This social entrepreneur threw away a city life to live in the forest, work with Adivasis and bring tribal art to homes
It was only natural that Kavya Saxena’s transition from the corporate sector to crafts seemed like something waiting to happen. Born in Jaipur, Rajasthan, Kavya spent most of her childhood travelling, and spent a significant portion of her professional life travelling to different parts of the country.
“Working for the likes of Indian Oil Corporation, travelling and meeting people of different backgrounds was amazing. When I took a sabbatical from work, it was only natural to travel the world,” says Kavya.
During her corporate life, Kavya was still in touch with the different cultures and villages of India. At weekends, she would travel to neighbouring villages and towns, and get a sense of the cultural diversity. However, when the COVID-19 lockdown was announced, everything came to a grinding halt and left Kavya with one big question. “If I love the villages and tribes as much as I proclaimed, I wondered what I was doing sitting in a city like Gurugram?”
Thus, when the first lockdown restriction started to ease, she decided to pursue her passion to unravel the rich heritage of Indian villages, and set about travelling from October 2020.
“I set out for a one of its kind solo non-stop journey - #kavyaonquest - to document rural crafts and culture in collaboration with Mahindra & Mahindra. Post completion of the journey, I never returned to urban life. I now live in a forest. We work with Adivasis (tribals) in Koraput, Odisha and turn the rich turmeric found here into speciality bath essentials that also empower one entire village. Additionally, I have adopted an entire village where 55 women work on a special variety of grass, creating opportunities for them. To consolidate this , I also teach rural entrepreneurship at IHM, and Singapore-based The Nas Academy,” Kavya says.
Working with tribal artisans
It was during her travel that Kavya had realised that work needed to be done with the tribal artisans. Kavya strongly feels Indian villages have a lot to offer, and you can travel to any village and there are unique things there.
Through her travels and interactions, Kavya also discovered that after farming, handmade products are the second-largest creator of employment in India.
“Ironically, there aren’t enough significant policies to regulate the sector. And I felt crafts in India need to be stronger, and that is where Craft Potli comes into the picture,” says Kavya.
“Earlier, when I got back to Gurugram briefly, I was wondering if I should get back to my corporate journey of focus on travelling. I realised that the crafts sector has several opportunities, but it also is very unorganised, making it hard to penetrate. If you run a Google search on crafts and villages, you hardly will get any information,” says Kavya.
While she wishes to start a crafts business, she realised one also needed to have a stronghold in a village. Another challenge in the sector was scaling up. Brands in the space had taken years to set up their business, so this meant Kavya had to work doubly hard. With all this in mind, Kavya took the big step of quitting corporate and city life altogether to move into the hinterland.
“The shift was drastic, I moved to Odisha, to understand more about the tribes there. And I realised there is a misnomer that there are large tribes only in the Northeast. Odisha holds one of the largest numbers of vulnerable tribes that are listed by the government. So, I decided to go to the grassroots and to work with them,” says Kavya.
Kavya moved to Odisha in July 2021. It took her several months to understand the locals, the language, and the way people operated, but she soon found her foothold and got the locals to trust her.
“I now live in a small forest patch that doesn’t have the facilities of an Amazon or a Swiggy delivery, but the villagers trust me, and from there I started growing Craftpotli,” explains Kavya.
Today, Kavya is completely dedicated to Craftpotli, and not only helps tribal artisans sell and showcase their products, but also helps brands connect with artisans across the country. She adds that they also help in keeping the supply chain intact.
“We take a lot of consultancy projects around craft tourism and craft curation, and also product curation,” explains Kavya, adding that her organisation deals with tribal artisans and craftsmen more than rural craft.
“I am also working with the Arunachal Pradesh government to bring the tribal crafts of the region to the forefront, and I am working with the Gujarat government to promote crafts and craft tourism,” says Kavya.
In the near future, Kavya aims to make Craftpotli one of the biggest ecosystems for crafts in India. She wants the platform to be the one-stop-shop for anything to do with tribes, their crafts, and even for people to live and experience handmade crafts across India.
Advising all women entrepreneurs, Kavya says, “There is no better time to start in India than now, we are fast-growing, and there are multiple opportunities. There are no age barriers or rules that can stop you. You don’t need funds, or even people to tell you what to do. All you need is the will to take that first step and just start,” concludes Kavya.
Edited by Anju Narayanan