Friday, March 05, 2010

A Co-operative or a Social Enterprise?

I have been going over in my head for a while now some of the things happening with The Stitching Project, happinesses and pitfalls, trying to see what is happening, what to do to keep things on course…..

And just the other day an email came form a woman Catherine Bainbridge who is starting a similar project in Costa Rica is a project bog and is a personal blog, suggesting we network, chat, share experiences. Wonderful.

My husband and I and our friend Panalal [local man who runs a machine stitching workshop where we get clothes for Leafy Seadragon Designs made] - he and his family have become good friends talk about how things are going, how to manage things etc….From an Indian side of things we have a lot of insight….but to talk to an outsider involved in a similar process, that would be good.

No matter how I dress, how respectably ‘married’ I am, how good my Indian cooking is I will always have white skin, be foreign born and so in some ways an outsider. Praveen is a Delhi boy, so in many ways he is an outsider too, just he has the right colour skin. The Gods were kind when they introduced us to Panalal; he and his wife have good hearts, and they are very local people, it has helped greatly with insight.

We are part of a small rural community in one of the poorest States of India, education is low, age old traditions and hierarchy is very strong. Ghandi said caste was a bad thing and we should take no notice of it and to a fair extent in big cities, amongst the educated classes that is so…but out in the sticks it is still alive and well.

When I first arrived permanently 18 months ago, I tried to start a project on a co-operative basis with some of the local gypsy girls to create income- it was a very difficult experience. The reality of it is they make more money irregularly shaking down foreign tourists up in the town than they would from ‘working’ for a living. The idea of working in a group co-operatively just does not come into their mind [ that whole mysterious world of caste and pecking order coming into to play] and with a whitey around, no matter what is said, she is seen as someone to extort money from as discreetly as possible and for as little effort as possible.

Needless to say I moved away from them feeling very bruised.

Then the monsoons failed here, tourism is right down, food prices have gone up 20% since I arrived and I could see things that were tough were getting tougher.

Idiot that I am I couldn’t help myself…what to do?

A few realities though, all the economic factors that effect locals effect me as well [our lovely hotel could be much busier, we still have spots open on our textile tours. I no longer live in the middle of a busy teaching circuit and I would prefer to stay home in India rather than travel to work].

The first group taught me that no matter what I say, I will be seen as an authority figure, anything I start is going to take up an enormous amount of my time, to start a project I would need to sink a lot of our resources into it and we also need to earn an income.

What we have started is a social enterprise. It is our business and we choose to run it along ethical lines- we make sure we pay a reasonable rate for all the work done, we use re-cycled products, we use only Indian made resources, we keep everything on the production side a local as we can, we look for ways to utilise traditional techniques where we can.

I have a friend in Delhi who started a project nearly 10 or 15 years ago, thinking it could be a co-operative and after a while she could step away. When I met them 5 years ago it had taken over their lives, they had to run everything and it was only a few years ago that some of their people could actually form a co-operative and take on the initiative, so forming cells of production that contracted work back to the parent company. In other words it is a long process sometimes to get to your desired goals.

Fairtrade is a western concept, in the developing work almost anything that earns a buck is seen as fair-trade, when you only get to eat tonight if you earn money today what type of a position are you in to ask for liveable wages? That does not mean it is a bad concept, I think it is excellent, but we need to be aware of who feels good about it.

Any work, when you need to eat is good work…and you would shake your head in agreement with what ever your potential employer is saying to get the job- in most cases what you feel is right outside of their conception [simply because of the huge cultural gap between you]

When starting a group you need to be aware of what the local going rate for the job would be. Yes I can hear you gasp, it will be shockingly low.

Now see if you can find out what the government suggests should be the minimum wage for a days work [once you’ll gasp at the miniscule figure but is probably 2 or 3 times what they would expect to be able to earn locally.]

Going in a goody, goody bleeding heart care for the world, I want to treat everyone fairly, basically you are seen as a fool.

You need to start tough, pay the local rate…know what you want to get the wages up to and reward good work with a little bonus….hopefully building a repour and trust and some understanding as you reach that wage you think is fair.

From my more recent experience I would say this needs to be rather a slow process.

Got to go have coffee…am still mulling over what has been happening recently, would be good to talk it through…things are bright and rosy in our desert paradise but they is always mysterious undercurrents to understand and sort out…but isn’t that life on all levels; personal, relationship, interactions with family and the wider community?

1 comment:

Catherine V. Bainbridge said...

Oh how nice to hear somneone else saying what I rather tend to think and feel! I can relate to where you're coming from with alot of what you say here.

How refreshing!

Thanks for sharing this. I'm looking forward to our conversations :)