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Nexus of Good: Entrepreneurial artisans

Anuna Education, through its upskilling programme, is bridging the gap between craftspeople and digital markets

Nexus of Good: Entrepreneurial artisans
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India has had a rich tradition of handicrafts and handlooms since time immemorial. However, such handicraft art forms are on a decline despite the Government's efforts to support and revive them through multiple cluster-based intervention schemes.

Lack of next-generation business & technology skills is the main reason for such a decline, hampering direct market linkages for artisan groups, thereby, excluding most artisans from the digital economy and subjecting them to historical exploitations at the hands of the middlemen.

Today, as the world is shifting towards sustainable, handmade and organic products, digital e-commerce has become the main sourcing and consumption platform globally. It is now imperative that steps are taken to upskill India's handicraft artisans and connect them with both domestic and international e-marketplaces.

Keeping the above need in mind, Anuna Education, founded by a US-based entrepreneur, Amit Iqbal Srivastava, teamed up with Retail Association Skill Council (RASCI) under Skill India in 2017 to create a new 320-hour Qualification Pack (course) that focused on e-commerce entrepreneurship called, "Self-Employed e-Tailer" and conceptualised its implementation in 2019 as an end-to-end training, placement and a long-term hand-holding special project under Skill India for the benefit of 1,00,000 marginalised handicraft artisans and offline SME retailers connected with government-aided handicraft clusters across India.

To successfully implement the project, Anuna formed a partnership with Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) — a Government of India undertaking — to help identify the Government-supported clusters having Common Facility Centers (CFCs), provide necessary training infrastructure, and help mobilise deserving artisans connected with said clusters. On the placement end, Anuna formed strategic partnerships with leading e-commerce platforms such as eBay, Amazon, Shopclues and Flipkart. At the same time, it developed its own handicraft marketplace (www.anuna.com) focused on generating international custom and bulk orders for the beneficiaries, as well as, finding innovative approaches to benefit those artisan groups who are not ready to register under GST.

Anuna also has built-in peripheral services, provided free of cost to the trainees, that enhanced the scope of the project under Skill India. These services include company formation for artisan groups as Association of Persons (AOP), PAN card & GST registration, two-quarter GST returns filing, Udyog Aadhar generation, current account opening, photography and cataloguing of products, combined with up to one year of active sales generation – all necessary to launch successful e-Commerce enterprises.

To date, Anuna has trained 16,284 artisans across 160 clusters in 42 districts across 11 states including UP, Rajasthan, J&K, MP, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra, Telangana & Himachal Pradesh. Handicraft types that are covered include chikankari, cane & bamboo, marble inlay, phulkari, crochet, toys, artificial jewellery, handbags & purses, jute, silk, brass work, glasswork, pickles, chain stitch, paper mache, handspun wool products, home décor items etc.

Nearly 90 per cent of the trained artisans under this Special Project are women. Some 1200 artisan companies are being formed, many have already started generating new livelihood and have connected themselves with the digital economy. Anuna's Special Project is a first-of-its-kind combination of Skill India with Make in India, Digital India, Startup India, Standup India, and Mudra loan schemes of the Government of India. It is also a shining example of forward and backward linkages through capacity building, livelihood generation, financial inclusion, and long-term handholding.

The project has encountered several problems but most of these could be overcome with interventions mentioned against them:

1. Availability of Adequate Infrastructure at rural cluster location

• Classroom and labs were combined with tablet PCs given in groups per batch.

• Better centres were identified close to the cluster locations.

2. Low attendance due to family and work pressures on artisans

• Community-level counselling was carried out to better educate artisans about the livelihood generation benefits of the programme.

3.Many of the handicrafts were of old designs or colours that were not sellable in international markets or were made using low-quality materials.

• Artisans were given specific training on searching online marketplaces, Instagram and Pinterest for comparable products, and incorporate the latest designs, colours and materials.

4.Pricing issues were faced as many artisans were expecting extraordinary profits from day one.

• Price comparison tools and searches were used to show price competitiveness to artisans.

• Back profit calculations were taught keeping in mind the cost of products, shipping, marketplace commissions, taxes etc.

5.Banks were not opening current accounts for AOPs without Rs 10,000 deposit and minimum balance requirements.

• Tie-up with Airtel Payments Bank helped solve this problem.

6.Lack of inventory leading to lack of repeat sales and requirement for working capital.

• Cluster management was adopted to provide adequate inventory and warehousing for listed products to artisan groups. However, working capital requirements are still not fulfilled due to the decentralised nature of the Mudra scheme and high-interest micro-finance loans.

7.Most artisans are afraid of GST requirements and not familiar with company formation.

• AOP, PAN Card, Udyog Aadhar registration were carried out free of charge.

• GST 2 quarter filing is also being offered by Anuna, along with listing and sales on the aggregator model.

8.Anuna.com has been created as a "direct from artisan" handicraft portal focused on international markets whereby artisan groups can sell to Anuna offline without GST against online orders. Customers are also allowed to place custom orders, a model the artisans are more comfortable with.

9. Near zero photography, cataloguing, a packaging knowledge at cluster level

• Photography guidelines of Amazon were used as standard with specific sessions on the packaging.

• 3rd party professional photography and cataloguing services were engaged.

Besides handicraft & handloom artisans, Anuna is further planning to upskill farmers on direct market linkages through e-commerce, FPO formation and digital literacy. Furthermore, the Company is working on implementing foreign placement linked programmes for India's youth in the geriatric healthcare sector.

Anuna is also working towards making its e-commerce entrepreneurship course available in online mode and free of cost for those women who have lost their sole household breadwinners due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amit Iqbal Srivastava left the shores of the country but his heart is where his motherland is. He, along with his formidable team, is assisting the artisans of India and those engaged in handicrafts to improve the quality of their products and market them. They present a wonderful example of Nexus of Good as they have not only established a working model, they have also managed to scale it through a public-private partnership.

Views expressed are personal

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