SETU – The Bridge to Artisans

1.Rashmi Dhariwal CEO Founder SETU

The hand weaving and handicraft industry has been the backbone of India’s rural economy for decades. It is one of the largest producers of employment after agriculture and provides an important livelihood for the country’s rural and urban population. The industry, which is known as the pioneer of environmentally friendly zero waste practices, where artisans usually grow their own raw materials, works on a self-sustaining business model.

In this ancient growing industry where women are establishing themselves. We recently came across one such company who caught our eye, as they are truly making a difference. The company is registered under the name, SETU – The Bridge to Artisans. 

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SETU wants to empower the socio-economic standing of underprivileged & marginalized artisan communities, by providing them sustainable growth opportunities, at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability.

They are the women leaders who works for the social, economic, and environmental well-being of underprivileged artisan communities 

About Rashmi Dhariwal: 

Introducing Rashmi Dhariwal, a multifaceted personality of an entrepreneur and a social activist! An engineer by qualification, she previously worked for 11 years with a prestigious Corporate before starting her social enterprise. She is among the list of 100 most successful Indian women entrepreneurs in MSME. She was also selected for the top 20 “The Game changers- FICCI FLO Women Startup awards” in Feb-2021. She is also an eminent speaker & gives special lectures on Entrepreneurship and Sustainability at many MBA, Technical & Design institutes and has been a TEDx speaker too.

How did SETU come into existence?

I have been a successful textile engineer by profession and have worked for the past 11 years with a large manufacturing organization in India as head of technology and Quality Assurance.

During my work in Kota, I came in contact with an artisan community, who had expertise in hand weaving fine fabrics with intricate designs & motifs. The lack of access to a market and the technology-driven competition were taking their toll on the artisans and the art was dying along with their spirits. They were forcing the next generation to work as cheap laborers rather than pursue their rich art and culture. That made me realize that there was a lot more in life and that I should try to make a difference, however small it may be! I realized that there had to be a bigger purpose in my being.

And so, I left my job and spent some time with the community, helping them design modern products and identify ways to reach the market. This gave the artisans a lot of confidence and hope for their art. At the same time, the entire experience helped me visualize a process that could be used to support various artisans achieve economic sustainability and growth.

Subsequently, we developed a model of sustainable development through ethical trade practices and a powerful solution to the social & economic development of the marginalized & underprivileged communities, especially in the developing third world. Thus, ‘SETU’ was founded.

What are your Objectives & Motto?

SETU is a mission-based consortium. It is a social enterprise with the mission of empowering the social and economic standing of underprivileged artisans by providing them sustainable growth opportunities through Fair Trade practices. ‘SETU’ in Sanskrit means `the bridge’. As indicated by the name, SETU acts as a bridge between the underprivileged/marginalized artisans and the international markets, at the same time, working for the social, economic, and environmental well-being of the artisan community. The main motto is to provide dignified livelihood opportunities. This is a model of “Trade, not aid”, where people are trained to develop & upgrade their skills. Thus, instead of being dependent, they use these skills to become self-sustainable and earn their livelihood. SETU provides them training along with a regular marketing platform. Capacity building, community development, infrastructure, and machinery are also provided as per the need.

After closely working with the artisan communities and understanding their challenges for 3 years, we also founded a charitable Society called “SETU-Society for Empowerment & Trade Upliftment of Artisans”. The basic aim of the Society is to perform works of charity, implement social & economic welfare projects, spread education, and raise awareness regarding various issues amongst the weaker sections of the society.

How has SETUs’ journey been to date?

It has been a long and tough journey. Other than the financial challenges, which are always a part of new start-ups, the major challenge was to gain the trust of these communities. When you want to bring about a change in the mindset of society, you need to generate acceptability. These communities have become so used to being exploited, that they can’t visualize a life of dignity and self-reliance. Illiteracy and social taboos are rampant, making it very difficult to bring a change or impart any training for their upliftment. E.g., if We want to upgrade a process that is hazardous to their health, there will be huge resistance, because the same process is being used for ages! Similarly, it was a challenge to motivate women to come out of their homes and earn so that they can send their children to school. We cannot impose any thought process upon anyone but must slowly bring about a change in the mindset. So, we must work with them closely, become a part of their culture and patiently create awareness amongst them.  A lot of touring and personal interaction is involved to gain their trust and ensure that fair practices are being followed. We have a strong set of policies which we ensure that they are followed by everyone in our network. We have a good & passionate team who helps in achieving our goals. We imbibe SETU ethics in the team so that they are aware of the mission. In addition, we partner with other NGOs & co-operatives and use their human resources and experiences to manage things. Awareness and training workshops are conducted from time to time to upgrade their understanding.

Now, SETU has a widespread network of artisans in 16 states of India, involving about 10,000 artisans, having different skill sets & cultures.

The handicraft industry is an unorganized sector. How do support the artisans in keeping the flow with the market?

