Sikha Pamegam lives in the flood-ravaged Dhemaji district of Assam. Her village, Panbari, on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, is prone to floods and villagers lose their huts, crops and patches of land almost every year. They lose their livelihood and survival becomes very difficult. Often young women and their vulnerable children get caught in the web of human trafficking. Even Sikha was once pushed to the brink, but she found a new livelihood option, thanks to a social enterprise initiative by a non-governmental organisation.
A Deccan Herald report states that besides downtrodden people from Assam, many from the Northeast are part of this social enterprise experiment, which connects around 30,000 artisans and their products to distributors and buyers across the globe. It facilitates these connections by using the internet marketplace and placing the products under one brand—Empower. The social enterprise business initiative has not only given livelihood to many but also turned out to be a profitable venture. Brand Empower uses their traditional skill of weaving to produce value-added products.
“Earlier, I used to weave only for household purpose. I never thought of selling my products until I joined Impulse Social Enterprises Private Limited (ISE). It felt great to see my products being taken and appreciated in Delhi. I now want to train many women in my community,” Sikha said. She now uses her traditional weaving skills to weave items like scarves and blankets to earn for herself and her family.
In 2010, Hasina Kharbhih, founder of Impulse NGO Network, started a sister concern, ISE, to promote fabrics and designs of eight Northeastern states. The business model was conceptualised to unlock doors for an equitable society. The enterprise works with women rural artisans to develop and innovate market-driven products. The ISE applies practical, innovative and sustainable measures to maximise social returns.
The thrust is on working with the community and developing the spirit of entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency by capitalising the traditional art of weaving, bamboo making, and traditional pattern preservation. The products have become popular because they combine modern fashion with local tribal patterns and designs.
The business started with an initial investment of about Rs 10 lakh. However, its seeds were planted more than 23 years ago by Kharbhih and her team when they started the NGO. The initiative was launched to curb unsafe migration and prevent human trafficking, which was alarming in the region. “The ISE is presently working with the Assamese, Karbi and Mishing tribes in Assam. It is focusing on providing training, raw materials, designs, packaging, branding, marketing and financial support. Products that come out of this association are multi-purpose scarves, dining mats and stoles, conference bags, cushion covers, laptop sleeve covers,” Kharbhih told Deccan Herald.
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