Embracing Technology During the Lockdown
REACHING OUT TO ARTISANSBy: Nishi, Assistant Director, Share
The sudden lockdown in March was shocking. My team and I realized pretty quickly that we were facing a "new normal," and we needed to come up with something more than a short-term fix.
Our first thought was to establish communications with the artisans as a way to convey information and support. The women all had mobile phones, so we put together a list of topics and every artisan was assigned to a team member.
In May we expanded beyond one-on-one calls to conference calls with groups of 3 or more women. Conversation flowed easily as the women had so much to ask and catch up on with one another. As the lockdown went on, the women's anxiety about health and finances increased. We turned to Google Meet group sessions so that we could address a variety of concerns with a larger group. Our first trial was hilarious as the women learned to hold the camera steady, mute when necessary, etc. But we worked it out and now these sessions go smoothly, as if the women have been doing it for years.
The women have shown us that they are very open to learning new technology and making it work for them. It has been crucial in keeping us in touch during this time of separation.
KEEPING UP WITH THE CHILDREN DURNING THE LOCKDOWNBy: Shruti, Manager, Education for Life
After the lockdown, we had to change our tactics in order to keep in touch with the children. The solution clearly lay in technology, but we faced some possible obstacles. We were concerned about access to smartphones, unreliable network coverage in the narrow lanes of their neighborhoods, and possible reluctance on the part of the parents to expanding the children's use of technology. In the past mothers had complained to us about their children wasting time on their phones with games, social media or apps which were not age-appropriate. This was our chance to show both kids and parents that using available technology wisely could be empowering.
We were able to overcome any obstacles, and within a week we had established a system of calling the children to talk about their lives and what they could do while confined to their homes. We sent them worksheets, videos, puzzles and reading assignments on WhatsApp. For group sessions we used conference calls. For the older kids we engaged a resource person who utilized Zoom and Google Meet to conduct lessons. Most of the children had not known about these applications and enjoyed learning to use them. Although we miss working with the children in person at their homes or the center, this new system has had some surprising benefits.
MPB STAFF REFLECTS
Kala Darji, Merchandizer, MarketPlace, Mumbai
"Before the lockdown, working on design was something that we did in person, face to face. Together we would examine a garment or fabric sample to determine if it was what it should be. But the last three months have been completely different. We have had to communicate and coordinate everything by phone. WhatsApp has been such an asset in this work and I am so glad that the women were able to adopt this technology with such enthusiasm. We now regularly exchange pictures of fabrics, designs and embroidery stitches. While we are making it work, I can't deny that it is challenging to work remotely. I am still amazed by how the women made more than 100 samples for the fall catalogue without ever meeting physically."
Bhakti Kabre , Production Manager, MarketPlace, Mumbai
"My job involves doing production planning with all the artisan groups, MarketPlace Mumbai team and staff members at MarketPlace Chicago. Before the lockdown I often met with people and groups in person in addition to coordinating on the phone and updating the various excel reports on the computer. Now I have to do all those things in a new way.
Production planning via conference call is not easy; there are so many details to think of - and the lockdown has added its own complications. For example, I need to know if the fabric has arrived; are the buttons and embroidery thread available; which artisans are secure enough to work, etc. The spreadsheets are big and working on WhatsApp on the phone is challenging.
I do appreciate the regular Zoom calls that we have with the MarketPlace Chicago team. When we are discussing excel reports it feels like being in a proper meeting where we are working together to make changes. There is no feeling of distance or disconnect!"
Amisha Patil Merchandizer, MarketPlace, Mumbai
"My primary job is making sure that the fabrics and production samples are exactly what we want before we embark on full-scale production. When the fabric is delivered by the group that dyed it, we must carefully inspect it to be certain that it matches what we ordered: is the color right, is the pattern correct and executed well? We now rely on video calling, and I have been approving fabric this way for over 2 months. It is challenging, however, because the fabric color is not always accurate on a screen.
Production samples of each garment are made in all sizes to be used as a prototype. Even small errors or variations can lead to disaster when we produce the collection. It took some time for the artisans to get used to using video calls for these checks. In the beginning the camera would shake, and one woman would have to demonstrate measuring of the garment and then return to the phone to discuss it, which was rather awkward and time-consuming. With time and experience, however, we have made it work smoothly.
The women talked on the phone and helped one another learn how to use the video calling and we divided the work assignments so that they are more efficiently handled. Recently I have taught the artisans to send daily production plans on WhatsApp, so we are making good use of the available technology."
During this emergency situation, we are more than ever dependent on technology. With the lockdown continuing, we must use phones and apps to coordinate the work, from sample approval to production plans. In addition to this, we have started conducting the social program sessions via Google Meet. Contact with the staff and other artisans is a lifeline for some women, who are anxious for information and support.
There are women who do not have smart phones. Many others had them, but had not used them beyond WhatsApp. The leaders of the social programs have stepped in big time to help make all of this possible. They have lent their phones to women who do not have them so that they can participate and they have shown all the women how to use the various phone applications.
Vaishali Adkar, WARE Collective
"We used to meet the social worker regularly and shared so many things. It has been months since we have now met physically- but when the video call (Google Meet) happened, I felt very happy. It was as if I was talking to everyone in person."
Maya Amborse, Aashiyana
"Pratibha ji explained everything to me about connecting the video call but I was very scared and still not sure how to operate the phone. She then encouraged me to take help from my son. He helped me start the call, but as the call progressed I was able to understand how to manage (mute/unmute) when instructed and I realised it is not that difficult."
Nilima Mhatre, SMM
"The only thing I knew how to use on my phone was WhatsApp. I would use it to watch videos. 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 used to feel that you needed to know English and be more educated to be part of things like this, but being part of Share I am always learning new things."