The economic potential of India’s rural artisans is well known. With the rise of internet and easy access to the global markets, it is easier than ever for artisans of rural India to join the bandwagon of economic progress.
Sadly, there are many hindrances at the grassroots, owing to the complex social and patriarchal hierarchies the Indian society is vastly composed of. This is the story of over 150 such women from a small town in western Uttar Pradesh who decided to go beyond and become free and self-dependent.
The women of Anupshahr, a small town located in the Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh, aren’t generally allowed to work or leave their homes after dark. They are expected to handle household chores and not become independent, free-thinking individuals. Educating girls is seen as a waste of money.
It is this town that 32-year-old Arya Mahajan decided to disrupt. Being Arya's hometown, Anupshahr was automatically her first choice when the decision of building a social enterprise was made. Arya quit her corporate career at Ernst & Young India, and joined her family at Pardada Pardadi Educational Society (PPES), an NGO working towards educating girls in Anupshahr.
The NGO, which until then was focussed on running a school for girls, soon opened up to giving vocational trainings to women. With PPES as its support system, Arya started I Village Social Solutions last year, a social enterprise, with the aim of ensuring that these women of Anupshahr find employment and the products made by them reach far and wide. Arya says,
"Since the advent of I Village, women in Anupshahr have been gaining a sense of confidence and pride. They are working hard to develop their talents, make a living independently, and support themselves and their families."
The women employed by the social enterprise manufacture designer products, ranging from home decor and clothing to wedding ensembles and corporate gifting. The designs are inspired by Indian traditional art forms fused with contemporary styles. These designs borrow heavily from Warli art, Madhubani art, Peacock designs, Rajasthani bride and groom designs, among others. A variety of handicraft styles are also employed in these products. These styles include bead work, zari work, sequins, and thread work. Arya adds,
"On the one hand, we are helping women become independent, both financially and socially; on the other hand, we are also promoting the beauty of traditional Indian designs and handicrafts."
The journey for I Village, however, has been anything but easy. The biggest challenge I Village faced was to align the rural artisans with the new online approach. "Getting women artisans to work independently outside their homes too was a social challenge we overcame, and wish to eliminate in the days to come," Arya says.
The beneficiaries of I Village include a single mother of three children, who is raising her family without anyone's support. Another artisan, a young law student, has gained the courage to stand up for her education and fund it with her own income.
I Village helps them, along with 100 other women by ensuring a regular source of income, and an opportunity to earn a living for themselves. About 50 more women have been trained by the social enterprise, who have left the organisation to move on to other prospects. Arya says,
"We hope to instil a sense of pride in these women, making them strong, independent, and confident. We want them to realise their potential and hone their talents."
I Village has its production centre in Anupshahr while the head office is located in New Delhi. The two locations are connected via smart phones and the facilities that come with them. Arya says,
“I Village currently has dedicated teams for product development, procurement and controls, corporate sales and marketing, and online and social media managers who operate between the head office and the production centre.”
The social enterprise sells the products through its online portal and through e-commerce partners such as Pepperfry, Flipkart, Amazon, and HouseProud.
What began as vocational skill training in a school for girls has now become a movement in Anupshahr with more women joining in. Arya hopes to expand their reach, and employ more rural women in the days to come. Arya says,
"We want to see more customers viewing and appreciating the beauty of Indian handcrafts, and develop people's preference towards artisan made products."