A Directional Study Towards Empowerment

Innovation, Contemporization, Skilling, Training, Professional Devt., Sustainability, Sustainable Devt.

A Directional Study Towards Empowerment: Finding a New Horizon

Patel, Usha Nehru


The concern on ecological principles is forcing the design fraternity to turn towards more sustainable design solutions. There is a strong reaction against the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution and consequently, there is an attempt to go back to the traditional skills of design, craftsmanship, and community services (William Morris). The universal trend is shifting its focus from mass industrial products to localized and customized product lines, which are ecologically sustainable. The requirement of ecologically sustainable designed products are directing the universe from globalization to regionalization and further to localization (Shashank Mehta ).Local regional products are gaining recognition and are appreciated in urban and global markets as they are constantly evolving and innovating ways for survival and sustaining under serve constraints. There is tremendous scope for these regional product ideas and traditional knowledge skills to be developed for contemporary applications in India.

A sustainable developed methodology for this rural and regional design industry is needed to convert the tradition skills and culture ideas of the specific region into marketable products at the grassroots level. So far, the interventional development programme in this sector is not effective enough because of unstructured and insensitive planning. India has many unexplored regional areas with rich traditional skills waiting to be brought into the main stream of contemporary business. We need to do much more than what has been done or achieved so far. My recent study in Kundera, a small village of Rajasthan gave me an insight and helped me understand a multitude of individuals, families and groups of people perpetuating traditional knowledge based activities of their forbearers.

The purpose of my paper is to explore the possibilities of a structured methodology to offer assistance to enthusiastic women artisans of Kundera village of Rajasthan for their empowerment. The study will explore and identify their potential /talent/ aesthetic qualities and their aspiration and try to find the ways to use and apply their potentials and skills to the craft and business practices to gain empowerment .The paper will identify the various possible working segments within the working environment and try to address each issue according to their requirement and then create a structured methodology for implementation.

The study investigates the issues of empowerment for the rural artisan from the currently existing and running craft initiative programmes within the country.


The Ranthabhore National park in Swai Madhopur District of south east Rajasthan was created to enable the Tigers to live and move freely amidst the flora and fauna that were his traditional birthright, creating this space and freedom, however meant that villages, whose ancestors had for centuries lived within the environ of the park lost their homes and had to be resettled though these villages were settled in the areas outside the park. They lost their access to wood, water, and traditional farming lands.

As an initiative to support these villages, Dastkar (NGO) Ranthambore was created with the objective of acting as a catalyst in rebuilding the displaced communities’ social and economic foundations. In the spring of 1989, Dastkar, Ranthambhore took charge of the income generation programme for the villagers particularly women. Today the cooperative has been providing training to about 300 women earning about 26 to 78 euros per month. Business turnover is about Rs 70,000/- per annum and aiming to achieve about a million rupees soon.

The craft stores are mushrooming in a great speed all over the country because universal trend is shifting its focus from industrial products to localized and customized product lines, which are ecologically sustainable.

There is tremendous scope for these regional product ideas and traditional knowledge skills to be developed for contemporary applications in India.

Craft is a significant sector in India, not only because of its intrinsic cultural and aesthetic value but also because of its promising economic development. Handicraft employs more than 9 million people in India and contributes about 1.6 billion Dollars to export earning and 4 billion dollars to domestic earnings but it still reaps fewest benefits from the lucrative markets and even the most talented often live in abject poverty. Although, most artisans are highly skilled but still and have low social status.

With the growing demand of handcrafted product, there has been a great pressure to produce more products to cater to the demand, hence more work forces is needs to be created in the present set up of Dastkar Ranthambhore center too, to help economic development in the country.

To train more people in craft sector and build capacity in the present set up of Dastkar Ranthambore center for production increase, few near by villages of Ranthambore were visited; where more women artisan could be trained and brought to support the development of indigenous, localized, network.

The Problem

It is a shared opinion that the transition towards sustainability is a continuous and articulated learning process, which requires radical changes on multiple levels (social, cultural, institutional and technological). It is also shared that, given the nature and the dimension of those changes, a system discontinuity is needed, and that therefore it is necessary to act on a plan.

