Sunday, November 23, 2008
I just returned to the U.S. after working 11 months in India and was able to participate in the first real exhibition showcasing the products made by the artisans we are supporting in India. It was a great success and the people loved the products. I helped to start the Fair Trade Advocates student organization at my university in Kansas and just before Christmas, they organized a two day marketplace for fair trade retailers and artisan groups to share their products. There was more support then the previous years and we nearly sold out all of our products! Some of the vendors included well-known Ten Thousand Villages and Equal Exchange, as well as some new initiatives by Kansas' own Two Hands World Shop, Urban Haat (go Jermaine!) and AWAZ. Look out for the new project working with Ugandan women called AWAVA!
While I was in India, my work in the non profit sector led me to discover the plethera of initiatives to help generate income for low income communities. From handicrafts to soap, jams and honey, women and other low income groups are getting low interest loans from microfinance institutions to start their own businesses. With their work, they are able to earn an income to meet their daily needs and provide education and healthcare to their children. The products are also environmentally friendly. Many of the products are handmade from natural substances grown or sourced locally, such as plants, fabrics, dyes and recycled ware. We visited many groups and brought products back from six different artisan groups. I'm now living in the U.S. and am helping to market their products to raise support for their work and fundraise for our Gujjar Project!
For 6 months in 2008 I worked in Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas with an NGO called the Purkal Youth Development Society (PYDS). I helped develop fundraising campaigns, design a new website and strengthen the management and record keeping systems of the organization and their work. There is a great need for professional development in the non profit sector in India and through our work with AWAZ, we will continue to partner with organizations in India and provide support. During my time in India, my friend and business partner, Talha and I, discovered a variety of artisan groups producing beautiful crafted products. PYDS had a project called Stree Shakti working with over 100 women in the village who handstitched quilts, bags and other products. They make nice quilted products from traditional Indian fabric, such as toiletry bags, handbags, cushion covers and placemat sets. Their trademark are their patchwork quilts, so go to their website and check them out - international delivery and no minimum order! You can also make a difference by getting involved with their youth education project by sponsoring a child or funding a day's meal!
We also learned about a couple other projects with women and artisans around Dehradun, where we lived. The Himalayan Weavers work in a mountain community above Dehradun with traditional weavers producing hand-woven scarves, stoles and shawls from lamb's wool and natural dyes. That's right, they use natural dyes and it's beautiful! The scarves are natural, beautiful and the people love them!
Chandroti is an income generating project for women in a village outside of Dehradun who produce knitted woolen blankets, shawls, scarves, caps, vests and more. Their yarn is good quality, warm and soft. The project is led by an Indian woman who is now helping to provide employment for over 150 women in the village. They have beautiful throws, cute footsies and scarves, one of which contains an attached cap.
Sadhna is a well established microenterprise ran by over 600 women artisans in villages in Rajasthan. I had the opportunity to visit the women and was amazed to see their involvement in the program. The women apply traditional embroidery and applique techniques on clothing items, wall hangings, bags, blankets and more. Their trademark embroidery is a sight to see on cushion covers, bags and even placemat sets.
MESH is another wonderful fair trade organization helping to provide a source of income for disabled persons. They have a beautiful store in Delhi with a diverse range of products from artisans around the country who they work with. I'm a big fan of their coasters, jewelery, handbags, paper mache boxes and woven baskets.
Dastkar is one of the oldest organizations working to empower handicraft artisans in India. I visited their Ranthanmbhore Project in Rajasthan and found the women engaged in their work and even a traditional block printer providing designs and fabric for the products. The women produce a large assortment of clothing items, home products and bags.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Started 25 years ago in New Delhi by a group of North American expatriate wives, MESH ― or Maximizing Employment to Serve the Handicapped ― provides opportunities for disabled people and their dependents, especially those affected by leprosy, to be rehabilitated in order to become self-sufficient. MESH's founders focused their initial efforts on a leprosy colony north of Delhi, where they encouraged people to weave and raise poultry. Today, MESH buys and sells handicrafts from some 54 autonomous groups of disabled and leprosy-affected persons all over the country. They provide market assistance, product development and training to artisans and operate a large retail store of fair trade products sourced from the different groups. The store is filled with jewelry, fashion bags and accessories, clothing, bedspreads, cushion covers, tablecloths, papiermâché products and more. They also have a design studio for conducting regular workshops and trainings for product development with their artisans. MESH has now started a two year project to help implement the Fair Wage Project in collaboration with World of Good. The project looks at the inputs the artisans are making and evaluating their production to ensure their earning enough to get out of poverty. The organization is strong and well-established with a large market presence overseas. Many of their products are sold through Ten Thousand Villages, as well.
Why Host a Sale?
