AVANI is creating sustainable livelihood for women in the Himalayas.
The story of AVANI is really two stories. There is the story of the business and it is the story of their products.
The story of the business is not unlike many businesses. Rashmi Bharti and her husband found unmet needs, looked around for the assets at hand, and then applied appropriate technology to solve the problems. The twist to this story is that it takes place in the remote Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, located in the middle ranges of the Central Himalayan region.
But this is also the story of the products produced by the Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative. They create hand-crafted finished goods for conscious consumers.
Rashmi grew up in Delhi. After obtaining her degree in mathematics, she and her husband wanted their lives and their work to be aligned. Rashmi told me that when they moved to the Kumaon region, “We didn’t have a blueprint. We just followed as needs emerged.”
One immediate need that they found was that the electricity was often unavailable for long periods of time. They thought that they could improve energy access by simply moving the production and consumption of electricity closer to one another. And so, they used the abundant resources at hand to create an energy company. They noticed that there was an abundance of pine needles. Pine needles are a source of frequent wildfires in the region. AVANI started producing electricity from pine needles. They also produce solar energy.
Their energy production is a social business, not a charity. They insist that their customers pay. When poorer customers could not pay, they looked for ways to create livelihood.
Within the villages, they found that most of the men had migrated to the cities or to the military to make a living. That left a population of socially vulnerable women, such as widows, physically challenged or abandoned by their husbands. These women and girls had no source of income.
Because the middle school was a long distance from the village, girls were often not educated beyond the fifth grade. These girls were at home and were often married off, even if they were not yet eighteen years-old.
To create a livelihood for these women and girls, AVANI created an artisan-owned cooperative called “Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative.” Kumaon Earthcraft is a social enterprise based on the traditional skills of hand-spinning and hand weaving. The women produce finished goods from hand-spun yarn, dyed with plant based pigments, produced by local farmers. Young girls became trainees, which lead to livelihood and often leads to a delay in the age of marriage.
AVANI also produces natural detergents and natural dyes which they use in their products and supply to other companies.
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Rashmi Bharti
“There was always the belief that my work and life should be contiguous.”
“The production and consumption of energy, if it close to each other, the reliability increases.”
“It was a model where we were insisting that people should pay.”
“If we wanted the poorest of the poor to participate, then increasing their income becomes our responsibility too.”
“We looked for traditional skills.”
“We started with 20 families and over the years this enterprises has grown to about 50 villages. It benefits about 1,500 families at the moment.”
“We decided to take these school dropout girls, between the age of 15 and 17, as vocational trainees.”
“The age of marriage was delayed, sometimes eight to ten years.”
“For the last 14 years, this enterprise has been bringing income every month.”
“We are addressing the entire cycle from fiber to fabric.”
“We want to develop a mountain brand – an acknowledgement for local weavers.”
“Our job is to identify local skills available and to create product lines that cater to them.”
“We are creating completely natural products that are hand knitted.”
“We were very conscious that the dies we use should not cause soil and water pollution.”
“We are making colorings from local plants and providing livelihood to people.”
“We are the only company I know of who is making pure bees wax crayons with natural colorants.”
“The results don’t come very soon.”
“Our job is to learn how to function in a way which is in harmony with where we are working.”
“It’s not about decreasing consumption, but being very conscious of how much and what we buy.”
“When we buy, we really must look at where it is coming from, and look for people who are working in an environmentally sustainable way.”
“We as consumers should leave a very small footprint on this earth. Then only have we lived well.”