Phalguni Joshi was embarrassed that the only livelihood of the Nilagiri tribal community, Odisha, was to work in the quarries, which proved detrimental to their health and well-being.
To create another source of income, she began to train tribal women in bamboo weaving.
Phalguni initially faced resistance from the community to learn the craft and use it as a source of income, but today more than 300 tribal women work with her. She formed the pilot batch using her own funds, after which the proceeds from the sale of the first batch of products were reinvested in the business, empowering the women and the business.
As bamboo is readily available in Odisha, weaving has become an easy option and a good source of income for tribal women.
The founder intends to train and recruit more women in Karmaar crafts, and aims to internationalize with her bamboo products to show this indigenous craft to the world. On the occasion of World Bamboo Day, His history spoke to Phalguni about the challenges she faced and her plans for the future.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
HerStory (HS): What motivated you to start Karmaar Crafts?
Phalguni Joshi (PJ): The Nilagiri tribal community, Odisha, had only one source of income: to work in the nearby quarry. It affected their health and that of their children as well. The lack of alternative livelihoods motivated me to start Karmaar Crafts.
Karmaar Crafts is a social enterprise that trains tribal women in bamboo crafts as an alternative source of livelihood.
HS: What were your first challenges and how did you overcome them?
PJ: The only challenge was the initial reluctance, reluctance and anxiety of the women to try and engage in bamboo crafts. As this profession was associated with a certain community, they were hesitant. Seeing that they were having a hard time opening up, I started to learn the trade with them too. Some days I would pick them up from their home and bring them back after the training.
HS: Did you encounter any difficulties because of your gender?
PJ: It is a sad reality that even at this time, women are seen as second class citizens. The entrepreneurial community is made up of over 80 percent men. I often meet men who think I am not meant for the role and expect me to only help a man. I lost business, good business because some people couldn’t accept the idea of a female entrepreneur. I don’t let these things affect me too much because I’m proud to be a woman; I am proud to be an entrepreneur!
I am proud to work with over 300 women artisans in Odisha. This is just the start, and no gender gap or inequality can put me off and prevent me from achieving my goals.
Bamboo is readily available in Odisha, which has made weaving an easy option and a good source of income for tribal women.
HS: Is there a reason you focused on bamboo crafts to start Karmaar Crafts?
PJ: Bamboo is one of the hardiest herbs. It has been used for centuries to build homes and has now evolved to help make amazing, sturdy, and artistic products that we use in our daily lives. Bamboo is not only used for crafts or construction; the shoot is also an important health food because it is rich in nutritional value, rich in proteins and carbohydrates. Bamboo was also readily available to rural women as it grew on their own land… less expense and more profit!
Craftsmen are working to order due to the pandemic. They are paid for their services without any hidden charges. We also send our master trainers for various training sessions that will help them grow as entrepreneurs and artisans. The pandemic has affected the income of the artisans as the crafts of Karmaar started in December 2019. The pandemic has hit us, but we are focused on growth.
HS: The digital revolution has helped so many startups. Did this benefit Karmaar Crafts?
PJ: The digital revolution has brought a wide range of opportunities, bringing the world closer together in terms of opportunities, markets, promotions and cultures. Karmaar has benefited by showcasing the efforts of these women and providing them with a platform and many opportunities.
HS: What does empowerment mean to you and the rural women you work with?
PJ: Tome, empowerment means having a choice and a voice. I grew up in one of the most orthodox societies in Rajasthan. I have seen women in my family suffer because they had neither a choice nor a voice. In this world, empowering women is a small step towards achieving gender equality.
Phalguni Joshi says the lack of alternative livelihoods for Odisha tribal women motivated her to start Karmaar Crafts
HS: What are your plans for the next five years?
PJ: Today Karmaar Crafts is proudly associated with 300 women artisans; we started with only three women! Over the next five years, we aim to internationalize by expanding our business overseas and becoming a source of inspiration for women in rural Indian societies. We plan to train another 100 women in bamboo crafts in the coming months. We want to bring more artisans together under the umbrella by providing training that will help women become independent and self-reliant.
HS: What does the startup ecosystem look like for women entrepreneurs?
PJ: I had an image in my head that only successful male entrepreneurs. I was wrong when I entered the Her & Now project. This is an initiative that empowers women entrepreneurs and is implemented by GIZ, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and in partnership with the Ministry of Skills Development and of Entrepreneurship (MSDE) of the Indian government.
It gave me confidence, business knowledge and the experience of a lifetime. I have had the opportunity to meet inspiring and brilliant women who share my story, empathize and support me and my work.
Women entrepreneurs in the startup ecosystem have created a bond of brotherhood that will inspire future generations and young girls who dream big.