SEPT 15, 2008 – MAR 15, 2009
Linda Mani, August 2008 Fellow
Initiatives for Development Foundation and Gramya Turnkey Services Pvt. Lt.
Background and Project Vision
In 2003, Initiatives for Development Foundation (IDF) identified five villages surrounding the small town of Hiriyur form what is known as the Natural Fiber Cluster. Approximately 60-80 women of this cluster work mainly with banana fiber, which is using the remnants of a banana tree to create various mats, blinds, other personal and home furnishing products. Additional products are also created using korai grass, wool, hibiscus and other naturally available/local resources. These products have begun to arouse international interest through the marketing initiatives managed by Gramya Turnkey Services Pvt. Ltd. My project goal is to create a sense of awareness, team dynamics, and empowerment within the group.
Project Goals and Future Plans
The goal is to make the women feel a part of something bigger than just the production piece. The growing interest has allowed more and more products to be send internationally, but since they are neither involved in the marketing aspects nor are they made aware, they don’t see the importance of their role. In creating a sense ownership within the women, they are empowered to ask questions, make suggestions and take on initiatives to start new processes or make changes to the current work structure. I intend to start at Lakkavanahally, where the activity first started, and where I have the strongest relationships, with the women and the village. Given the outcome, I intent to host the same sessions with the other villages of the cluster. The overarching goal is to organize the women of the five villages to form a federation or union that would operate in the best interest of the overall group, act as a liaison to the Bangalore office, and work to create a transparent organization.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
In the beginning, my minimal Kannada only allowed for me to communicate very little with the women, so I attended the center daily and helped the women with various weaving activities. At that time, there was a misconception that I was there for training, so that I could start my own weaving center in America. Whatever the case, it helped me to learn all the processes involved in weaving. Additionally, it gave me the opportunity to meet the families of the women, learn their personal stories, and thereby improving my Kannada day-by-day. My fellowship project description directed the introduction a new process of using natural dyes, which not only has external limitations regarding funding and space, but it does not solve the underlying issues. It is my strong belief, that once the women are instilled the sense of importance, teamwork, and confidence—they would be able to start, improve, and/or change—essentially take control of what is already theirs.
Detailed Goal-setting & Implementation Planning
• Research and connect with other similar artisan organizations
o Understand the mission of the organization
o How are they mobilize and motivate others? Is it transferable?
• Conduct sessions on awareness regarding:
o Global aspects and demands for the product
o The product life cycle (uses for the variety of products)
o Current marketing methods
• Soft Skill(s) session (presentation skills, leadership, etc); how can each woman be a leader in their own way?
• Create a sense of team dynamics; how to collaboratively address and solve issues?
• Develop their mission/vision for the center and cluster
• Develop individual and team goals
Understandings and Personal Growth
I arrived in Hiriyur with minimal: Kannada, experience or understanding of rural India and weaving skills. Even now, I wouldn’t consider myself to be an expert in any of these areas, but rather, to have a greater appreciation for the diversity within India that makes it so unique. I saw the meaning of generosity, hospitality and family—a notion among beings, not just relatives. I developed an awareness about myself and the impact on my surroundings—that I can use each opportunity to learn and teach something. I learned that I am also part of the earth, so I have a responsibility to understand the beginnings, as well as the ends. I’ve learned about service, its more than something you do on occasion, it a way of thinking, acting and living. I’ve learned to work with the challenges I’m given, that I may not always be in an ideal situation, rather a continuum of self-development. I see how India and being an Indian is truly a part of my identity.