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Now, NGO turns to market for profits

From a focus on securing livelihood for its members, SEWA, the Ahmedabad-based women's cooperative, is switching to market, reports Ruchi Hajela.

business Updated: May 11, 2008 22:52 IST
Ruchi Hajela

From a focus on securing livelihood for its members, SEWA, the Ahmedabad-based women's cooperative, is switching to market. The not-for-profit organisation now wants to build brands and earn profits.

The cooperative of self-employed women earned Rs. 1.5 crore last year from sales of hand woven apparels, home furnishings and accessories marketed under the Hansiba brand, which was launched one-and-half years ago. Hansiba is an initiative of SEWA Trade Facilitation Centres (STFCs), the first of which came up in 1998 with the objective of providing employment to rural women artisans.

"Earlier, STFCs were focused on helping artisans earn money for a living," said Mona Dave, the chief executive of STFC. But times have changed and "we want to be perceived not as an organisation supporting the poor but a market-focused one," she said. "We want to earn profits."

Such transformative is not unique to SEWA. Several other cooperatives have undergone similar changes in the past. The Barefoot College located in Tilonia district of Rajasthan, which provides assistance to rural artisans by promoting craft, is working with a US-based group of supporters -- Friends of Tilonia -- to facilitate sale of its handicrafts, puppets and apparels abroad.

Named after STFC’s oldest member, Hansiba currently has two stores – one in New Delhi and another in Ahmedabad - and it has already becomeprofitable. "We plan to add another two Hansiba outlets this year and have about eight exclusive outlets in India in the next three years, post which we also plan to explore international markets in South East Asia, Europe and set up about six to eight shops in those regions," Dave said.

STFC even has plans to consider raising money from the market.

"The challenge for STFC lies not in creating a market but in capturing it," said Mayank Premi, Partner, Beacon Advisory Services that is working with STFC to help promote it.

In addition, SFTC has got on board designers from prestigious institutions like the National Institute of Design and National Institute of Fashion Technology, who work with artisans and help them contemprorise designs. STFC has been making its presence felt across international fashion shows as well.

SEWA is also planning to set up its own malls ‘SEWA Bazaars’ across the country. SEWA Bazaars will be malls where framers will be able to sell fresh produce like vegetables and fruits by doing away with the middlemen. The first SEWA Bazaar will be coming up in Ahmedabad by the end of this year. About 14 SEWA Bazaars are expected to come up across the country in the next three years with an investment of about Rs 150 crore to Rs 200 crore.