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From slums to entrepreneurs

Thursday, February 03, 2011

25 years is a long time to work on a social issue and create impact – a milestone that needs to be commemorated! Creative Handicrafts, a Fair Trade social enterprise, is celebrating its 25th year of working in the slums of Mumbai and empowering disadvantaged women.

Sister Isabel, the founder of the organisation, says, “The history of Creative Handicrafts takes us back to 1984, when we wanted to devote ourselves to work with the slum community. While working in the area, we had often seen women facing domestic violence and difficult economic conditions. Recognising our efforts in building trust and solidarity, the women bonded with us. Thus began our journey to facilitate their economic independence. Over the years, we have built an organisation on the principles of free trade, training women to manufacture produces like garments, complements, soft toys, and other handicrafts that are aimed at both, local and international markets. I am happy to say that now Creative Handicrafts has expanded its domain of work and has engagement programs in three areas – economic empowerment, community development and capacity building.”

In 1984 the first Co-operative Society with women members from Mahakali Slums in Andheri was established. In a few years, the number of women and self help groups increased dramatically. With the activities increasing rapidly, Self Employment Center was registered as a separate organisation and rechristened from Women’s Self Employment Center to Creative Handicrafts (CH) in 1994. It was registered under the Bombay Public Trust Act and the Societies Registration Act in 1994.

Creative Handicrafts has subsequently ventured into the field of primary education, primary health, sponsorship program for education of Children, saving and credit groups for women, adult education etc. Over the last twenty five years, women have taken ownership of the organisation that they have helped build and their lives by becoming economically independent. Today, the organisation takes pride in that spark that occurred 16 years ago. It takes pride in the fact that it helps kindle the fire of many kitchens of the slum communities.

“We continue to attract new women members to the organisation and take pride in seeing them become economically empowered” says Johny Joseph, Director, Creative Handicrafts. “We now run 12 full-fledged Self Help Groups (SHG) involved in production. The new ventures of Creative Handicrafts like the project Asli Foods, Saving and Credit groups, etc. are also doing very well with their ability to sustain themselves.”

As a part of their silver jubilee celebrations, Creative Handicrafts along with their partners is organising an international conference to critically examine whether market driven initiatives can help alleviate poverty. Speakers from all over the world – Netherlands, UK, Spain, Italy, France, Bangladesh, Kenya and, of course, India will converge to discuss and share mechanisms and case studies that promote responsible business practices and more mature and inclusive markets. Paul Myers, President - World Fair Trade Organisation, and Philippe Guichandut, Executive Director - European Microfinance Network will be among the speakers.

Adds Joseph, “We as an organization, believe that social enterprise and fair trade is the answer to globalisation and its after-effects. It is our hope that the discussions emerging from the conference can set a basis for more such informed initiatives.”

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