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article imageMumbai urban squatters/craftspeople reach larger markets Special

By Moushumi Chakrabarty     Mar 23, 2015 in Business
Mumbai - Local craftspersons and artisans in one of the largest slums in Mumbai, India, now have a chance to showcase their goods and services on an ecommerce portal.
In a bid to highlight the skills of the slum residents, Urbanologist Megha Gupta, a resident of Mumbai with a deep interest in social issues, launched Dharavi Market, an ecommerce portal last August.
“In its current form, the website is a market place for leather product manufacturers, potters, shoe makers, jewelers and various accessory makers who want to sell their wares in the domestic and international markets. This for-profit initiative provides fair remuneration to the skilled craftspeople for their labour and expertise, and makes available world-class quality goods at reasonable prices to its buyers. However, the reason behind the genesis of the website goes beyond just e-commerce. It has its roots in affordable housing issues and livelihood and commuting problems of people residing in the poor communities of Dharavi” she said.
The slum, spread over 500 acres, is a bustling locality of diversity, not only in terms of linguistic, regional and religious affiliations but also myriad professionals. There is a thriving informal sector at work, and according to reports, business done annually in Dharavi exceeds US $500 million. Apart from delicate filigree gold wire work on garments, there is a huge recycling sector at work in Dharavi. Skilled craftspersons and those running small businesses in the narrow bylanes are now able to access markets beyond the local scene. However it was not all easy going for Megha Gupta.
“The initial reactions from people I know were not very encouraging. They thought how would it work, how will you deal with the 'labourers', how would I handle the logistics, will people buy products made from the slums, etc. I myself had no answers to these questions. But I felt this was something that should be done. So I took one step at a time while still having a job. Gradually, the baby steps ended up being a full fledged e-commerce venture. I started with one craftsperson, experimented with selling on Ebay and Etsy, and I got sales in the first week itself. So, I hired a developer to make the website. I had 5 craftspeople registered with me in the first week of the launch. But then I had sales and media publicity and soon I hired staff to register more and more craftsmen. We have around 200 registered businesses in the past 8 months.
The craftspeople are the biggest supporters of my project. They were very happy that they were being given an opportunity and were ready to give me time to experiment with products and technology. They were patient. The process of making the website and going live took 9 months and they all cooperated with me, without charging a penny. Finance and funding was my setback earlier as I was doing this from my own personal savings. So taking baby steps was a choice as well as a compulsion as there was no big money in the bank to give a big push to the idea,” she added.
Megha has a social capital credits (SoCCs) program working in tandem with her for-profit venture. The craftspeople who are registered sellers on the website earn SoCCs, “…for waste management, sending daughters to high school and university and mentoring younger craftsmen. With the SoCCs earned, they will be able to attend skill-enhancement courses, get additional windows, exhaust fans and fire escapes installed in their life/work environment."
Like all business people, this entrepreneur has a road map of the future. “The plan is to get more and more craftsmen online, give them a platform to sell their goods globally, get corporate and wholesale orders for more profitability. Also, six months down the line, when we are in a better position financially, we would like to completely focus on our social credits program to improve living conditions for the craftspeople” she said.
More about Slum, Ecommerce, Business, craftspeople, Social
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