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Nov, 30 2011

Crafting Magical Returns!

Who says business is all about big budget and latest technology? Laila Tyabji, Chairperson of Dastkar, has capitalised on the skills of rural craftsmen. Gina Arora finds out how this noble venture has changed the face of small and medium enterprises.

Who says business is all about big budget and latest technology? Laila Tyabji, Chairperson of Dastkar, has capitalised on the skills of rural craftsmen. Gina Arora finds out how this noble venture has changed the face of small and medium enterprises.

Dastkar is an initiative of six women. Tell us how it all began?

Dastkar is a 30- year-old institution, which was born as a result of a casual discussion on why Indian craftsmen were undervalued. This led us to work informally with craftsmen to help them hone their skills. Soon we realised that there was a huge demand for rural craftsmen all across India. So, we registered an organisation and began full-time work with more intensive long-term interventions.

What does Dastkar signify. How does it transform craftsmen into successful entrepreneurs?

Dastkar means someone who works with his hands. Craftsmen are the centre of our work. We teach them to turn their traditional skills into attractive contemporary products of everyday use home accessories, gifts, garments etc.

What are the challenges faced by the crafts industry in India and how are you dealing with it?

Craftsmen don't have access to credit and can't afford space or advertising in new urban markets. They don't have information about consumer tastes and trends and it's expensive for them to use professional services of designers and merchandisers. So, Dastkar tries to fill in these blanks. Dastkar also acts as the voice of Indian craftsmen in Government forums and media.

What kind of training and services you provide to SMEs?

We train and support them in design and product development, marketing, skills training, act as a link to government and other financial services and schemes, organisational and production systems, raw material sourcing, documentation of designs and techniques. It's a holistic basket of services, tailored to suit the particular needs of each crafts community. We find that there is still a huge demand for handcraft and handloom. The challenge is to tweak it to suit contemporary consumer tastes and to place it in the market.

How has Dastkar benefited women?

Dastkar works with around 32,000 craftsmen and 65 per cent of them are women. A lot of them have never worked for a living before. So, selling their products directly has given them not only employment and earning, but also empowerment.

The turning point in your career...

The minute I came to know that the development sector was more rewarding and fun than the corporate one!

Where all are you spread in India and where do you see Dastkar in the next five years?

Dastkar has its presence in around 19 states. We hope to expand our work and effectiveness, linking craftsmen all over India and using every methodology, including the electronic media, to put them in the mainstream. Crafts and craftspeople are a unique strength and asset of India, and we should all realise their power and global potential.

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