A recent Times of India news article, details the benefits of non-profit organization, Industree Crafts Association, which helps connect low-income Indian artisans with purchase orders, capacity building assistance, and access to financial services. Industree Craft’s artisans are shareholders in the retail brand, Mother Earth, which has a number of outlets in India. The company has also conducted a social audit of artisans in the country, which number approximately 40 million.

BANGALORE: They rolled beedis not too long ago as they saw no stakes in the crafts they had inherited from their ancestors. But families of over 300 artisans have now rediscovered their stakes in their traditional skills, thanks to Mother Earth, a new brand of domestic retail chain stores in which they literally hold shares.

Brainchild of product designer-turned-social entrepreneur Neelam Chhiber, Mother Earth is now a brand worth emulating, sticking as it does to the twin basics of giving consumers the best of Indian natural hand-crafted products and simultaneously providing livelihood to rural artisans.

Forty-nine-year-old Neelam Chhiber, co-founder and managing director of Industree Crafts Foundation whose brand Mother Earth is, was recently declared the Social Entrepreneur of 2011 by The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization of the World Economic Forum, in partnership with the Jubilant Bhartia Foundation.

A product of National Institute of Design, Chhiber started Mother Earth in 1994, sensing not just business opportunities in the sector but also realizing that the sector needed a lot of solutions for its survival.

“We began by constituting self-help groups of artisans. They are called Mother Earth business interest groups. They are not just artisans but also shareholders in Mother Earth.

The artisans were provided with two bank accounts, one for depositing their savings and another to raise loans. We provided them linkages in purchase orders and built up and enhanced their technical skills,” Chhiber said.

The formula has worked. Saris these artisans weave, mats they stitch and toys they create are not only sold in Mother Earth outlets across the country, including a 11,000 square feet flagship store in the city, but also exported in large quantities to the US, Europe, Switzerland, Spain, Italy and Denmark.

The artisans’ income has trebled. Largely illiterate and mostly women, they are able to send their children to schools and make a decent living. Mother Earth artisans are located in Koramangala, Horamavu and Hennur areas of Bangalore, besides in Tirunelveli and Krishnagiri of Tamil Nadu.

Enhance their eco system

Mother Earth has done a social audit of artisans in India. The audit revealed that there are about 40 million artisans in India. “But India’s market share in global creative industry is mere 2%. What is required now is to enhance the eco system that the artisans live in and we are working on the same,” says Chhiber.