The challenge now is to understand how it is possible to facilitate and support the introduction and diffusion of such innovations. ( Carlo Vezzoli, Fabrizio Ceschin and René Kemp)

The cluster development programme created by the Government of India so far, are mainly related to very few surface areas. Design & technology training under these schemes aims at, up gradation of artisans’ skills without reaching to the core areas of understanding, which in return marginally improves or diversifies the existing product line. Hence sustainability and empowerment still remains questionable. Though, these schemes do help in developing a few new design as prototypes to some extent for the market but since these schemes are of such short duration within limited time and with unstructured approach with randomly selected team of trainers, mostly fall short of expectation of organizers and artisan both. Even the supply of improved/modern equipments to the craft persons during the training programmes to create products under these schemes, does not mean much as the artisans are not gone through a proper structural training to be able to use these equipment to its fullest potential.

Further to this, the to lack of intensive market survey prior to these developmental work shops the product which get developed through intervention are not in tuned with the market demand, hence, designed prototypes remain in cold storages as these products fall short of understanding the demand of the market.

The promotional sales organized by organizing the Craft bazaar and handicrafts expos to facilitate direct sale of articles produced by the artisan by the government, still remains an unsuccessful venture because of the artisans’ lack of confidence in their own created products due to improper training programmes They usually do not take owner ship and onus of their own initiative and depend on the government or their design trainers.

As government run programmes are trying their best to promote craft Industry by providing many government run schemes but the effort is not enough or structured well to cater the demand of handcrafted business. There is a demand of well-structured craft initiative programmes from all the stakeholders in India if one wants the success of this industry.

The Potential and The People

India is known to be culturally rich with rich traditional skills in almost in all the regional areas. Interiors of India are still with no assistance and initiatives from government and NGO’s. Though, there is tremendous scope for these regional product ideas and traditional knowledge skills to be developed for contemporary applications in India.

Ranthambhore in Rajasthan showed enough interventional potential. Villagers had lost their homes, and had to be resettled in the areas outside the park loosing their access to farming lands. They did not have any traditional craft practice for their survival but were practicing craft mainly to create their daily requirements. Their source of income was most unpredicted in this scenario they all surviving on hard labor including the women of the village.

Experiencing the regional people in their own natural habitat trying to find opportunity in the spectacular skills, unique imagery, and also fast disappearing appreciation for their own inherent traditional skills, all were astonishing facts, which needed reassurance and appreciation to bring them to empowerment.

The groups of 30 women artisan from different age groups and economic back ground, who were enthusiastic, eager and passionate to work and learn new skills, belonged to same village from same community.

The interaction with these women artisan was satisfying learning experience. It was surprising to find some of these women were reasonably educated and they could read and understand simple instructions. They took the lead during the first interaction and became the interface between their community and us; the mobilizing factor become easy; they could quickly translated the questions into local dialect if some one found it difficult to understand the instruction or questioned asked.

The initial interactive conversational sessions mainly revolved around their family responsibilities, their personal problems, their economic front, community restrictions and also family disputes and of course about their aspirations, goal and desire where do they like to see themselves. The interaction and Intervention remained shared and not imposed one in the familiar and friendly environment. The idea was to unwind them completely so that, they are able to freely share their personal inhibitions, discuss freely about their skill potentials and capabilities and talk about problem they foresee in undergoing a training programme or spending their valuable work time with us.

Their Awareness and Enthusiasm

The biggest asset with these women artisan was that they all were familiar with Dastkar unit (NGO involved in craft initiative programmes) close to their village and were also aware of those women who are engaged in doing craftwork and business work, like visiting the various Bazaars and selling their products and are economically self-sufficient. They seemed aspired to be like them in similar situation with similar standing in their communities. They wanted to learn all the skills involved in craft business, so that they can earn for themselves and be independent like those women working with Dastkar unit.

Skill Potential

Visit to women habitats was to understand them more holistically with their families, neighbors and surroundings to explore and identify artisan’s potential /talent/ aesthetic qualities on an individual base.

Auditing their skill level for the training programme became clearer as one could notice, enough hand crafted products lying around in their humble dwellings for their personal use. The homes were simple with a very few items aesthetically arranged according to their sensibilities.

Their floor covers were made of used fabric (as to utilize the fabric better and in more sustainable manner) put together aesthetically in some kind of geometric structural pattern. The walls were extremely well decorated, with hand, painted local motifs and with locally available natural colours. The floors were clean with patterns created on mud by using hands. The most interesting product, which the whole community had created individually, was the pot stand. Female of the house is required to fetch the water from near by well. They keep the earthen pots one on the top of other on their head, to balance these pots they put a kind of a ring on their head under the pots, which serves as stand. The entire village community very well constructed applying various handcrafted techniques created this ring individually.

The skill audit revealed that there was no dearth of basic skills in the community. Each of them had some kind of skill or the other at different level. Some showed interest in embroidery while other showed interest in sewing or machining. There were other women who were interested in weaving the basket from naturally available grass for their bread. Some showed interest in local motif development for the painting purpose while others showed potential in articulated communication skills.

