Indicators for Success
Pride and Independence
Dignity not Charity has been our philosophy from the very beginning. We wanted to distinguish MarketPlace from what was then the nonprofit norm: charity organizations giving handouts. Early expectations from the women were that this organization would also provide money for education and other expenses. But we had in mind something more sustainable and life-changing. It was not easy to keep to our philosophy in the early days when we were just getting up and running and sales were small and inconsistent.
As MarketPlace grew, our vision began to be realized. Strong sales supported consistent employment. A variety of social programs were developed to support the women's personal and professional growth. The women's self-respect grew with their self-reliance. They not only took the money home, they also had a say in how it was spent. The cooperative group structure gave them a safe place to express ideas and learn about the world - and themselves. Their pride is reflected in how they present themselves. If you attend any meeting - or just visit when a group comes to collect their work - you will see women dressed with dignity, holding their heads high and moving confidently. Dignity not Charity is an idea they have totally absorbed. A charity may measure success by counting donations, while a for-profit company's bottom lines are sales and profits. Because we do things differently, our success is embodied in the strong, self-confident women.
Artisan Growth and Leadership
The potential of the women became clear very quickly. The women proved that, given an opportunity, they had the ability, knowledge, intelligence and ambition to exceed expectations. When a group grew big enough to require a supervisor, there was always a woman in the group ready and willing to take on that responsibility.
Dhangauri started as an embroidery artisan, then became the supervisor of embroidery and is now the manager of Nirmaan, a large cooperative of 40 artisans. Sushila also began as an embroidery artisan. When MarketPlace Mumbai needed an assistant for Bhakti, the production manager, she applied for the job. Now she visits all the groups to help them with their records, plans and production tracking. Eager to learn even more, she is also studying accounting and assists managers with their account books. AND she has learned to use a computer and has become quite proficient in Excel spreadsheets.
We have developed a procedure for managing social programs which recognizes and fosters the artisans' potential. For example, two leaders from each group take responsibility for a particular program. The group meets to plan their presentation before returning to their cooperatives to motivate and organize the other artisans. This has built leadership and made the programs more valuable and meaningful for all.
The artisans have taken on leadership roles as community activists. The cooperatives choose a social issue, such as domestic violence, corrupt shopkeepers or neighborhood sanitation. After doing research they chart a plan of action. This sort of social involvement and activism is encouraged by social programs concentrated on empowerment, social change and women's rights. The women have developed the confidence to participate in meetings even when they include outsiders and dignitaries, expressing their views and arguing their positions. They also take this confidence into their homes where they insist on having their voices heard and their goals respected.
Joy and Satisfaction
It's hard to quantify Happiness, but we know that it is an important part of a satisfying life. The women, of course, rarely think about their own enjoyment or entertainment, focusing instead on the satisfactions of working well and supporting their children.
MarketPlace moves this "bottom-of-the-list" item to the top. We organize potluck lunches, picnics and outings to the beach. Every meeting is opened with a song, and tea and snacks are provided. Each year we have a day devoted to celebrating the Artisans (cleverly called Artisans Day) when all the artisans gather to perform dances and skits for one another. Each group chooses a meaningful theme, such as the evils of alcoholism, corruption or religious tolerance. It is a treat to see women who have always worn traditional saris dress up as men and other characters to lampoon politics and social mores. The audience, composed of fellow artisans and families, appreciates the show - and the courage it takes to act or sing in front of a crowd. Their performances highlight the confidence, courage and humor of the artisans.
In the cooperatives, also, celebrations are included. Some groups provide a cake or other sweet treats for every member's birthday. Religious holidays from multiple faiths are observed as the artisans respect their differences and are interested to learn about other cultures.
Over the years MarketPlace has experienced substantial growth as an organization. We started with only 4 women and now we work with 10 collectives consisting of over 200 artisans. If we count their immediate family members as well, that means MarketPlace is impacting the lives of over 1000 men, women and children. Over 8 fabric hand-printing units collaborate with our designers, representing another 100 or so artisans and their families. We have expanded beyond our beginnings in Santa Cruz E to offer the chance of employment to an area north of the city where decent jobs for women are scarce. This has been so successful we have opened a satellite office in the area to be closer to the new cooperatives.
In 1990 MarketPlace received a grant from Catholic Relief Services, which enabled us to publish our first two catalogs. Since then, aside from a few small grants to fund expansion, MarketPlace has been totally independent and has financed its own growth. In addition, MarketPlace underwrites Share, the nonprofit at MarketPlace Mumbai, and all the social programs. Recently we went even farther and started an initiative, Education for Life, which reaches out to the greater community to give educational opportunities to the children in the neighborhood.
We are proud of the fact that this growth has not been only vertical. The women artisans have been closely associated with this growth, actively contributing with their actions, commitment and passion. During some of the hard times it was the women who refused to give up. When we were starting out, we had sporadic sales, too much inventory, and next to no cashflow. At one point we were considering closing. But the women refused to hear about that. With their hard work and sacrifices we pulled through.
Again, in 2005 we faced a crisis when our entire organization was rocked by massive floods in Mumbai. Water rose to waist-deep in the slums. Machines, fabric and other things related to production were destroyed. The women lost almost everything. It took weeks to wash and dry their belongings and a lot of it had to be thrown out. But their first thought was their workshops. They all came to clean and scrub the area and asked for loans (not donations) to put the business back together. The true indicator of this success is that it is not attributable to one person or small group of people, but rather everyone in the organization.
Impact on Next Generation
When MarketPlace was begun, we were focused on the first step, women's economic empowerment. It soon became clear, however, that what we were starting would have repercussions into the next generation and beyond. The artisans were and are mostly mothers sharing an important goal: making life better for their children. This means keeping them in school, often despite opposition from family and community. The Armaan Club was created 20 years ago in response to the artisans' desire to give their children academic and social support. It has been so rewarding to see these kids participating in sports, being creative, improving at school and preparing for careers, all under the auspices of Armaan Club.
Schools in India are organized around academics and standardized tests. The Armaan Club fills in with sports and extra-curricular activities through which the children learn discipline and cooperation, are exposed to arts and widen their horizons. Their soccer teams hold regular practices and participate in matches. Dance and judo classes are weekly events. The students also have access to computers, academic support and career information. During the Summer, Diwali and Christmas school holidays, the Armaan Club holds special sessions on a range of topics ranging from the fun to the serious. There have been programs on some of life's challenges: recognizing child abuse, use and risks of social media and the internet, and effective communication to defuse conflict. On a lighter note the children have had arts and crafts sessions, trips to the aquarium, movies and overnight camps.
This program of support and enrichment has helped make the kids well-rounded and responsible citizens. All of them graduate from high school, and some go on to higher education: Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees and other diplomas from universities and vocational institutions. "Graduates" of Armaan have chosen careers as doctors, engineers, IT professionals, bank employees and more. They were able to dream and achieve their dreams. This kind of success takes change far into the future for generations.