A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, President of India, is urging artisans in India to blend their traditional arts with new technology, in order to better market their skills, to get a good price for their products and to support the sustainable development of the small-scale sector of handloom weavers.
He talks of a five-point program:
"The programme would identify the core strength of a village cluster and infuse technology, impart vocational training with state-of-the-art technology, create a consortium of industry, research, academia and successful co-operative societies, give entrepreneurial training and incorporate the use of Internet ..... "
This is a promising idea, and there are some parallel initiatives already underway.
Indext-C, a Gujarat Government endeavour was created to provide information and guidance in organising the Cottage & Rural Industries sector as a catalyst for a better quality of life for artisans and small entrepreneurs.
The Cottage Industry-Global Market (CIGM) project works with womens craft cooperatives in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, India, to support capacity building and local development. K2Crafts is the online marketplace for the CIGM project, established to market the cooperatives' hand-made, world-quality shawls. A number of Georgetown University students have researched and written master's theses covering the different aspects of the project: strategies for sustainable development, generation of social capital, women's empowerment, and Internet branding for local industries.
PEOPLink, a non-profit organization, guides communities of women in countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Haiti and Kenya, involved with handicrafts, helping them to place their products online, and building a global network of Trading Partners (TPs). The TPs have digital cameras that allow easy uploading of images, which are in turn used as promos to retail and wholesale buyers in the industrialized countries.
The Asian Center for Entrepreneurial Initiatives (AsCent) has made an attempt to introduce CAD/CAM technologies to artisans in the Belgaum district of Karnataka, alongside online advertising and sales.
I haven't been able to get details on how each of these endeavours is doing. Does anyone know how they are doing or of any sort of tracking measures?
Many of these programs are still in their early days. Still, they are well-positioned to bring about long term economic and social changes in the lives of artisans by laying the foundation for a new kind of rural e-commerce based on greater information flows. Production, marketing and delivery mechanisms would be revolutionised, opening up new opportunities. The middleman who takes away huge margins would be marginalised, and the artisans' vulnerability replaced with empowerment. There would be more regularization due to systems that track and maintain quality controls.
And as a result, these projects would help bring into the fold artisans who have so far been denied the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the progress India is making, by reversing the dissipation of our rich traditions of arts and craft.
In the words of the President :
Time has come for the small scale industries and handloom weavers not to depend on sales entirely through government subsidies. It is important to generate a new class of entrepreneur and new class of training. [...] Instead of craft persons and weavers coming to urban marketing centres, the reverse phenomena has to take place.
The heart of Gandhi's vision was swadeshi which meant not only the spinning wheel and khadar cloth but local self-reliance on the village level to revitalize rural India. A few years ago I started reading about it and thinking about a solar swadeshi.
Local agriculture in the US is building slowly along the lines that President Kalam is proposing. It may be the only way to go outside of total corporatization.