Home 9 Regions 9 Asia 9 Trusting the Power of Community

Trusting the Power of Community

Women entrepreneurs connect remote mountain communities to global markets

As part of a series of “fireside chats” sponsored by R.I.S.E. Artisan Fund, Kythzia Barrera and Rashmi Bharti spoke about the artisan-owned collective enterprises that they founded and continue to build — Colectivo 1050° and Earthcraft Self-Reliant Cooperative. Both founders define success in terms that put local stakeholders first. Rashmi Bharti spoke from Tripuradevi, in the mountain region of northern India. Barrera joined the conversation from Oaxaca, in the highlands of southern Mexico.​

Rashmi Bharti is co-founder of Avani, an NGO that creates rural livelihoods in remote villages of the Kumaon region through revival of the traditional crafts of hand-spinning, hand-weaving, and natural dyeing, as well as the development and dissemination of appropriate technology and farming. Avani began working with weavers in 1997 and spun out Earthcraft Self-Reliant Cooperative in 2005 with 49 members after nearly a decade of community outreach and enterprise development.

Coloring materials for textiles

Avani produces a range of hand-woven textiles using hand spun yarns dyed with natural dyes. Dye materials are grown and collected by local farmers as part of the cooperative enterprise, Earthcraft Self-Reliant Cooperative. (C) Avani 2022

Avani develops integrated, local supply chains for silk and wool as well as natural dyes, creating demand for locally produced materials and employing farmers, dyers, spinners and weavers in creating its textiles. In 2005, Avani began working with farmers to rear silk worms, and, in 2015, started introducing the cultivation of high-altitude indigo, a first for the region. Today, more than 200 farmers provide these raw materials to Earthcraft, which now has more than 500 members.

In addition to its award-winning textiles, the enterprise produces high-quality natural dyes and art supplies as well as soapnut powder for natural laundry detergent. Operating with a deep respect for the environment, Avani collects rainwater and recycles wastewater, while the sun and locally-gathered pine needles provide energy for the NGO campus, field centers, and the Earthcraft enterprise.

We are bringing the entire supply chain to the village.

“We are bringing the entire supply chain to the village,” Bharti explained. But she reminds us that the process of creating conservation-based livelihoods requires investment — it’s easy for industries to talk about low cost when they pretend costs such as water pollution or carbon emissions do not exist. Avani raised catalytic capital from the full spectrum of funding sources, to develop a sustainable local economy.

Avani weaver

Referring to the practical solutions promoted by Avani, Bharti posed a rhetorical question: “What is the point of technology that nobody uses and it’s sitting in workshops and research papers?” The best initiatives, she said, are not those that are perfect or those that use the most advanced technology, but those that work well enough and are widely adopted. By that measure, Avani is clearly succeeding, as its practical initiatives have improved the lives of 2,200 families in 64 villages. Bharti said that Avani can, with appropriate investment, nearly double the number of families it impacts.

It’s easy for industries to talk about low cost when they pretend costs such as water pollution or carbon emissions do not exist. Avani raised catalytic capital from the full spectrum of funding sources, to develop a sustainable local economy.

Woman collecting indigo

In 2005, Avani began working with farmers to rear silk worms and in 2015 started introducing the cultivation of high-altitude indigo, a first for the Kumaon region in northern India. (C) Avani 2022

Avani’s original trainees have been working with the enterprise for over 20 years, and are now training others. Bharti has observed profound impacts of the program. For instance, local girls empowered as skilled artisans now marry who they want, when they want, rather than being obliged to marry at a very young age.

Kythzia Barrera nodded enthusiastically as Bharti described Avani’s comprehensive stakeholder approach. Barrera is co-founder of Innovando la Tradición, a nonprofit that operates in rural Mexico, which launched Colectivo 1050º as a cooperative enterprise of Mexican potters.

Mexican woman potter

Alberta Mateo is one of the members of Colectivo 1050o, a cooperative enterprise of Mexican potters. Her pottery draws on the cultural traditions and uses clay collected from nearby hills. (C) 2022 Colectivo 1050o

When Innovando la Tradición began working with potters in Oaxaca, the organization confronted deep-rooted bias against ancient crafts. Young people perceived little benefit in continuing the pottery tradition, as viable markets had dried up years earlier. Handmade goods had been replaced by cheap, mass-produced plastic, often imported from Asian countries. Young people fled the villages physically and emotionally, according to Barrera. “Everybody just wanted to go work in the U.S. and come back with their L.A. cap, their jeans and tennis shoes,” she said.

