Taking pride in everything rural and handmade, how Maharashtra is spinning a success narrative of its forgotten artisans

Taking pride in everything rural and handmade, how Maharashtra is spinning a success narrative of its forgotten artisans

Friday February 22, 2019,

8 min Read

Most of us know the story from Mahabharata about Arjuna and how he managed to pierce the eye of a wooden bird at a distance. That story teaches us the importance of focus, accuracy and jurisprudence. These are also reflected in the Maharashtra State Khadi & Village Industries Board’s (MSKVIB) own journey, namely the identification of problem areas, the launch of winning initiatives which helped tackle these and the resultant progress.

In Otur, a small village in Maharashtra’s Pune district, Sharad Borade is sought after for his Ayurvedic medicines. Even though he has been making Ayurvedic medicines for 13 years, his sales have been limited to Otur and nearby villages. This changed when he learnt about MSKVIB’s MahaKhadi Yatra, a moving market designed to empower rural entrepreneurs. Launched in October 2017, the 75-day outreach programme connected rural entrepreneurs across 5,000 km and 22 districts while impacting over 50,000 individuals. This was a first-of-its-kind initiative in the state aimed to empower rural artisans by providing direct access to consumers.

Within three months, MahaKhadi Yatra supported 750 artisans and grossed business worth Rs. 55 lakh. Sharad says, “I had a stall in MahaKhadi Yatra. And the connects and awareness that the Yatra enabled has helped increase my earnings. Today, I earn five times more than what I used to earn during the last 13 years.”

Pramod Patil, a copper enamel painting artist from Alibaug district’s Bhaimala, has a similar story to share. Because of problems related to the availability of labour and market, his monthly income would hardly touch Rs 2,000. With support from the district khadi authorities, he got to be part of the MahaKhadi Yatra. “Today, I earn more than Rs 30,000 every month -- something I couldn’t imagine before.”

It is through initiatives such as MahaKhadi Yatra that one can witness the transformation of MSKVIB into an active, collaborative body of the Government of Maharashtra. Today, it has initiated a number of projects to connect rural industries with urban consumers and conserve rural arts, crafts and knowledge, enabling the rich rural industry to thrive and grow. This includes development of India’s first comprehensive honeybee conservation policy and an under-progress honey park, development of a methodology for conserving herbal medicines in forest and tribal areas, efforts to develop bamboo products for industry, and provide employment through the solar charkha, among other grassroots initiatives.

MSKVIB is also looking into deeper concerns to address related on-ground changes of micro entrepreneurs – providing easy access to raw materials, helping them take pride in their workmanship, driving the importance of quality and also opening up international market opportunities. For instance, the board is working with an international designer to increase the global appeal of the Kolhapuri chappals.

By supporting the fragmented rural entrepreneurial community and providing improved visibility, MSKVIB is not only helping these rural artisans sustain and grow but more importantly take pride in their work.

Enabling the rural artisan to gain credibility and a larger market

Among the many successful initiatives of MSKVIB is the MahaKhadi retail store. It was the MahaKhadi Yatra which was instrumental in the launch of this store. The success of MahaKhadi Yatra demonstrated that there is huge market for rural artisanal products and that access to these products is the missing link in the demand-supply chain. Hence, a retail store in Pune was envisioned to bridge the gap.

Today, the retail store serves as a constant and reliable access point to urban consumers for many micro-entrepreneurs from small towns and villages across Maharashtra.

The MahaKhadi store offers everything handmade and rural, from leather chappals, organic honey, terracotta pottery and cooking vessels to handmade jewellery, handmade paper, shawls, wooden toys, clothes, fabrics, food, beauty products, among other product range. Interestingly, these products are sold under the larger brand of MahaKhadi, an initiative by the board to bring in quality and assurance to customers. The branding has played a key role in enabling the artisans to tap a larger market.