- Develop support for handicraft artisans and fair trade producers from underprivileged communities in India who are using their handicraft as a way to sustain their livelihood
- Help develop financial support for the Gujjar Project and community development in India
- Raise funds for your organization; a percentage of the proceeds are given to the host organization
- Handbags, purses and toilet bags
- Silk scarves
- Hand woven woolen scarves, stoles and shawls
- Knitted stocking caps, scarves and socks
- Paper mache painted boxes
- Greeting cards made from recycled paper and Himalayan dried flowers
- Cushion Covers
- Placemat Sets
In the last 10-20 years, there has been a greater focus on self sustainability for the poor and various NGOs around the world are working with individuals, artisans and farmers to provide training and business support to help them run their own self employment venture. Cooperatives and Self Help Groups are formed which are democratically governed by the members and include savings and healthcare schemes. The profits come directly back to the producers to care for their family and invest in community development. Many of these projects are part of the Fair Trade Movement which helps artisans and farmers in countries like India and Kenya, earn a fair price for their products in the global market. Popular products include handicrafts and food items, such as coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar and bananas. Fair trade retailers and producers are dedicated to a list of guidelines that includes paying fair wages, working in healthy conditions, promoting gender equity and supporting environmental sustainability. Consumers in the West can go to their local market and purchase products with Fair Trade certified labels on them and help create demand for a new movement of social responsibility and ethical consumerism.
The term Social Entrepreneurship relates to business ventures that create social change in communities. This is exactly what these projects are and it includes things like Fair Trade, Microfinance and Women Empowerment. Thanks to the Grameen Bank, low income families are recieving small loans and marketing support for helping to start a business that will help them create a sustainable income to provide health and education for their family. Whether it’s a milk cooperative or a women's Self Help Group, these are the projects that are improving many lives and helping people in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia get out of poverty. Check out these websites to learn more.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
We are a team of dedicated social entrepreneurs from India and the U.S. working to empower underprivileged communities in India through skill training and income generation. We believe in helping people realize their potential and are working to connect those in need with the resources and knowledge for developing their abilities and expanding their opportunities in life. It is our aim to help individuals and communities receive the necessary tools for achieving a healthy and sustainable quality of life.
MISSION: To help underprivileged communities throughout India lead a healthy, self-sustainable life through education, skill training and community development
We are working in the northern states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains north of Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand. Our work is focused on skill training and income generating projects for helping to support community development in underprivileged communities. To begin our work, we plan to reach out to the Gujjars, a forest dwelling tribal group that has lived in the foothills of the Himalayas for centuries. Their main subsistence is milk production, which they are dependent upon for their livelihood. Due to their location in the mountains, they have limited transportation and are often exploited by middle men who give them a low price for their high quality, organic milk. With little support from the government and local community, the Gujjars have struggled to earn a voice in the market and meet the basic needs of their family. The women endure a physically demanding lifestyle fetching grass and firewood and taking care of the cows and their family. When they have time, they stitch traditional hats for their husband.
Handicraft Skill Training
With a handicraft skill training project, we aim to empower the Gujjar women to use their traditional craft to improve their quality of life and help create a sustainable income for their family. The project focuses on providing an income generating opportunity for the women to produce embroidered textile products. We aim to provide product design and market support to help connect their products to markets in India and the U.S. By helping the women become income earners in their family, we can help the women have a larger voice in their community and improve their ability to care for their family.
Milk Market Assistance
We aspire to work with the Gujjar men to help them earn a better price for their milk production and raise the standard of living in their community. With regular transportation and business support, we would be able to expand their market for selling milk and connect them to local businesses, institutions and hotels who are willing to pay higher rates for pure milk. By helping the men get connected to the resources and networks, they will be able to sustain their self and create a good quality of life for their self and family.
- To develop the income capacity of individuals and communities through enhanced skill training, business support and knowledge
- To serve as a connection between the producer and the consumer by providing market assistance and product development
- To ensure access to quality education, healthcare and community assistance for women, children and families in need
Our projects are focused on skill training and income generation to support community development in the areas where we work. We aim to expand our projects and help more individuals and communities in need. In an effort to help artisans sustain their livelihood, we are working to develop a network of handicraft producers for becoming connected to the global community. We plan to register AWAZ as a craft business in the U.S. in 2009 to continue to help market their products and raise funds for investing back into the communities where we work. In addition to the milk project, we aspire to target the needs of the people and provide skill training and assistance for other business development and employment opportunities for individuals in rural communities.
firstname.lastname@example.org or Rao Talha at email@example.com.
Sarah Mitts is a graduate of Kansas State University with an undergraduate degree in Business Management, International Studies and Non Profit Leadership. Her career focus is in international development and while at KSU, she helped to organize many activities to raise awareness about international social justice issues, such as co-founding the Fair Trade Advocates student organization and starting the KSU Save Darfur Team. After work experience in India and Paraguay, Sarah chose to move to India in 2008 to work for an NGO helping underprivileged women and children and begin work on the Gujjar Project.
Rao Talha received his MIB from IMS Ghaziabad near New Delhi, India in 2005 and began working as a marketing consultant for a computer solution company in New Delhi. He does shooting as a sport and represents Uttarakhand State in national championships. Originally from Saharanpur, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, Talha’s family owns a farm nearby the Gujjar community. He grew up learning about the local tribal group and their struggles and wanted to do something that could change their lives. After meeting Sarah in 2005, he realized his passion to serve those in need and returned to his hometown to start the Gujjar Project.
To learn more about our work and get involved, contact Sarah Mitts at