By Aditi Bhutoria - Assistant Professor, Public Policy and Management, IIM Calcutta
Although The Covid-19 pandemic is a concerning health crisis, there are other economic and welfare costs beyond those associated with mortality induced by the disease. The policy- and individual-level behavioral responses to the pandemic have led to significant supply and demand shocks across the world, triggering the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to the World Bank Group, as of early June 2020, the pandemic and associated closures have generated at least 68 million additional poverty years and 4.3 million years of life lost across 150 countries. Employment prospects in Asia and the Pacific have suffered severely. In such an anomalous situation, livelihood creation deserves special attention. While maintaining health and safety as our foremost priorities, we must also find creative and entrepreneurial ways to fight the ongoing economic slowdown and rising inequality.
This edition’s coverage of incubatees like Jovaki and Momo on Wheels offers an insight into sustainable and innovative ways of livelihood creation. Jovaki develops a value chain for under-utilized forest fruit while creating dignified jobs for tribal women. Momo on Wheels reduces food wastage significantly and encourages female labour force participation by giving preference to women from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This newsletter also shares an interview with Mr. N.K. Chaudhary, Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Jaipur Rugs, which is a company with an employment network of more than 600 villages in India. With all of us adjusting to the Covid-19 ridden ‘new normal’, there are lessons to be drawn from resilient and collaborative initiatives that aim to contribute to the larger society in a sustainable manner. Hope this edition provides you with inspiration, hope, and new ideas to restart. Happy reading!
Tribal communities form a considerable proportion of the Indian population, playing a significant role in conserving the biodiversity of the country. Out of 300 million individuals belonging to the tribal communities world over, 104 million are in India, especially in the state of Rajasthan. Tribal communities in and around the district of Udaipur have been facing challenging times. With no reliable source of income, they turn to harvest forest fruits and walk several miles to sell them. They still receive less than the standard market price for these fruits. Adding to this, forest fruit like custard apple has an extremely short shelf life, and there is a lack of infrastructure for their preservation. Approximately 60% of the fruit collected go to waste.
This is where Jovaki comes into the picture and develops a value chain for under-utilized fruit. They have established a fruit collection centre near Udaipur and created dignified jobs for tribal women in processing and freezing of pulp. Jovaki uses a proprietary technology that prevents the pulp from browning and enables preservation for long periods once frozen. By increasing the shelf life of custard apples and other fruit like jamun, households are now able to earn a respectable living wage that extends beyond the harvesting season. Jovaki has a two-fold mission – generating employment for women in tribal communities and creating economic value from the utilization of forest fruit, which would otherwise just rot away.
Tribal women collect forest fruit from which pulp is extracted with the most hygienic techniques. The pulp separated from seeds is frozen without using any preservatives or added sugar, making it 100% pure.
Jovaki has worked with 2,400 individuals from tribal communities while providing 600 women meaningful employment. They aim to spread across multiple product lines in frozen fruits and vegetables so as to make a significant direct impact on tribal communities.
Shambhala Food Products is building a revolution in the food processing sector and inturn helping to significantly reduce food wastage through their wide range of hygienically packed frozen food. They increase the shelf life of food with utmost hygiene, which is then sent across the country and to other countries like Bhutan.
Momo on Wheels, the brand, contributes to the socio-economic upliftment of disadvantaged communities by generating sustainable livelihoods. What is more striking is that in an age where female labour force participation is very low in our country, 90% of the startup’s workforce are females. Shambhala offers direct employment to 45 people & indirect employment to 130 people, who earn wages approximately 60% higher than the prescribed minimum monthly wages. With stores across East India, the startup also promises no gender-based salary discrimination.
Archana was married at 16. To support her family, she learned to weave. Ever since she has made sure that not only her children but also her husband receives the best education through her earnings. After years of weaving, the field team recognized Archana’s entrepreneurial spirit and trained her as a BunkarSakhi (Weavers’ Companion). She now manages 31 looms in her village and is an active campaigner for grassroots mobilization. When asked about her work, Archana says, “I am lucky as I am loved! I am loved by my husband and receive his and my in-laws’ respect which is not common in a village like mine.”
Archana, and 40,000 other women like her, are being empowered by Jaipur Rugs, a family business that lays importance to keeping family values alive and in providing women access to a sustainable livelihood at their doorstep.One of the key differentiators of the Jaipur Rugs model is an artisan’s ability to not only work from home but have business travel to them. We had the privilege to interview Mr. Nand Kishore Chaudhury, the founder of Jaipur Rugs. With his incredible ideas and grit, he has impacted the lives of 40,000 rural artisans spread across villages in North and West India and built a profitable business from the export of hand-knotted carpets produced by these artisans. Read on to find out how he was inspired to embark on this journey in 1999!