It was motivating enough to realize that the participation of stake holders was at its fullest and there was no dearth of basic talent in the region. Skill mapping and creating inventories of their skill potential, design sensibilities all became important facts to start up the intervention plan.

Experiencing The Market for the Available Skill

Experiencing the retail options of crafted products and then trying to balance the market requirement with the skill available of the artisan for manufacturing purposes seemed a focused idea for intervention purpose. Simultaneously visits to understand the regional and metro market within the country for product ideas and product categories to consolidate the intervention process for the artisan, if one wanted to start the intervention soon. A continuous auditing and evaluation of the product along with the journey taken so far in developing the product becomes important steps to keep abreast with the craft intervention for the business purpose.

Availability of Regional Resource

Experiencing and understanding the region for natural and industrial material resources, skills availability and other human resources all became important factor for the intervention .

The Idea

To develop workable self-managed people centric and independent model for competent business does not remain a Herculean task if crucial needs are satisfied through training and nurturing the required potential of an individual.

It was evident after the field experience that the regional women needed empowerment. Traditional hand skills needed to be brought into professional enterprise as an important initiative. Women needed to be encouraged to work in a systemized manner where they can earn sustainable income for their empowerment and dignity of their life. Appropriate provision needed to be created which are not only culturally compatible but suitable to the needs and has potential for their earnings.

Directional Move Towards Intervention

One needs to first understand the socio- cultural, personal and economic needs and requirements of the artisan along with their aspirations and then try developing clusters into professionally manage self reliant-units with a strong build up plan according to individual and collective needs of the cluster then, creating an effective member participation and mutual cooperation for the women artisan to work more cohesively within their community by encouraging each of them to work in cooperatives to facilitate the mobilization of productive resources and efficient technologies.

Further to this, assessing the productive contribution of the individual woman and identifying areas where productivity can be enhanced in design, technology, and marketing, organizational skills leadership, budgeting and planning by allowing the potential in each person individually to unfold in harmonious way for their development then, moving towards identifying the current needs and future trends in craft sector and then coordinating and integrating efforts to promote skills by training them accordingly for regional, local and national markets requirements.


Artisan need a complete composite and amalgamated development plan for holistic learning and development for their empowerment. The intervention programme needs to be very broad minded approach.

Training will depend on an individual’s competence level. There may be few artisans better then the others in certain skills or not good enough or are average in conceptual front or at organizational skills. All would require training of different kind and of different level according to their personal and collective needs.
Structure and level plan according to the requirement of that particular cluster addressing each issue needed to be identified. The area of intervention was defined, in Design, Technology and Marketing and organizational skills.

Structure Levels
Design Sensitivity towards Design principals Understanding and appreciation for local regional visual language Synthesis of local and urban visual vocabulary
Technology Understanding of hand tool equipments Understanding of Basic machine techniques Knowledge of application of tool for design development
Marketing and organizational skills Understanding of Product development process and planning Timely delivery and building confidence and leadership quality Product budgeting costing, sale through effective product delivery


Artisans needed to be divided into small groups or slots according to their competencies; area of interest and level of their skill once the first audit of their skill was done then training needs to start accordingly.

There was requirement for the training to start simultaneously in all directions where design, technology, marketing, organizational skills leadership, budgeting and planning all become important components for the training programme.

At the initial level, each artisan needs to understand the basics and fundamentals of this structural plan (design, technology, marketing, organizational skills leadership, budgeting and planning) through different training programmes or work shops, exposure trips etc. Once that is clear and then the advancement of the fundamental may become selective by the artisan according to their developmental growth and interest.

Slots and Grouping

Exploring the potential further after the initial basic fundamental training, the artisans need to be offered a directional training to understand the requirements of the cluster and the skill potential that they already have and try to balance the both with the further training programme which is simplistic achievable in reality without any long durational and major training intervention since the training programme will only require the enhancement of the potential in them not a major intervention in alternative method of skill development work.

This way of intervention not only will reduce the interventional time but also build confidence in the artisan because of the maturity level witch they would have already achieved in their own interested work. Catering to this structural plan then offering assistance to individuals for their development makes the intervention programme more successful.

The artisan would soon learn to balance their skill potential with confidence to the demand of the markets. They will learn to balance the situation and realize, if certain skill or sensibility has not been appreciated or understood by markets in the present context, they will need to alter it or defuse it to some extend for better fit.

