Medhavi Gandhi, Happy Hands Foundation, On their Attempt to Preserve Traditional Indian Art, Crafts & Culture

By Team YS|29th Aug 2011
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Over 200 crafts of India are endangered today. Happy Hands Foundation strives to revive cultural traditions, art and craft forms through contemporary ways and initiatives such Green Room and Blue-Prints. We at YourStory.in caught up with the founder of Happy Hands Foundation, Social Entrepreneur Medhavi Gandhi, to know more about her vision for Happy Hands Foundation.Medhavi was also a finalist at the British Council’s Young Design Entrepreneur Awards 2011 & she received special commendation from the jury in the design category. To know more about the Young Design Entrepreneur Awards, click here. To follow the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards on Facebook, click here.

Medhavi, tell us about Happy Hands.

Happy Hands is all about preserving and reviving traditional Indian art, crafts and culture. We work extensively on artisan development and focus on creating sustainable livelihoods for artisans through arts.

Great! Run us through the series of events that led to the creations of Happy Hands.

I was working on a college project with UNESCO and the Crafts Council which led me to interact with several artisans and got me to face the realities of the work field. The challenges were a catch 22. There were products being made, which were hardly selling, so the artisans were adopting to alternate means of livelihood, keeping the craft tradition as a hobby. Their kids saw no future in the family's age old occupation. In the hope of a better future and livelihood, there were people considering labour jobs! That is when I decided I wanted to do something about it.

I researched a lot, read about organizations, but none of them focused on artisan education. It was completely ignored that the artisans needed to learn design techniques and improve their skills, to be able to innovate and keep up with the market. That's what led to starting Happy Hands. It was a very strong impulse.

That is a very compelling story. Tell us a little about your educational background.

I come from a very simple family, studied at Springdales, Pusa Road, Delhi; graduated in English Literature from Kamala Nehru, Delhi University. I was an active theatre enthusiast, and completed my MBA in Communication Management from Symbiosis, Pune.

Where are you based? When was Happy Hands Launched? Tell us about your team.

We're based in Delhi, but we work in 11 to 12 states of India. We are very low on human capital, we are about 4 people. Happy Hands started way back in 2009 and got formally registered in Jul 2009.

I have gone through the website and found some really interesting product offerings. Tell us about the projects in detail.

Green Room is an artisan education workshop. We team artisans up with design institutes, designers, students, and brands to create in cohesion and learn from each other. A panel discussion is an important part of Green Room where an eminent panel addresses students and artisans on the importance of the crafts sector, and how design plays an important role. It all ends with an exhibit open to public.

Project Dor: This is a women's empowerment program intended to teach underprivileged women, the basic elements of design so that they can create simple designs/objects which help them earn a livelihood. For this project, we have worked with sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, recently started work in Gujarat with a farm worker who needs to desperately support her family; and run a school in Delhi where around 20 women each year start from scratch and graduate as independent entrepreneurs.

The People's Project(TPP), as the name suggests allows people to come together for short term interventions, workshops, projects and on another level, gives a platform for our artisans to market their products. TPP includes "dukaans" of our artisans as well as our own "Humaari Dukaan"- which showcases our innovations in the product segment. Public Interventions like the Switch Off Campaign, or corporate projects like the Coke-Warli-Diwali collaboration make for some interesting projects we've done in the past. We're looking at doing more public art projects in the coming years as a part of TPP.

Blueprints are exhibits we create/participate in - to make the crafts more accessible to people. These exhibits can be held within corporate spaces, residential fairs, malls and colleges.

Can you give us an idea of the amount of capital required to set up?

We didn't really begin in the conventional way, raised funds through exhibits and events, and that funded some part of our travel and work in the villages. In our first year, fundraisers and exhibits were mostly what sustained us. Now, it is shared by the corporate projects and gifting as well as the fundraisers, workshops and exhibits. At the end, our revenues are split into pumping them back into more development projects and grants for our artisans.

How do you outreach to the artisan community? Tell us about the challenges faced during this process.

Art is usually area and tribe specific. So my travel mostly has always been an adventure. I reach a place, dig out the art form, find out where the artisans are. Once that is achieved, the work is simple, because interacting with artisans is never a problem. They are more than willing to work more. Of course, the attitude again depends on the work they do/have been doing. Its a challenge to get them to adopt a new way of thinking and of innovating. They more often than not, don't want to take risks of making an entirely different product. Developing this relationship with the artisans is a personal thing, from having tea with them (tea is something I never have!), to discussing stories and playing games. I dot it all to connect with them.

Tell us about the kinds of artisans you closely work with. Which regions are they mostly from?

I work with artisans from various states - Andhra, Orissa, Karnataka, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat, Bihar, Maharashtra & Madhya Pradesh. Some are art-based, some are craft-based. We work on pottery, crochet, cherial art, pithora art, warli, madhubani, Bamboo craft, Gond art, Doll craft, lacquerware, ikat, coir, dhokra, banjara jewellery etc.

I understand that you have various engagement models with corporates. Tell us more.

It started with Corporate Gifting(with HCL), exhibits (at Technopak), and has grown to working on communication through an art form(Coke). We even worked on a product together with a Greenply. We're constantly trying to explore CSR and volunteer activities too. Corporates also sponsor some of our events - Pepsi has been our biggest supporter till date with brands such as Desi Beats and Nimbooz being active sponsors for our carnivals/design festivals.

How do you plan to expand Happy Hands?

We're definitely looking at doing workshops and activities in other cities, working with more corporates, and collaborating with design schools, and designers for different projects. The idea is to strengthen before we can expand wholeheartedly.

Tell us about the strategic partnerships that helped you scale.

I think our retail partnerships have helped us immensely. They has helped create awareness, and generated a new model of fundraising for us. These partners are Either Or, Orange Bicycle, Masala Chai, Tribal Route etc. Similarly, we worked with Technopak, HCL did workshops with Drive India, the American Council associated with Pepsi, Coke and Greenply and we just see it growing from here. I think Coke and Greenply really gave us another way of looking at Corporate Collaborations so they've been very important to us. And in the end some very significant partners in rural areas, rural development agencies, Care, local ngo's etc. have helped us communicate with the artisans in the local language.

Tell us about your experience at YCE this year.

I think YCE was an excellent platform to recognize creativity across India. It was a great opportunity to meet and connect with people and explore future collaborations with them. Learnt much from others and it was wonderful to share Happy Hands' journey with them.

Anything else that you want to share with the readers of YourStory.in

Yes, I'd like them to extend any support they can towards the arts/crafts of India because it isn't just the form of art or the artisan but lives connected to the art that need attention. An artisan's income impacts the future of his children, the health of his family, and so it is important to keep his art alive!

Please check out their website for more details: http://www.happyhands.in/hhf/

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