1. Tell us something about how you started Jaipur Rugs?
My father sold branded shoes, but I wanted to start something more impactful. I started my journey 42 years ago – a time when there was high demand for carpets. However, there was a lack of good weavers, or maybe there was no market access for them, which led to a low supply of good quality woven carpets. Creating a network of weavers in that time was not an easy job. I wanted to work with those who did not have the privilege to work and give them the gift of livelihood, so I simply followed my passion and got myself where I am today. Jaipur Rugs today trains weavers in areas with no viable work within their immediate area. These are typically villages that rely entirely on the seasonal employment of agriculture. Artisans are identified and trained through an intensive campaign that motivates weavers, explains the cause of Jaipur Rugs, and imparts skill training.
2. How were you able to convince the weavers to join you in your venture?
Our society was grappling and struggling with social norms then, more than it is now. However, I knew that if I want to convince someone else – it is essential to have utmost self-belief and confidence – and I learned that about myself later. The more I would love and trust myself, the more convincing I would sound to the weavers. It was very important to have the right body language and words. On the other side, when we enter a village and speak to 100 people, only 10 people are such that their thoughts align with ours and are genuinely willing to work. So, it was equally important to identify and convince those 10 who were willing to work hard on this.
3. How has the lockdown affected Jaipur Rugs?
After the country went under lockdown in March, April was a tough month since the weavers couldn’t access raw material. So production went down by 20%. But when lockdown was lifted in May, our weavers started producing 20% more. There are no schools operational, no transport facilities and no marriages! Now we have record-breaking numbers today.
4. Were there any Covid protocols that you asked your weavers to follow?
Our model is such that raw material is supplied to women, supervision is provided and the end product is picked from the women’s houses. They do not have to leave their houses at all. Because of this model, social distancing was being followed anyway. So what the world is doing today – social distancing and working from home – we started 42 years ago! But we also provided sanitizers and created awareness among the weavers about Covid.
5. What were some key milestones that made Jaipur Rugs what it is today?
Since we sell the story along with the product, it was important to show the customer who was making the rugs they were buying. So we connected with changemakers and customers and invited them to meet our weavers personally. We had thousands of visitors from different countries – and 90% of them said this was the highlight of their visit to India. They visit homes and meet shy families who teach them how to weave, tell them about their lives, and share cups of chai with them as they are introduced to a new way of life. Additionally, this also helped us promote Jaipur as a tourism city.
Also, C.K Prahlad, a well-known Management Guru, and Raj Sisodia, a renowned author, did effective case studies on Jaipur Rugs. They spoke about how our business is healing the society and its customers, and how the power of innocence and authenticity works in the industry. Today we are impacting 40,000 artisans directly and almost 2,00,000 people indirectly! There was high demand and a lot of love from customers worldwide.
6. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are dealing with the Covid scenario?
Firstly, focus on customer relevance by making yourself necessary for them. You should directly engage with them to understand them better and know them in-depth. You need to adapt to the new ways because the old ones are redundant now. The new skills have to be adopted. This will help you when the market picks up post the Covid scenario. This is the best time to understand yourself, your business, and your customers. Also, when someone kick-starts his career, he/she tends to be driven by fear. So it is important to understand yourself and your talents and capabilities. Then you should befriend this talent and channelize your energies in making this your USP, and the rest will follow.
8. What does the future hold for Jaipur Rugs?
The way customers used to shop has completely changed. Customers switched to online shopping overnight and their fundamental needs have changed. We are developing new products to stay relevant now and later. Moreover, we hired many young people and are training them to be leaders of tomorrow. We are adapting ourselves to the new normal. We are optimistic that the customers will need us more in the future.
9. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who have just started out on their entrepreneurial journey?
In the end, you have to be yourself. Keep working on your passion without distractions. But be careful delving so deep that your passion converts to fever. When a startup wants to grow at a fast rate, comparisons come naturally. This is when you get trapped.
Jaipur Rugs sells inspirational stories along with the beautiful hand-knotted rugs, each one of them passing through 180 hands from start to finish, which are testaments to craftsmanship. Each one of those 90 people possess unique and irreplaceable skills, which take years to harness. To join all these hands together requires a decentralized model, reaching out step by step to each specialist to create quality that is unmatched. This is made possible only through building bridges of compassion, empathy, and love, that Mr. Chaudhary successfully achieved. He is modest to a fault when he says, “I never say that I have done any good to the weavers. It is just the opposite: They have done good to me.”