SETU provides support to their partner artisans in the following ways:

  • Financial Support
  • Monetary support
  • Fair Wages
  • Technical Support
  • Resource Development and Technical assistance
  • Process Improvement
  • Quality Improvement
  • Product Design and Functionality Improvement
  • Marketing Support
    • Market Opportunity
    • Market Feedback
    • Cost Optimization
    • Capacity Building and Enhancement
    • Enterprise Building
  • Sustainable Developmental Support
    • Conservation of traditional and extinct art forms and artisans
    • Common Platform
    • Employment Opportunities
    • Fair Working Conditions
    • Enhancing Self-Confidence and Self-sustainability
    • Sustainable Relationship
    • Environmental well-being
    • Socio-economic Development and Community Welfare
    • Infrastructure Development

Covid19 severely impacted the handicraft industry. What measures did you take to keep the artisans & art stay afloat in the competition?

Covid 19 has hampered the progress of the entire mankind. It has created challenges not only for the economic aspect but also for the health, education, safety, and security of the communities. And this can have long-term consequences on their future and ultimately the progress in attaining SDGs has slowed down.

When the pandemic began, panic and the fear of the unknown were creating more damage than the virus itself and so mental, physical, and financial well-being needed to be taken care of. SETU took the following steps to achieve this:

  • The first was to maintain high artisan morale and help people fight despair
  • Enhanced training and livelihood opportunities for artisans, even online training conducted where necessary
  • Interest-free loans and advance payment
  • Free distribution of 3000 Sanitary Napkin packets to women artisans
  • Free distribution of essential commodities & grocery items to artisans
  • Free distribution of Masks to the underprivileged
  • (22,000 cooked food packets distributed) to the daily wage laborers who lost their jobs in lockdowns.

What is the difference between SETU & other NGOs?

SETU’s main motto is self-sustainability and that’s why SETU is also a self-sustainable consortium. Unlike other NGOs, we are not dependent on grants/aid from Govt. or external organizations. We generate our own revenues and work with full passion & honesty on all development projects. We do not believe only in skill training but also ensure market linkages for a sustainable livelihood generation. 

How is your organization working towards the Atmanirbhar Bharat Mission?

Atmanirbhar Bharat means self-reliant or self-sustainable Indian masses at the grass-root level. And exactly that is the basic mission of SETU!  Our main motto is to make them self-sustainable by providing livelihood opportunities through skill development, capacity building, providing infrastructure, machinery & technology, market linkages, etc.

How do you work for women empowerment?

In Indian society, mainly in poor & illiterate communities, women are mostly oppressed & exploited by their own families, especially after marriage.  Due to the patriarchal structure, they learn to silently suffer and cry. For women’s empowerment, economic self-reliance, awareness, and education are very important. When women become self-dependent economically, they can participate in the decision-making of their families. They can send their kids to school and live a dignified life. So SETU work for the following:

  • Develop and upgrade their skills so that they can earn a dignified livelihood. For that, various skill up-gradation & training workshops are conducted. SETU also runs a full-time, permanent training center where women learn & work.
  • Provides them with sewing machines etc. (More than 30 sewing machines have been provided free of cost.
  • We also gear them up to become entrepreneurs.
  • Provides them employment opportunities. 90% of team SETU is female! 66% of our partner artisans are female.
  • Creates Self Help Groups (SHG) of women so that they can work together and learn from each other.
  • We have conducted 6 literacy centers for women, where over 85 women have been educated.
  • Awareness workshops on menstrual health & hygiene are frequently conducted and free sanitary napkins are provided.
  • Awareness workshops on women’s rights and girl child education are conducted frequently.
  • Build self-confidence.
  • Creating role models.
  • Our future plans also include making every under-privileged woman artisan be technology savvy by making them all computer literate! With this vision in mind, SETU is already operating many computer literacy centers for underprivileged women.

Indian handicrafts are gaining popularity worldwide. How do you look at that opportunity in the long term?

In my opinion, India makes the best handicraft products in the world. Hand block printed cotton garments and home accessories would top the list. In addition, the knotted & handwoven carpets, carved wooden handicrafts, brass & other metal homeware have gained a lot of popularity, especially since the pandemic, and not to forget the handmade precious metal jewelry. With the current political scenario between China Vs the other influential countries, India now has a huge opportunity as well as the potential to spread their handicrafts in the entire world! We just need to maintain our quality and we can dominate the entire market.

Tell us something about your products of SETU and what are their specialties /USPs.

  • All our products are handmade by local artisans. Despite being handmade, they are of high quality.
  • 95% of our raw materials are sustainable, natural, recycled, non-toxic & eco-friendly
  • Unique & designed as per the latest fashion trends, even though they are produced by rural artisans.
  • All our products are ethically produced, following Fair Trade practices, Fair wages, no child labor, and no discrimination, we provide 20-30% higher wages than market
  • Produced under safe & comfortable working conditions
  • Production of our products ensures that economic, environmental & social sustainabilities are enhanced.

Additional Information:

Year of Founding:

 

2007

Founding Members:

Rashmi Dhariwal and Devendra Dhariwal

Office Locations:

Jaipur

Company Strength:

18 full-time employees, with a network of 10,00 artisans and many volunteers.

Website:

https://www.setufairtrade.com/

 

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