Training needs to enhance and upgrade the available potential. It needs to begin by encouraging and pushing the cognitive skills in the artisan where knowledge, skills, and abilities of the individual artisan are brought out to the best of its potential.

Knowledge referring to a body of information which they are exposed during and after the training and then applying it directly to the performance of a function without any out side helps by using their skills as an observable competence to perform a learned psychomotor act. Artisan need to apply their learnt ability as competence to perform an observable behavior or a behavior that results in an observable product.

This cognitive evolution is similar to the stages of an infant development. First, the infant constructs an understanding of the world by coordinating sensory experiences (such as seeing and hearing) and then tuning this knowledge with physical actions. Infants gain knowledge of the world from these physical actions, then they perform on it. An infant progresses from reflexive, instinctual action at birth to the beginning of symbolic thought toward the end of the stage.

Similarly, if the interventions are well defined in sensitive manner it will have stronger repercussions. One does not need time, improving hand skills in the embroidery patterns (which artisan already have at different level, some more or some less) which needs to be practiced by the artisan after the initial required training but what they need to be acquiring is knowledge and skills that can be directly be applied in the artisan’s own art to enable innovation appropriate to contemporary markets.

In Design

The knowledge, skill and ability will make them confident in developing their own composition, colour application, line and form structures, so that they can make conscious efforts in developing their own design and try to implement their learning and knowledge by themselves into their craft practice and dovetail their new leanings of fundamentals into their interpretation of local and regional vocabulary according to their sensibilities and usage. This will encourage them to appreciate their own cultural identity without dilution of their ideas. They need to be encouraged to develop their individualistic taste in a very regionalist manner as their expression in craft vocabulary.

In Technology

They need to be able to express their design sensibilities through various techniques of embroidery stitches, motif development process and color choices. At the initial level, the colors and motifs may force them to choose very basic stitch techniques, but in due course of time after being trained in design, technology, marketing their sensibility, their vocabulary and their perception would definitely change. They will be able to understand the market driven forces and apply their technical knowledge sensibilities to more complex mediums of expression.

The development process remains an ongoing effort. Artisan will keep getting fine tuned as the requirements from the outer agencies keep demanding according to seasons and trends. Few artisans who are more technically savvy could be exposed to more complicated embroidery tools or machine techniques and more complex medium or techniques to be applied. Once the structure of function (who is doing what according to competences of individual) in the cluster is clear to the group, the application of technology becomes more creative and selective by the individual.

Marketing and Organizing skills

Along with costing, timely delivery of the right kind of products, and sales, branding, the familiarization to potential market is an important learning experience for the regional artisans since they hardly are able to go out of their village. Time to time market survey to identify relevant content, direction and potential for the product category will enhance the artisan’s product knowledge and product information. They not only be able to understand the product category details but also will be able to understand fundamental of business tactics, an entrepreneurial skill with a critical awareness of the design and its process, which are powerful agency for change.

The interventional training programme will further help artisans to understand the importance of the end user in design and try to innovate product to fit the client’s taste. The field trip to Museums to see the best of design product and analyzing contemporary crafts in a range of shops that sell hand crafted products would further enhance their product knowledge. They would need to visit the homes of potential clients to begin to understand their lifestyles and then try creating designs for those people whom they have met. Keen observation and personal interaction will serve as excellent inspiration for Innovations.

The artisan would soon learn to balance their skill with the demand of the market. They will learn to realize if certain skill or sensibility is not been appreciated or understood by markets in the present context they need to alter it or defuse it to some extend. Catering to this structural plan and then efficiently further layering it with the required competency, offering assistance to individuals for their development will make the intervention programme more successful.

Communities are complex systems composed of people that need to engage with change to make change happen. A journalized intervention programme run by the government or NGO may not be the answer for sustainable empowerment.
The paper tries to explore, the individual and collective need for women empowerment by understanding the multi-dimensional social process which will helps regional women gain control over their own lives which will foster power in them to improve their own lives, their communities and their society.

The future need is to further explore the possibility of developing knowledge and understanding in craft as a intellectual experimentation which will respect traditional skills and will adopt a methodology that will unite the past, present and future perspectives of creative craft practices.

Rita C. Kean, Shirley Niemeyer, Nancy J. Miller; Journal of Small Business Management, Vol. 34, 1996
Changing the Change paper presentations parallel sessions overview
Sue Ellen M. Charlton; Women in third world development. Westview Press/ Boulder and London, 1984, Internet Citation
Environment, Health and Safety(www.aiacaonline.org/health.html) [20 November 2009].

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