Balwant Dhage, a Khadi entrepreneur from Wardha shares his perspective of MahaKhadi’s impact on the rural Khadi industry. Balwant wanted to make Khadi mainstream and created a brand based on innovative Khadi clothing called SewaGram Khadi. “While I have been in the business for a few years, it is only now when I began retailing under MahaKhadi umbrella that I saw a big jump in my business. Today, I even cater to bulk orders and MahaKhadi has been instrumental in making this happen.”

The success of the pilot MahaKhadi store in Pune has prompted the Board to consider setting up more stores across India. The board is also working on a larger plan of a modular and replicable model to set up MahaKhadi stores around the world. In fact, the Board is already in the process of setting up a store in Dubai which is likely to go live within the next two months.

In addition, MSKVIB consciously explores other avenues for creation of a sustainable marketplace and provides greater exposure to rural craftsmen and entrepreneurs. For instance, for the second time in a row, MahaKhadi not only participated in the famous Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) in Mumbai but also made impressive sales. This acknowledges the effort put into MahaKhadi and has encouraged further development.

An industrialist. A development advocate.

Playing a key role in galvanising the rural ecosystem in state and taking the richness and diversity of rural Maharashtra global is Vishal Chordia, Chairman, MSKVIB.

From October 2016, the time he was given the responsibility of MSKVIB, he has not only met thousands of village entrepreneurs from Maharashtra's most far-flung areas, but also invested time in understanding the realities of the challenges they face.

Keen interest in steering development on-ground

Vishal Chordia, a 3rd generation entrepreneur from Suhana Pravin Masalewale, a Pune based family business often interacted with suppliers, traders, small-time business units and farmers in urban and rural parts of Maharashtra during the course of running the business. And, during this time he observed growing disparity between urban and rural industry. “While they had the craft and talent, they couldn’t capitalise on it.  As an entrepreneur, I knew the solution lay in enabling these rural entrepreneurs realise their potential and provide avenues for the same,” says Vishal.

When Vishal was offered the role of Chairman, MSKVIB, he saw it as an opportunity to realise his dream.

One of the first things he did was to go on a three-month long road-trip across the state to meet rural entrepreneurs. The trip helped him understand ground realities better and mobilise MSKVIB to revive long-standing, traditional industries in Maharashtra.

The trip brought to light three clear requirements of rural entrepreneurs: the need to improve exposure and accessibility to the market and to create a distinct identity for rural artisanal products, especially among the youth, an opportunity for the second generation to actively join the family trade by providing ease of access to market, and building fundamental infrastructure such as machines and R&D. “The road trip helped me realise that not only do rural artisans need employment opportunities, but the village industry needs the right kind of branding, networking and marketing. This is something we have worked on during the last two and a half years”.

Vishal wants the Khadi and village industry to become in vogue while remaining sustainable. And, because he has been constantly working to make this happen, today he is well-known among artisans associated with the Khadi Board.

The rural economy is aware of sustainable development

Many initiatives planned and implemented under Vishal’s chairmanship not only speak of his commitment to development but also of MSKVIB’s unconditional support.  Vishal believes that MSKVIB’s work has multi-pronged benefits and if executed effectively, will address United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. “Handcrafted products are today synonymous with responsible production and consumption. They not only reduce the stress on the environment but also play a big role in reducing social and economic inequities. This, in the long run, tackles major social problems like rural poverty, gender equality and sustainability,” says Vishal.

Humbled by the experience of working closely with rural entrepreneurs, Vishal’s selfless commitment to promote the rich heritage of Indian handicrafts has only grown stronger. He believes that encouraging the culture of entrepreneurship inherent to the rural ecosystem will pave the way for a renaissance of sorts.

This story illustrates the success achieved from applying a professional business development approach and well-thought out leadership principles to create a positive impact in society. Following the restructuring of MSKVIB by Vishal, rural entrepreneurs are now able to enjoy multiple direct benefits. The Khadi Board is now considered a a trusted partner in the growth story of the state’s rural industry.

This journey can serve as an example where both the customer and the rural entrepreneurs are benefitting, leading to sustainable growth.