Born in the small town of Gaya in Bihar, Shweta Tiwary had a humble upbringing. Academics was never her forte but she had always been inclined towards art and music. Chungi was started by Shweta to create livelihood opportunities for handicraft artists across India and provide women with an online platform to showcase their talents. Chungi focuses on enhancing the skill sets of underprivileged women and empowers them to become financially independent.
After completing her graduation from Delhi University, Shweta joined the advertising industry. She describes her initial years in advertising as a roller coaster ride: “Leaving home early and returning late, no fixed working hours, last moment preparation on pitches, handling crisis at work, working over weekend, house parties. It always gave rise to questions and comments from people like – aisa kya kaam hai jo din mein nahi ho sakta.” Instead of upsetting her, criticism of this nature made her determined to work towards a better society.
Making a difference with Chungi
Chungi is an initiative to revive arts and artists. In the modern digital world very few people are aware of crochet, khantha work, or madhubani panting. “The artists will get a new address and a shelf to showcase their art in the online shopping domain,” says Shweta.
Shweta always wanted to help people in her hometown by providing education and employment. With Chungi she has achieved this goal. By training women and making them financially independent, she has built a reliable network for them. “It is a close knit family of artists. Sunita who came to us as an artist is now like a family member. We share our challenges, funny jokes, and daily family problems,” says she.
Chungi started with the help of two important women in Shweta’s life—her mother, Vina and her sister, Smita. Of all the hurdles they faced the most difficult was to convince the women to shed the social chains that were holding them back and not be discouraged by family members and husbands.
A lot of the initial days were spent in convincing the families of the women, says Shweta: “However after constant interaction, a month later we were able to convince a few women. And thus came into the picture a bunch of financially independent Chungi women artists. Then onwards we didn’t have to make much of an effort as women started showing up at our doorstep.”
As an entrepreneur Swetha also faces the hurdle of distance management. The artists and her family are based in her hometown, while she has to ensure that everything that goes into keeping Chungi up and running from Mumbai is taken care of.
“Often there are times when targets are not met due to the lack of time and resources at hand. Resources form the backbone of any venture and the same goes for Chungi.”
Her biggest challenge till date however is managing funds as there is no external source of fund at their disposal. “I am learning a lot from my day-to-day experiences,” says Shweta. She has been inspired by Steve Jobs and the stories of his failures have given her the strength to fight back.
“I draw motivation and support from my family and I ascribe my success and achievement to them,” says Shweta. Her family has extended her complete support and has been involved in building a rapport with the local artisans and their families.
Over the last one year, Shweta feels that Chungi artists have realised their self-worth and this in return has got them the recognition and respect of society. Says she: “The women artists have undergone a transition — their morale is high like never before and they are financially independent. The mere thought of being able to contribute towards an improved society, fills me with an immense amount of positivity and pride. This is what keeps me going.”
The road ahead
“The books of accounts for Chungi started with a zero balance, this was a year back. Today Chungi is supporting 25 female artists and overall some 35 artists,” says Shweta.
At present she has artists helping her revive the arts of crochet, madhubani painting and katha work. “We will identify similar arts that have lost recognition in recent times and revive them through local artists. Our plan includes both vertical and horizontal growth. We plan to bring on board more than 100 artists by next year and our objective remains the same — to help women gain recognition for their artistic skills and make them financially independent. “