As the world grappled with the pandemic’s threats, we at IIMCIP, in collaboration with the Tata Social Enterprise Challenge, sought to embrace the unimaginable and prepare for smoother and more creative startup world solutions. IIMCIP aimed to support every stakeholder in the startup community with a series of webinars on related topics.
Our first Thinking Social virtual session was “Covid 19 Vs Indian Startups” with Rohit Jain-Senior Associate at Singhania & Associates, New Delhi on April 15. The session saw startup founders taking expert advice on job contracts and relaxations from the Government of India for Startups.
Following was a Thinking Social Webinar that was exceptionally informative for startups, “A peek into the mind of a seasoned investor” with Vikram Gupta, Founder & Managing Partner at IvyCap Advisors Venture Private Limited, who talked live with Chandradeep Mitra, an IIMCIP mentor. Vikram Gupta has more than 22 years of experience in private equity, business consulting and M&A. For the webinar, he concentrated on how digitization is the path forward and opportunities for companies operating in these digital industries to significantly grow their businesses by ensuring that they target the right market segments and that the goods fit with the market demand.
Amit Antony Alex, Upaya Social Ventures’ India Country Owner, spoke at the “Decoding Indian Startups” Thinking Social Webinar, where he highlighted the need for entrepreneurs to evaluate circumstances more closely and to do much more short-term planning in the next two years at least. Besides, consumers, in general, will become more ecologically aware, which can have an impact on businesses, and this should immediately improve their cash flows. He underlined the fact that alliances and partnerships can be a win-win situation in these extraordinary times.
The next Thinking Social session, “Pivot to Adapt,” was extremely interesting & thought-provoking as the inspiring NagarajamPrakasam, Founding Chairman of the NativeLead Foundation and Partner at the Acumen Fund, spoke about how social enterprises should look at pivoting and see this crisis as an opportunity. If an industry is not essential, it should be able to communicate with your customers to understand them better. He also stressed the importance of employees and asked startups to ensure that the minimum is given to employees because laying off is easy, but hiring is robust. He further went on to say this is an opportunity to build a fairer society based on equitable opportunities, innovations, focus on pressing issues and create a framework of social entrepreneurs who would take pride in building India.
Taking a turn from pivoting to accounting, CA Pankaj Periwal, Senior Manager at V. Singhi& Associates, and CA Ansul Agarwal, Manager at V. Singhi& Associates, in a Thinking Social session discussed the special measures given due to the COVID-19 outbreak under the Companies Act and the LLP Act. They focused on KYC NORMS relaxation and the amendments relating to board meetings.
The most beautiful ending of the series was “DARR KE AAGE JEET HAI” on May 15, where a large number of attendees heard SatyarupSiddhanta, Guinness World Book Record ace mountaineer, talk about how mountaineering and entrepreneurship are similar in many ways.
Recognized as the youngest mountaineer to have climbed the Seven Summits and the only Indian to have climbed the Seven Volcanic peaks, he inspired the audience to look to the ultimate target, to be optimistic, to go through all weather conditions, only to achieve the objective. His breathtaking storytelling skills kept the audience on the edge of their seats, while he described in detail some of the life-threatening circumstances he had been through.
Overall, the webinar series was educative and thought-inspiring and the audience received it well.
With most of the world coming close to four months living in the Covid world, we were forced to adjust to the “new normal”. We are now organizing the Thinking Social Seminars digitally. The first one of the series was organized in association with Wadhwani Foundation and saw SucharitaEashwar, Startup Mentor and Business Advisor as a panelist. She is also the Founder and CEO of Catalyst for Women Entrepreneurs (CWE). Alongside her were two IIMCIP incubatees, Prarthana Kaul from Giftabled and Manisha Saraf from SuperProcure. It was a particularly insightful session with these women entrepreneurs talking about “Leadership in Social Entrepreneurship”. For the following webinar, we invited N.K. Chaudhary, founder of Jaipur Rugs, to inspire us with his heart-touching journey and brilliant story-telling skills. This webinar “Weaving Memories, Knitting Lives” helped us delve deeper into the handloom industry, with two more IIMCIP incubatees – Abhishek Pathak of Greenwear and Dhruba Jyoti Deka from Brahmaputra Fables.
The overwhelming response has motivated us to host more such engaging webinars in the future. The spirit to learn and explore areas that cover aspects of the business world, various markets, men and women from different regions and how they so magically weave through their journeys, how they adapt and evolve to become stronger and more resilient. Recognizing and accepting the new reality is essential to strategize and move forward in the best possible way. We believe that by resetting expectations and being adaptive, we will be able to sail through these challenging times emerging stronger and spirited.