Exporting consultancy services and creating social value
A case study
In 2013, I travelled to India in search of suppliers of cotton textiles. I was introduced to a group of weavers at a leprosy colony, mostly from the poor lower castes of Indian society. The women weavers were highly skilled in weaving but the group lacked infrastructure, finances & business know-how on how to grow their micro-business. As a business committed to fair trade principles, specifically the one about capacity building, I decided to get involved. In 2014, Little Trove started an international trade relationship with this group, by importing some woven bags. The weavers used their payment to buy food for their households and keep some children in school.
In 2015, I travelled again to India to work with the weavers on colour choices and designs. This was effectively an export of design advice services. Having never left their village before, all the weavers had never seen the inside of a Western home. I spent a couple of days showing them photos of Western home interiors (despite the patchy internet connection) and explaining to them how cream or beige were in fact colours! Much to their shock!! Fortunately, I gained their trust, so they took my word for it and weaved bags in more toned-down colours; colour combinations that were more appealing to the Western market.
On the left (below) were the original colours and on the right were the new colours.
The new collection of bags was then imported and launched at Autumn Fair 2015, again with the payment for bags used to improve the community at the leprosy colony. These bags sold out quicker than the earlier batches.
It became apparent that the weavers needed business start-up help and were unable to access that in India. With the support of family & friends, Little Trove raised enough funds to finance a 2 week business training session for the manager of the weaving unit. Due to caste issues in India, Little Trove flew the manager (Solomon) to the UK for the training. For 2 weeks, Solomon stayed with me and I trained him on all aspects of business: administration, finance, customer relations, design and cultural differences.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Life here is so different from what he’s used to. Every day I had to remind him to put his seatbelt on in the car. Within 3 days, he asked if we had flip flops (in September!) because he could no longer tolerate having shoes on! Within two hours of training, Solomon could no longer stay indoors. He needed to stand outside the house just gawking at the neighbours! In his village, the men normally congregate outside houses chatting for hours! There were some harrowing moments too, like when I was speeding down the motorway at about 70mph and asked him to wind up the rear window. Next thing I knew, my rear door was wide open on the motorway and Solomon was tangled up trying to shut it from the inside. He only managed to stick his body out the front window and slam it shut from the outside! A lesson in international development learnt here was that you can take a boy out of the village but you can’t take the village out of the boy!
Solomon then returned to India with his new-found knowledge and carried on with his plans to build a small workshop at the colony. The workshop is almost finished and will be used to give employment and income to 8 – 12 women. By exporting business advice services, Little Trove was able to assist a micro-business grow to the next level as well create social value for the families at the colony.
Little Trove also exports consultancy services to other overseas producers and handicraft groups that contact it for advice. Funded by private donors, Little Trove has given consultancy advice on handicraft designs, pricing, market entry to the UK & fair trade compliance to groups such as jewellery artisans in Burkina Faso, an anti-human trafficking group in South Africa and a handicraft workshop assisting AIDs victims in India. Exporting consulting services enables disadvantaged producers to take part in international trade and be part of this global economy.
Being based in Staffordshire isn’t the obvious place for carrying out international development work. There would be more opportunities in London or Geneva but we have to make the best of any location we find ourselves in. I hope in my small way I can help developing world artisans be part of the global economy. From Staffordshire we are still able to create social value for communities halfway round the world.