This Bengaluru Based Organisation Helps Thousands Of Rural Women Artisans Become Self-Sustainable In COVID Times

Image Credits: Industree Foundation

This Bengaluru Based Organisation Helps Thousands Of Rural Women Artisans Become Self-Sustainable In COVID Times

Established in 2000, Industree Foundation holistically tackles the root causes of poverty by creating an ownership based, organised creative manufacturing ecosystem for women.

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In India, 93 per cent of the workforce belong to the informal sector, undocumented, unacknowledged, lacking the assurance and security that the formal sector provides. As a result of the country-wide COVID-19 lockdown, millions of these workers have found themselves unemployed as MSME's terminated their jobs. Now, India is seeing a mass migration as millions return home to their villages, unable to afford to stay in urban areas without the income that their informal work provided.

In these challenging times, Industree Foundation, a Bengaluru based non-profit organisation, moved thousands of artisanal producers, including women, from the informal sector to the formal sector and organised them into producer-owned cooperatives. Thousands of artisanal producers are being looked after in this period, both mentally and physically, with continued stipends and access to health insurance through the crisis and work from home with dignity.

Industree Foundation's comprehensive approach helps communities assess their traditional skill base, organise them into production units, develop products that appeal to modern markets, and create consistent demand to create sustainable businesses at the lowest possible costs. The Foundation believes that if the poor have access to the sustained and constant need for their products and services and are provided with an enabling ecosystem, they can integrate into the formal economy and lift themselves out of poverty.

The support to women producers was crucial during COVID-19 when the nation was troubled by lockdowns and loss of work. The Foundation supported training women on technical and entrepreneurial skills, gender training, mask making, etc. Online training and curriculums were provided, and creating a feature phone curriculum based on local language and television serials made it easy for the community to understand. The producers had reported the impact of this support, which helped them through challenging times when husbands of most of the women were dismissed from work.

At the institutional level, Industree also shared leadership support to the initiatives and collectives such as Platform for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, Creative Dignity, Flourish and the COVID Livelihood Coalition to aid the artisan community across India. In recognition of the organisation's COVID-related efforts, it was acknowledged by the World Economic Forum COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs under India's Top 50 COVID-19 Last-Mile Responders in 2021.

Industree Foundation was established in 2000 to engage with producer communities to augment their capacity and assure socio-economic prosperity to rural communities, working in the handicrafts sector. The Foundation has spearheaded women empowerment endeavours and has reached around 2,00,000 women producers since its inception.

During COVID times, efforts are channelised to bring resilience amongst women in the post-COVID period by supporting their lives and livelihoods.

"Women have emerged as sole breadwinners in their family, and with continuity in stable incomes, we are ensuring their thriving in adversity," Industree Foundation shared with The Logical Indian.

POWER Project

Industree, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has initiated the Producer-Owned Women Enterprises (POWER) project under the Women's Economic Empowerment (WEE) initiative, which focuses on increasing economic opportunities for women through sustainable use of natural resources. The partnership shall connect women producers to commercial supply chains in natural and biodegradable products such as leaf plates, baskets, mats, and bags from tree leaves, bamboo, banana, and other natural fibres. Currently, it is working in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Odisha.

The project focuses on socially and economically empowering marginalised communities in rural areas by taking work closer to their homes and empowering rural women to become micro-entrepreneurs who collectively own and operate their enterprises. In addition, it also addresses the restrictive social norms to increase support for women as entrepreneurs. As a mark of its success, the POWER project was among the finalists for People's Choice Category at AVPN Constellation Awards 2021.

"When the nation was rocked by lockdowns and loss of work during the first COVID wave, it enabled us to provide our women producers with stipends. The transition to virtual work, which included work from home options, online training, work from home stations, was done seamlessly due to the passion and efforts of everyone involved," the Foundation stated.

During the second wave, the Industree team sprang into action, and using the skills and knowledge acquired from the first wave of the pandemic, was able to respond to the needs of the producers and the country at large. These measures are further being strengthened in the current wave.

During the journey, connecting the underserved rural women artisans with urban and global consumers was missing with strategic and sustainable market linkages. This scenario was coupled with the resistance from patriarchal mindsets, women being reluctant to take up leadership positions and complexity synchronising activities being challenging.

Further, not enough attention was paid to the real promise of design as a system of newer forms of thinking and its roles.

These challenges were addressed by supporting women to become wealth creators and stand as role models with enhanced social standing and financial empowerment in their communities.

To pursue this, Industree has scaled up-skill access, design support, market channels and value addition for women. In the post-COVID phase, when their husbands were dismissed from work, women emerged as sole individuals to support their families. Industree is handholding women back to everyday life through necessary relief and rehabilitation measures.s

"Our approach has tripled producers' incomes in non-farm occupations by leveraging their artisanal skills and integrating them into the creative industries sector and benefitted around 2,00,000 producers till date," the Foundation said.

Having already impacted 2,00,000 producers, directly and indirectly, Industree Foundation is further strengthening producers, especially women, to achieve a triple-bottom-line impact, i.e. economic impact by regularising work, increased wages and financial stability, social impact by an improved voice for women, educational opportunities for next-generation and environmental impact as well by focusing on natural fibre and organic raw material value chains, building new circular economies.

Also, Industree's mission, Mission Creative Million, is designed to impact millions of artisans and farmers across the farm and non-farm value chains over the next ten years. It is working with a purpose to give potential creative producers access to formal work, decent incomes, providing a stable and dignified life and livelihoods.

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