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This Start-up Social Enterprise Aims To Change Lives Of 7 Million Artisans In India

What does a tailor, a potter, a ceramist and a weaver have in common? They are all artisans who are now challenged by a loss of market to commercially-made cheaper alternatives and most of them are living in poor economic conditions.

India is a country traditionally rich in arts and crafts. Artisans are the backbone of the non-farm rural economy, with an estimated 7 million artisans engaged in craft production. According to the United Nations, over the past 30 years, the number of Indian artisans has decreased by 30%. They, then either engage in manual labour work or are unemployed, abandoning their high level of handicraft skills.

On one side more than 40% of the India is dependent on crafts for a living but on the other side, the contribution of the crafts sector to the Indian economy is decreasing. The reasons include increase in competition, loss of urban consumer interest and the limited exposure of artisans to the market. Thus, the majority of the artisans are living in poor economic conditions and struggling to make a living.

Srujna is a social enterprise started by two young MBAs to keep crafts alive by empowering artisans and artisan businesses. They aim to improve the standard of living of the artisans and also encourage more people to seek crafts as a livelihood option.

Srujna works with two objectives:
(i) To provide livelihood opportunities to lesser privileged groups by providing craft skill trainings.
(ii) To make craft-based businesses sustainable by providing business trainings and other interventions

A woman shows the jewellery she made for the very first time in the training organised by Srujna
A woman shows the jewellery she made for the very first time in the training organised by Srujna

Some of the creative interventions of Srujna include training in ‘Online Retail’ to introduce artisan businesses to online retail; and a design training aimed at teaching artisans to make products by recycling an old saree. “On-ground we work with various partner organisations. We acknowledge that we do not posses an expertise in all the crafts. We thus partner with other organisations and design our best interventions for the target beneficiary”, said Jyotika Bhatia, who is the co-founder and in-charge of programmes at Srujna. Srujna has reached-out to more than 6000 beneficiaries through 42 partner organisations across India in a span of two years.

The biggest challenge facing the artisans in India is the access to a relevant market with middlemen. Srujna’s market-connect initiative organises exhibitions across India, in corporate campuses, universities, retail stores and residential societies. These exhibitions are a platform for the small artisans to reach out to the customer and sell their products. “We not only get good sales, but we also get useful contacts and feedback about our products. This really helps!”, said Kiran Badhe, founder of a women empowerment charity which works with self help groups.

Women making fashion jewellery products in the training organised by Srujna
Women making fashion jewellery products in the training organised by Srujna

Team Srujna has been chosen as Echoing Green 2014 semi-finalist and are an Unltd India Investee for three consecutive years. Srujna has won many national and international competitions, notable among which is the award given by the Rotary Club of Seattle at a social business plan competition organized by University of Washington, Foster School of Business. It has also been supported by many corporates in the past like ONGC,, Reliance Asset Management Pvt. Ltd., SBIcap securities, Deloitte, Blue Dart, Glaxo Smith Kline and many more.

“It saddens me to see that our traditional crafts are getting extinct and to think that tomorrow’s India will not know about Kantha or Phulkari. It is our aim to keep the crafts alive and bring sustainability for the artisans. We want more and more Indians to consider crafts as a dignified vocational option. Our interventions are aimed at creating business viability for the artisans. I am excited to see the output of these trainings and anticipate enormous impact”, shared Vaishali Shah, co-founder and in-charge of sustainability at Srujna.

Though currently present only in Mumbai, Srujna aims to open branches across India to empower all the 7 million artisans and create many more.
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