NEW DEHLI, India — In 2018, monsoon floods ravaged the South Indian State of Kerala. A community of traditional handloom weavers found themselves in a difficult situation. Floodwaters breached the weaving units, where they had stored large stocks of fabric in anticipation of the Onam festival. They could not revive the damaged stock and the weavers were prepared to burn all the fabric. However, a social entrepreneur Gopinath Parayil collaborated with designer Lakshmi Menon to create the Chekutty doll. Thus, showing how social entrepreneurship in India is making a difference.
From each flood-damaged sari, volunteers across nine countries created 365 dolls, sold at 25 Rupees each. The Chendamangalam weavers were able to recover from the prospect of deep financial losses. Furthermore, the Chekutty Doll became an emblem and message of strength for a State recovering from a natural disaster.
Why Social Entrepreneurship?
Social Entrepreneurship equips vulnerable groups with a means to financial independence, rather than momentary or prolonged dependency. In recent years, social entrepreneurship in India has helped respond to natural disasters and calamities. It has also helped educate, equip vulnerable groups with skills, create opportunity and perhaps most importantly, alter social patterns.
When discussing the motivation behind social ventures with The Borgen Project, Prashant P Godiwala, founder of the Sneha Karma Foundation said, “A lot of the people who are struggling, they just don’t have the opportunity.” The Sneha Karma Foundation is a non-profit committed to empowering girls and women that belong to vulnerable groups. This organization was formed to address this glaring void.
They have collaborated with other non-profit organizations operating in the Garbhanga Forest Villages in Northeast India. Furthermore, they started the Support-A-Girl program to educate a group of girls and ensure necessities, such as accommodation and health care. Later they added a Skills Development Program focused on vocational training and career guidance. This program was especially for those who may have missed out on formal education. The Sneha Karma Foundation also set up the Garbhanga Handloom Center that trains and employs over 25 women, with plans to launch the Sneha Karma Collections that will sell artisan products online.
The success of Chekutty Dolls set the path for many more. More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, local care centers set up by Panchayat in Kerala needed affordable bedding. In response, designer Lakshmi Menon created washable mattresses called Shayya, plaited from fabric discards sourced from local manufacturing units. These discards also contain plastic content, thus making Shayya mattresses waterproof. Shayya mattresses have not only addressed an immediate need cost-effectively but also used material that would have otherwise ended up in landfills.
Creating Opportunities for Vulnerable Groups
In 2015, India had close to 9 million blind people, of which a small percentage were able to access education and skill development resources. Those who did not have access to these resources were unemployed and lacked mobility outside of their homes. Many factors, including a lack of awareness of the existing resources, mobility issues and poverty, compound the challenges.
Tiffany Brar, who lost her sight when she was just 6-months old, founded the Jyothirgamaya Foundation to address these challenges and empower the blind. The Jyothirgamaya Foundation runs a preparatory school for young children who are visually impaired. They also offer training camps that teach Braille, computer skills and skills for everyday life. The foundation also conducts sensitivity training to educate people on how to support the visually impaired in their communities.
Altering Social Patterns
Perhaps the most significant effect of social entrepreneurship in India is that these ventures are culturally significant within these communities. Moreover, they help create a shift in social patterns. Lakshmi Menon’s organization, Pure Living, employs senior women residing in old-age-homes to produce wicks used in lamps. The product, called Wicksdom or Ammoommathiri, not only keeps the women engaged, but also provides a source of income, a sense of purpose and independence.
In a similar vein, the Sneha Karma Foundation aims to redirect young girls and women who live in the Garbhanga Forest Villages to an empowered future. Meanwhile, the Jyothirgamaya Foundation equips the visually impaired to take control of their destinies and lead wholesome, fulfilled lives. When asked what advice he would offer new social entrepreneurs, Prashant Godiwala said “Don’t overthink it. Build a system which is going to enable them to become independent and empower them.”
The Sneha Karma Foundation operates on the philosophy that a first step will lead to the next and eventually evolve into something significant. It’s essential to identify a cause one cares about and throughout the process, maintain a spontaneous mindset. This along with openness to experiment and learn from mistakes is crucial to social entrepreneurship in India.
All of these social initiatives have a few things in common: they confirm the impact of the collective, and they emphasize the need to establish reliable platforms and resources that offer vulnerable groups a dignified means to self-sustenance. And this brings to mind the age-old saying, Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.
– Amy Olassa