How these projects have been evaluated for the necessary interactions and the impact on the communities concerned are of interest to The Crafts Council of India and its network of Affiliated Councils. We hope to find answers and identify common grounds for building partnerships at the National Meet-2020.
Summing up: Understanding the CSR opportunity
(CCI National Meet 2020, Coimbatore, February 7, 2020. Day 1)
The 2020 National Meet was significant for its move into the challenge of CSR fund-raising for craft activity. For most corporates, craft remains a ‘soft’ sector that is not known to deliver the results that managers may be looking for, outside of just helping good work out of charitable impulse. Therefore it was important indeed to hear from CSR leaders and from those craft activists already working with them. The inputs from Sharada Gautam (Tata Trusts), Manish Saksena (Aditya Birla Group), Praveen Naik (Sandur) and Ashwini Saxena (Jindal) were revealing. From them, it was clear that CSR fund-raising will demand from CCI an ability to respond to donors’ keyconcerns. These can include how effectively what Councils doimpacts livelihoods (through employment and lifting of earnings), in addressing the aspirations of young people (both artisans and those who represent tomorrow’s needs), and those who are still at the margins of our society (including women, those in poverty or BPL, and others who are disadvantaged). Environmental issues are top-of-mind in industry and thereforeefforts at greening crafts can now be communicated to advantage. In all of this, Councils will need to communicate themselves as teams who understand and use marketing management effectively and professionally – that CCI knows how to address the needs of users as well as makers in ways that serve the interests of both.
Sharada Gautam’s experience in Odisha, Nagaland and Assam underlined issues of scale and productivity. While most corporates look for numbers as the easiest way to understand the impact of their investments, we heard how Tata’s Antaraexperiment is attempting to develop alternative indicators such as the growth of entrepreneurship, the level of earnings, and building supportive ecosystems around the artisan and the craft. In each region, the design process is being used to lift and empower artisans through the practice of co-design, in which professional design inputs supplement those that are inherent within artisans. The development of self-learning tools that areshared toward greater self-reliance has been another innovation. Manish Saksena shared the Birla experience in Aadyam inbuilding back-end support that would leave artisans with more time and attention to value-addition by taking care of routine management tasks on their behalf. Attention to the high-end, luxury market can be important in order to translate value-creation into an ability and a willingness to pay for handmade quality, while developing a range of craft products that address a variety of budgets is equally essential to bring the handmade into everyday lives of the larger public that must provide a foundation of awareness and support. Particularly significant in this experience has been the word-of-mouth encouragement of participating artisans that brings others into the fold and takesthe impact of the investment beyond the first cohorts of participants. Many corporates look first at the impact they can create close to their own working environments, asdemonstrated in the Sandur project with its emphasis on developing local crafts with local skills and materials. AshwiniSaxena (Jindal) spoke of a need to go beyond the product so as to effectively communicate craft as livelihood and with the ability to serve users through the understanding which artisans have traditionally had. While traditional sources of patronage and feedback have changed, craft activists need to concentrate on building these links anew so that pride becomes a value that is shared between the maker and the user. The impact of change in markets and in societies is also reflected at Kondapalli, where K Kanchana’s project has encountered the transition from traditional markets and spaces in which these ‘toy’ expressions are rooted toward new buyers far removed from any experience of Kondapalli. The challenge is to communicate these expressions in ways that can help them move from playthings to desirable cultural icons. Issues of GI and design are other challenges facing these artisans who are facing the need to safeguard their identity within a competitive marketplace. IPR is also central to the Aranmula Kannadi situation which took CCI to Kerala in a context of disaster relief. Sudha Ravi explained how a relief effort has now emerged as a marketing challenge which demands innovation and other creative responses. Design has moved into the centre of this effort through the participation of Ayush Kesliwal (Jaipur) who has joined the CCI team to bring his experience to bear on the importance of lifting product quality and diversity that can meet the needs of existing and as well as unexplored markets. An important dimension of the Aranmula experience is that the effort to urgently address the impact of national disasters on artisanal community with Government aid may not always materializes due to various factors including our inability to fit our programs within existing government schemes. Therefore an urgent need to move out of dependence on only government schemes and looking at CSR as a craft sector emerging support system and of this National Meet as a source of learning. The points made by CSR practitioners offer guidance as to how proposals can be drafted in order to attract corporate interest and support.
Craft production and marketing processes also demand a better understanding of the so-called ‘middleman’ who is often identified as an exploitive element that should be removed. The presentations highlighted the essentiality of many ‘middle functions’, raising another need: can CSR help bring these stages in the production and marketing process within greater artisan control? Can the need for entrepreneurship replace misunderstanding and exploitation, and help ensure that each stage is fair to the maker even when handled by others? There were important lessons shared, particularly through the Tata and Birla interventions as well as in the case of Kerala’s magic mirror.
The lesson from the National Meet was of the need to build fresh capacities within Councils and their membership to be able to tap CSR potential effectively. This demands building marketing professionalism throughout the CC network, and to take advantage of an era in which the goals of sustainable development are of such overriding importance. The ability to link crafts to this emerging understanding of sustainability is perhaps a key capacity each Council will need to build in order to communicate its case effectively with donors who may be new to the sector and who need to understand its importance in a contemporary context. Once the sustainable development argument is understood, it may then be easier to attract investment into other areas that are related and yet not so obvious, such as revival of languishing traditions, documentation, publication and recognition of excellence.
Other issues which emerged from the day’s discussion included the need to develop a shared language that is adequate to the craft challenge (for example, what do we really mean by khadi,or by ‘authentic’ or by ‘luxury’?) and to use CSR toward entrepreneurship training as well as the social insurance needs of artisans communities.