Barrera co-founded the cooperative Colectivo 1050° to bring the “beauty of the millenarian tradition of Mexican ceramics” to contemporary national and international markets. Colectivo 1050º potters create simple and elegant ceramics that draw on this ancient cultural heritage.

We create social and participatory design in a solidarity economy…because we seek cultural development, as well as a personal and community transformation, through the wisdom of our trade.

A participatory design process has been part of Barrera’s approach from the beginning: “We create social and participatory design in a solidarity economy – supporting and sharing with one another – because we seek cultural development, as well as a personal and community transformation, through the wisdom of our trade.”

Ruiz family potter at work

The Ruiz family are members of Colectivo 1050o, a cooperative enterprise of Mexican potters. The enterprise has been operating successfully since 2008 producing ceramic homewares for national and international markets. (C) 2022 Colectivo 1050o

Like Avani, Innovando la Tradición raised catalytic capital to create the team and organizational culture needed for the enterprise to take root. The artisans of Colectivo 1050° produce ceramic homeware from clay and natural slips found in the nearby hills of each community. Handmade with ancient methods but attractive to modern consumers, the new products revitalized a craft tradition that might otherwise have disappeared entirely.

hand making pottery

Oaxacan potters produce black pottery using traditional methods which they market via Colectivo 1050o, a cooperative enterprise of Mexican potters co-founded by Kythzia Barrera and a design team from Innovando la Tradición. (C) 2022 Colectivo 1050o

Colectivo 1050° has been operating successfully since 2008. Today, it has 19 members representing more than 50 potters from seven different communities in three states, each with its own techniques, language, and territories.

While focused on sustainability, Barrera and Bharti also have big plans for growth. Each is raising capital to scale enterprises and lines of business that have already proven successful, and to expand educational programs.

Avani is expanding its already very robust educational programming to create an “Institute of Color” focused on natural dyes and serving as a repository of knowledge about color.

Innovando la Tradición is developing the Casa de Los Saberes (House of Knowledge) in Oaxaca, with an educational program and archive to ensure knowledge of traditional techniques does not die with village elders. They are raising $750,000 to fund construction and operating costs, with the longer-term vision of building seven satellite schools in the potters’ communities.

Investors in these enterprises will have tremendous impact on these communities and their cultural heritage.

Investors in these enterprises will have tremendous impact on these communities and their cultural heritage, and, as Barrera says, will “fully trust the power of community.” Hopefully, they will also share these co-founders’ long term commitments to these rural communities and their dreams for future generations. Not only are Barrera and Bharti providing sustainable livelihoods today, they are laying the groundwork for ancient crafts that outlasted past empires to continue for decades and perhaps even for millennia.

The R.I.S.E. Artisan Fund invests in early-stage artisan enterprises creating sustainable livelihoods for rural communities with few economic alternatives. The fund deploys capital using a range of investment vehicles from grants to revenue-based equity investments while seeking a return of capital for further investment, thus creating a reinvestment cycle that multiplies the catalytic impact of philanthropic capital.

To invest via the R.I.S.E. Artisan Fund, you can make a tax-deductible contribution directly or via a grant from your donor advised fund (DAF). You can also co-invest directly in select investment opportunities. Contact ellen [at] sproutenterprise.net for more information or complete our Philanthropic Investment Grant Form to invest in the fund.

Robert Hurst is a freelance writer who has authored 13 books. Recently, he has worked as a grant writer, creating proposals for a wide range of nonprofits, and as a consultant to Athena Global Alliance focused on gender lens investing. He lives in Denver with his wife and daughter.
Collaborating with artisan enterprises in rural India, Mexico, Cambodia, Guatemala and Indonesia, Ellen helps these enterprises build distribution and generate international sales creating employment for more than 2000 artisans. Artisan collections are presented via www.SproutEnterprise.net. Through the R.I.S.E. Artisan Fund, Ellen is expanding investment in early-stage artisan enterprises creating livelihoods ... Read more

This article was produced in collaboration with the Magazine's Content Partners.

Become a Content Partner.

Related Content

Comments

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Deep Dives

What is Resilience?

RECENT

Editor's Picks

Webinars

News & Events


More News & Events

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates about new Magazine content and upcoming webinars, deep dives, and events.

Access all of Impact Entrepreneur.

Become a Premium Member to access the full library of webinars and deep dives, exclusive membership portal, member directory, message board, and curated live chats.

ie frog
Welcome to Impact Entrepreneur MagazinePlease join us!

While all magazine articles are free to view, you need to choose a membership option to continue using the site. Basic Membership is free and gives unlimited access to articles. Premium Membership brings a host of rich offerings and collaborative opportunities.

Or LOGIN HERE if you are already a member.

Click