Markets 4 Makers: Fostering Tribal Micro-Businesses
Through engagement of the tribal Koraga community, students at T.A. Pai Management Institute facilitate innovation in the entire value chain of the community's basket-weaving craft, from sourcing, product design, and market strategy to the involvement of multisectoral actors to facilitate microentrepreneurship.
Call to Action:
The tribal Koraga community has been oppressed and socially neglected for the past several decades in the state of Karnataka, India. The traditional occupations of basket weaving and subsistence agriculture were their only economic activities. The rapid growth of the service industry and urbanization in the region left them land-deprived and also reduced the market demand for their traditional craft. As a result, a number of the Koraga youth shifted to working as unskilled labor in construction sites, leading to a massive loss of skill and opportunity. Years of skill loss and participation in unskilled, low-paying work has left the community marred by poor social decisions, such as alcoholism and commercial sex work.
T.A. PAI Management Institute (TAPMI) via TAPMI Centre for Inclusive Growth and Competitiveness (TCIG&C) started working with this community over the past year and successfully identified the range of problems and the specific pain points from a value-chain perspective. The client was identified as a non-governmental organization set up by a Koraga tribal leader that works specifically with children and young individuals within the community.
The Koragas have been a focus of policymakers and several government initiatives for many years, and multiple schemes and policies have been initiated for this community without significant change in their economic status. The community continues to be at the base of the pyramid in terms of development outcomes. As an innovative response to the problem, TCIG&C has adopted an integrated approach toward optimization of the value chain of the Koraga craft of basket weaving by simultaneously engaging multiple players across the value chain.
TCIG&C's approach has been two-pronged, with both process and product innovation.
As a first step, the process innovation included optimization of the entire value chain through an integrated approach, as opposed to siloed, unrelated interventions at different times and links within the value chain. TCIG&C actively analyzed the nature of the problem across the value chain, including the efficiency & effectiveness of earlier initiatives.
Traditionally the product development process has been rudimentary, resulting in a narrow product assortment of low value-added product variants. TCIG&C altered that process by bringing in a strong demand-side focus in the form of another small-medium sized marketer/distributor named CraftsMantra. CraftsMantra has successfully developed a portfolio of handcrafted products that are aesthetically pleasing, eco-friendly and adapted to modern urban tastes. This was the second step.
To complement demand, Integrated Tribal Development Programme (ITDP), a Government of India initiative, was co-opted to come in as a financier to carry out skill enhancement on the supply side. TCIG&C has further, simultaneously, started working with professional interior and home improvement designers to continuously improve the product portfolio to make them consistently more market-ready and thereby sustainably competitive.
At the conclusion of the first phase of the project, 12 tribal youth who were trained to hand create market-demanded products, now act as role models demonstrating profitable microentrepreneurship to the rest of the community.
Phase two of the project focuses on product finish and enhanced product development, along with more efficient input and inventory management. There is need to focus on sustainable sourcing of the local weed varieties used to produce the products. In the third phase, TCIG&C will adapt the model to assure even greater equitable value distribution across the value chain, especially to up-stream actors; better organization at the community level; piloting of e-tail opportunities, and greater product placement in the home-improvement and corporate gifting markets.
The project has had an impact on multiple stakeholders across the social spectrum. At the outset, it has empowered Koraga microentrepreneurs to carry out better opportunity recognition based on demonstration of productive value of (natural weed based) weaving as a viable occupation and business opportunity. The initiative has provided the broader Koraga community a better understanding of value addition for mainstream markets.
TCIG&C has established itself as non-partisan credible broker and has convened various stakeholders, including policymakers, enterprises, members of the corporate gifting and home improvement value chains, skilling trainers, academics, high potential future business leaders, and, importantly, local youth, who have come together for the first time, simultaneously in the project, to focus on value-chain based interventions. This has been viewed as a positive market-led acknowledgement of traditional knowledge, combining commercial, social and environmental value.
Utilizing the reach and credibility of TCIG&C, the project has been showcased at various forums involving different types of stakeholders. This power to convene as a credible neutral broker has contributed toward advocating for the proliferation of this approach via replication and scaling of the project to other Koraga settlements and interested non-Koraga economically challenged microentrepreneurs as well.
A major area of impact has been equipping the student community at TAPMI with a better understanding of microenterprises, sustainable supply chains, and inventory management. The project has also demonstrated to these future managers and leaders, the market opportunity for inclusive business models, and has impacted the small-medium enterprise CraftsMantra and other individual designers by connecting them to suppliers and small producers of unique hand-crafted products.