Each journey to India is a unique experience. As I venture to this indescribable country for the sixth time, I find places and cultural interactions increasingly familiar. Whether I am navigating the bazaars in Jaipur, scouting the best rooftop oasis, negotiating prices with shop owners, reuniting with familiar faces or accomplishing the feat of giving directions to an auto rickshaw driver; India has certainly become my second home. However, it is clear that regardless of how comfortable I become with certain routines, so much has changed since my early trips in Anchal’s infancy.
Over four years ago Devon Miller, Anchal’s Co-Founder, and I ventured to Ajmer to meet with our NGO partner Vatsalya and train a small group of women to make kantha quilts. The experience was difficult to say the least. We struggled with training such a vulnerable population, adjusting to cultural nuances in business and the daily tolls of India.
Even since my trip with Anchal’s Creative Director, Maggie, in early 2013 there is a dramatic difference in the organizational structure, artisans’ confidence, skill levels and impact. For example, Maggie and I had dreams of introducing new products which incorporated sewing machine techniques and new cotton materials. However after two weeks of workshops it was clear that introducing these new pieces were not possible for an abundance of reasons. We still needed to concentrate on improving the current offering by fostering the existing skills taught to the artisans and build the outer high quality skills with the internal confidence to expand when the artisans felt ready.
Not to say that it is easy now, but the joint efforts by the Anchal and Vatsalya teams are truly taking hold. The experience and confidence built over the past 5 years through the highs and lows are finally paying off. There is increased stability in our work, which is increasingly apparent with the elevated business structure and everyone’s enthusiasm for the potential growth in impact. I am amazed by the knowledge and experience of the Vatslaya team. Shopping for new materials is tremendously easier, something not possible two years ago, and implementing new designs with an experienced, empowered group of strong women is now conceivable. It is clear that we are no longer a project trying to “do good”, Anchal is a leader in the social enterprise movement and creating astounding impact.
We are ready to increase our impact, from artisan to project manager to director and beyond. I can feel the momentum building at home in the States and I can feel it with the leadership and artisan’s optimism in India. The artisans are not only craving new designs, but have the impressive skills to implement them. Now we just need to give them the platform.
So I will end with a quote from artisan Shama, “If the customers keep buying, we can learn how to make more products and even more women can have a salary!”
Tess and I are looking forward to updating everyone on our progress and sharing stories about these incredibly brave women in India. Stay tuned!