Diary of a Social Entrepreneur
Monday, December 5, 2011
Asister organization of the World Economic Forum, the Schwab Foundation has been awarding social entrepreneurs in South-East Asia for five years. It chose Neelam Chhiber of Industree Crafts Foundation as the India Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2011 in partnership with the Jubilant Bhartia Foundation (the foundation is the social wing of the Jubilant Bhartia Group, whose promoters are closely related to those of HT Media Ltd?, which publishes Mint.)
Industree Crafts Foundation is a hybrid, not-for-profit set-up that has adopted India’s skilled artisan community and resolved to help it move up the value chain. It incubates grass-root communities so that they become owners and entrepreneurs themselves, in charge of their own destinies. Apart from production, Industree’s retail branch, Mother Earth, helps market the products these artisans create. So far, Industree has changed the lives of more than 10,000 artisans living below the poverty line. Chhiber pinpoints milestones in her career that helped her make the shift to social entrepreneur.
1986:I finished my product design course from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and jumped into the deep end of work life. I worked across categories like wood, metal and ceramic. I spent three years working on a stone crafts project where we documented stone crafts in 14 states. My interest was in the indigenous arts and crafts of India, so I started working as a consultant with various craft organizations like the Handicrafts and Handlooms Exports Corporation of India Ltd, and the UP Export Corporation.
What I learnt in my initial years was that the link between consumer and producer needs to be stronger. It all lacked effective merchandising and I felt that that could only be brought about by a private company. The co-founder of Industree, Gita Ram, who works with the Crafts Council of India, advised as much too.
1994: I had been working with various government agencies for almost eight years but realized that none of the designs really translated into saleable products. So Gita and I founded Industree Crafts Pvt. Ltd, a for-profit entity with a focus on domestic retail and export.