The Spirit of Ants

Monday, October 1, 2007

The first thing Solomon Jayaprakash says at Maya Organic’s six-day-old showroom is: “The cause we serve is fine, but we don’t want people to buy our products because we do that. We want them to buy them because of their exceptional quality. Our focus is on building a brand. Sympathy is unsustainable in the long run.”

It’s this line of thinking that distinguishes people like Solomon from other entrepreneurs who work in social sectors. ’Social entrepreneurs’, they may be called, but they keep a clear focus on both the causes they serve, and the competition they need to fight in the marketplace.

The area where Maya Organic is located itself exemplifies this philosophy?it stands rubbing shoulders with multinational IT firms and behemoth shopping malls on Bangalore’s upmarket Banerghatta Road.

Maya Organic is a ’livelihood development initiative’ that aimsto create wealth and build capacities for artisans in the informal sector. It promotes worker-owned enterprises in three main areas?lacware toys, wooden furniture and natural fibre garments?and partners with design schools in Switzerland, France and Germany. What began as an NGO working in the domain of child labour grew into a company that now sells goods under the brand name MO. “We don’t look for grants, but investments. We tell our artisans that you are not competing with the neighbouring village but with China,” says Solomon. Maya Organic has both professional and social investors who are guaranteed a flat 8 per cent annual return. One of the firm’s recent initiatives is Labournet, a unique database of its skilled construction workers. With details of 30,000-odd labourers, it’s used to maintain the demand-supply equilibrium. They plan to scale the database up to one lakh by 2009.

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Source: Outlook (link opens in a new window)