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  • Writer's picturePradnya Punekar

Meet the entrepreneur from Germany who is taking Indian art and craft global!

Artisans and their craft are an integral part of the rich and diverse culture of India, and at the same time they have been a central part of India's economy for ages. They carry a language of their own and contribute towards economic development of the country. In India, traditional craft forms are perishing, mainly because of the commercialised mindset of consumers. The Gandhi-an idea of handicrafts was based on sustainable village economy which aims at the integrated development of rural India.

Meet Sundaram Kumari, Founder and CEO of Shilp World and Bhavishya(NGO). Sundaram is an entrepreneur from Germany who is taking Indian art and craft on the global platform, and is contributing towards economic sustainability and is creating employment opportunities for rural women.

Hailing from a rural region of Champaran, a region of Bihar, Sundaram knew the ground realities. She pursued her education from Kerala and Europe and attained a degree in computer engineering, post which she took up a job at Aricent in Delhi in 2008. As she progressed in her corporate career she cherished the idea of integrated development of the underprivileged rural women.

After working for a few years in India and Europe, Sundaram moved to Germany with her husband, that's when she decided to give wings to her dreams. She decided to take matters into her own hands and work towards sustainable economic growth from within networks of rural craftsmanship.

"Suddenly leaving a well-settled career and the feeling of not receiving a monthly check into the account had a significant impact on me," she says. "It made me think of the fellow women who never felt the accomplishment of earning or being self-sufficient," she added.

She undertook her own market research and studied the art and craft industry, met hundreds of craftsmen, travelled to remote places and gathered first hand information before she launched her business.

Two years later, she founded the rural development NGO Bhavishya, and Shilp World, which is an e-commerce platform for traditional Indian handicrafts.

Bhaishya's primary mission is to improve the livelihood of the needy women in a socially, culturally, and economically sustainable manner. Both Bhavishya and Shilp World are based out of Frankfurt, Germany and their vision is to support rural artisans to reach bigger markets. They have an in-house training centre in India(Bihar) where they train women with skills such as hand embroidery, Madhubani paintings, paintings on different surfaces, various art and craft products and alongside also procure products from various artists from all over India. Traditional handicrafts which they have acquired from various generations.

From running an in house training centre in India to selling products online all over India and Europe, Sundaram is taking over the art and craft industry on the global platform and envisions to take Shilp World in other markets of world.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started”

Bhavishya was born in 2015 from Sundaram’s home in Bihar with a vision to impart training and education for the rural girls and women in traditional handicrafts and help them earn a sustainable livelihood through the art and craft. It continues to operate on the same working model and also provides crafts training as a tangible skill and hobby to create cultural awareness. It is engaged in supporting rural artisans through marketing and retailing their products in overseas markets and thereby helping them earn their fair share.

With time Bhavishya expanded the scope and established a learning centre for needy children and school dropout girls in the Bihar village. A library with books and computers has been set up with video conferencing and distance education facility. Bhavishya also collaborates with Community Based Organizations to provide quality education and vocational skills to the poor school children.

Along the journey Sundaram realised that there was a need to create a digital platform through which they could market and sell the art and crafts products created at Bhavishya.

That realisation gave birth to “Shilp World”, it is a digital marketplace to sell handicraft products directly sourced from the artisans ( )

“Shilp World” works with multiple artisans from India. Sundaram, with the help of other partners, handpicks the artisans in India and sources their product. Since it is still in its early phase, Shilp World follows the inventory-based model. Shilp World makes up-front purchase directly from the artisans with full payment to support the artisans and maintain the product in our inventory. Currently, Shilpworld maintains inventory to fulfil orders for 4-6 months.

Shilp World mainly focuses on B2C business with products sold directly to the customer. Ensuring strong digital presence with its own e-commerce website, Shilp World products are also available across online marketplace Amazon and Etsy, among others.

"Throughout the course, we have realized that handwoven clothes and handicraft products contribute to a sustainable future," says Sundaram.

With people, especially millennials becoming more environmentally conscious and focusing on sustainability hand made products has a broad scope. Shilp World is trying to protect the traditional art and craft culture of India as well as expanding its reach to a global audience.

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people”

The core team consists of two full time people, including the founder - Sundaram.

Suman, who is based in Delhi, India, is responsible for driving the lead of Bhavishya's activities in India. Bhavishya has a team of dedicated volunteers and interns working together for the smooth running of the organization's ventures. The business model demands travelling to various locations in India and a supply chain directly linked with the artisans. When Shilp World has a large customized corporate order, it is given to the artisans. Shilp World doesn't hire full time artisans or have fixed income for them; it tries to provide the artisans repeated orders to make a craft as their lucrative work option.

“We don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges”

There is no entrepreneur in this world who does not face challenges. Sundaram’s challenges go back to days from convincing women to join the training centre to creating awareness about Indian art and craft in the global market to selling them. The challenges are never ending but that does not stop her.

Some of the major challenges Sundaram continues to face even today are such administrative, regulations and laws of selling products globally, and managing work from Germany. But she takes the challenges head on and overcomes each of them.

“VISION is the art of seeing what is invisible”

Making alliances and engaging with artisans is an ongoing process. Shilpworld aims, to expand its B2B business by tying up with local vendors and gift shops in Europe, to develop new products while expanding its existing product line.

Looking back, Sundaram is delighted that she has been able to build a business network for rural handicrafts. Her mission is to popularise the Indian handicrafts industry across the globe and build a sustainable development model that render fair marketing of traditional crafts.

Recently, Bhavishya was at the forefront of COVID-19 relief works, helping the daily wage labourers in Delhi by providing essential food kits.

Katha wishes Sundaram and her ventures Shilp World and Bhavishya heaps of success in years to come.

Do visit their website

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