Looking Back But Moving Forward
The constraints and restrictions of the last year and a half compelled us to find new ways to achieve our goals. We had to review and rethink our processes, programs and even our mission. Not only did MarketPlace survive, but we have become a stronger and surer organization as a result of the whole process. We think of this as a "RE" year, full of reflexive words such as Reinvent, Reconstruct, Rethink, Reinforce... and more! Here's a Review of some of them:
Central to MarketPlace are the programs that encourage the women to question, learn and grow as individuals. Through meetings and actions the women worked together to march, protest and educate the public. They opposed corrupt officials, negligent garbage collection and they attended training sessions on women's rights and health. But these were all in-person meetings and actions. When COVID rules banned group meetings, we had to pivot if we wanted to maintain this important value in action. Google Meet came to the rescue! The women, with limited or no computer experience, learned to use cell phones to attend virtual meetings, speak in turn - and mute/unmute. Participation was enthusiastic and the staff also was challenged to learn how to conduct successful virtual sessions.
"I only knew how to use WhatsApp and would watch videos on it. But I didn't know that we could be in a video call like this where we could see and talk to each other so easily. I always feel that you need to be educated to be part of things like this, but being part of Share I am always learning new things". Nilima Mhatre, SMM
At an organizational level we have had to redesign many systems, procedures and structures to accommodate new realities. For example, our designer Adele Mattern could not make her usual trips to India to work with the women at the embroidery workshops and finalize the lines. Instead we changed to replace in-person meetings with more Zoom calls, WhatsApp messages and by sending tons of photographs and samples back and forth. It was a cumbersome process, but it worked more smoothly with time and experience.
Redesigning the organizational structure of production management and communications actually improved and strengthened our systems. Documenting and reporting procedures were designed on Google Drive and we looked closely at each step to identify and fix problems before they became crises. Production was inevitably delayed, but customers were very understanding and we made sound structural changes which will increase future efficiency and capability. Now even the smaller cooperatives are investing in computers to record and plan their work, as they have seen how it improves production. This development would not have happened this quickly without the obstacles of the pandemic.
"Necessity is the mother of invention'. We experienced this as a team this past year when all our conventional methods of work were challenged and we had to come up with new ways to continue our daily routine. Every department at every level came together and we now have been able to build and establish formats and systems that we never even thought of two years ago. Gradually, everyone is acknowledging the importance of working efficiently using simple tools such as Excel and how shifting to a universally accessible platform such as Google Drive helps in streamlining the processes which result in better performance." Sanvritti Rana, Production Planning and Control Manager
At the start of the pandemic, the women jumped right in to maintain their families' well-being. They took on the challenge of reduced income as members in the family lost jobs. Despite their own educational shortcomings, they found ways to supervise their children's remote learning. They rose to the challenge of keeping everyone in their family engaged, happy (or at least civil) in small, crowded homes. For this they revived old ways of doing things. They recalled games they played as children, used household objects as art supplies, encouraged their husbands to play with the children, and involved everyone in cooking meals and trying new things. Despite their own burdens these women came up with new energy when it mattered.
"My husband is a taxi driver and usually works till late, so the children don't get to spend much time with him. During lockdown we were all at home, I was really happy to see my husband spend time with the children- they played ludo and carrom together and would also talk about studies and various other things during family meals". Wahida Ansari, Ashiyana Cooperative
Seeing how the women responded to all the challenges with energy and a can-do spirit showed us how impactful our empowerment programs have been. It reinforced our belief that when women are exposed to resources and new ideas, they can take charge and make changes. The artisans have taken the lead in designing their own programs, from arranging for advanced yoga classes to converting their newspaper-reading club to a Google Meet format. Embodying "Dignity not Charity" the women have been determined to work and have come up with very creative ways to get to their workshops and to obtain supplies even when stores were closed.
The work from home order that the government imposed to try to prevent the spread of the virus was a mode of operation familiar to the artisans. In MarketPlace's case this was an important part of our model: that women work at home while they fulfilled their other responsibilities. Flexible hours made it possible for women to schedule their days, mostly working at home.
"I am so grateful to MarketPlace for having stood by the artisans when nothing else was working and there was no help from anyone". This was resonated by all the members of the group."Even now after many months of living in the pandemic, I see neighbors and relatives not having a job and we are so respected in our homes and communities because we are working and putting food on the table".Shabnam Khan, Ashiyana Cooperative
The COVID emergency was a crisis we had not seen coming, yet we were actually well prepared to deal with the obstacles. Our programs and business model are based on the conviction that the artisans can be resilient and creative and dedicated. For over 30 years the women have been responsible for identifying needs and designing programs to meet their needs. When COVID threw us all into turmoil, the women figured out what needed to be done and found ways to deal with problems the best they could. They learned new technology, devised new systems, and supported one another through it all.