to do more creative work, new design implementations with their craft. Thirdly, logistics. This is the biggest challenge. India is so diverse that communicating and then getting the artifacts is a nightmare.
How do you intend to scale this model going forward? What are the future goals/plans for the venture?
1 – 2 Year: This year is more about building partnerships with the artisans/ organizations/NGOs and building the brand. We expect to launch in international markets to expand the market linkages for the artisans. 3-5 Years: Make a direct impact to minimize urban migration and make the model more robust to facilitate each artisan being self reliant and independent.
What criteria do you use to identify partners/beneficiaries?
We are very thoughtful of our partners and want to make sure that each of our partnership works to make an impact. We take utmost care in getting into partnerships. The primary criteria for our partners are, they should have products that are handmade and authentic. Second level, we would like to see if the artisans working with them are getting a fare wage, if not how can Aporv contribute to make that happen. Third level, is the social impact the organization is making and how can Aporv make a larger impact. If you look at a high level the primary criteria are the most important and the second and third are the ones where Aporv would like to make an impact, if that doesn’t already exist. If you are interested in partnering with Aporv please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If some one else is starting off on your own sector of work, what advice do you have for him/her?
This is a vast area and lot of help and impact is required to make this work. My take is that this can work only with partnerships where-in partners are aligned with 2-3 thoughts and work towards them. I wouldn’t say its advice but try to concentrate on a particular area that you would like to concentrate to make an impact, be it livelihood, healthcare, education, water, etc and make sure your actions are aligned to that thought.