Demystifying Fortune at the Base of the Pyramid
“Let goodness, fairness, and most importantly, love prevail in business; profits will inevitably follow.”
– NK Chaudhary
Designer artisan Bimla Devi weaves the rug named ‘Kamal,’ which is the Hindi name for lotus flower. Letting her instincts guide her as she uses her surroundings as her muse, Bimla turned to varied village objects for inspiration to design this rug. While initially concerned about what to design, she took inspiration from something as simple as Shakarpara, the popular breakfast snack in the villages, to create the central medallion for this rug. As she progressed with her work, her instincts guided her to weave her favorite flower, a lotus, which she often saw floating in the pond near her house. She added patterns inspired from leheriya and other saree laces commonly used in Rajasthani textiles. On one corner of the rug, Bimla Devi has also signed her name. She feels empowered by this. In her words, she felt like a “film star” when she wove her signature into the rug. She has woven 222,184 individual knots of handspun wool, in the span of two months, to complete this rug.
Bimla Devi lives in a village named Aaspura in Rajasthan, India. With the responsibility of sustaining her family, she decided to learn the skills and art of hand weaving before she was married. She fell in love with the craft and continued to knot. Her world turned upside down when her husband passed away while she was still pregnant. Now weaving for 15 years, Bimla Devi emerges stronger and brighter with every passing day.
The Jaipur Rugs business of today is the culmination of deeply held core values and a clear vision spanning 40 years. The decades have been devoted to an insurgent’s mission to develop the innate potential of people residing at the base of the pyramid, and reveal it to those at the top. Since its earliest days, frontline heroes who lived through thick and thin with the founder, Mr. NK Chaudhary, participated in an organic governance strategy built on a bedrock of values like love, compassion, and empathy.
The dedication to democratizing the supply chain had humble beginnings. Starting with two looms, nine artisans, 200 dollars, one visionary, and one idea, the enterprise has inspired an industry and has nurtured and sustained 40,000 artisans and their families. Raised in a conservative setting, Chaudhary often wondered why societal norms separate humans into castes and classes, and why people are measured based on wealth and not talent. He had the vision and drive to break those shackles and empower the communities.
Jaipur Rugs strives to connect the stories and craftsmanship of its weavers with the dreams and emotions of end consumers. The business seeks to minimize middlemen in order to ensure fair wages to weavers and connect them with consumers. Whenever a consumer purchases one of these rugs, they gain not only a piece of art on which to walk, but also a weaver’s story, reviving the once disappearing craft of carpet weaving and bringing dignity to the crafter.
Since its inception in 1978, the business has pursued an inclusive socio-economic model that seeks to empower grassroots artisans and preserve traditions of craftsmanship. Concentrating predominantly on women, the model supports the socio-economic growth of individual artisans, the impact of which ripples throughout marginalized communities. With a vision to create equal opportunities for the producers of exquisite carpets, Jaipur Rugs Foundation was established in 2004 as a non-profit that aims to engage impoverished communities by delivering sustainable livelihood opportunities at their doorsteps. Jaipur Rugs currently exports to more than 45 countries with the sales arm called Jaipur Living, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.
The supply chain that emerged from this model has strengthened the bonds between all stakeholders, from local artisans to the global customer base. It is now the largest global exporter of hand-knotted rugs with a producer base of over 40,000 artisans, 85 percent of whom are women representing the most under-served castes and tribes in India.
Jaipur Rugs is committed to closing the gender gap and eradicating poverty in rural India. Supported by socially conscious consumers who appreciate and value responsible production, the business has met local needs and aligned itself with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, long before their ratification.
Through the Jaipur Rugs Foundation, socially excluded women and girls now have a platform from which to speak out for equal rights in the economic system. Weavers also have access to professional development opportunities to take greater ownership and control of their lives. This focus on capacity building provides a social security net that reduces vulnerabilities of a society previously dependent upon farming. In India, approximately 70 percent of the population is still dependent upon agriculture for their livelihood. Seasonal in nature, the insecurity of farming has been further exacerbated by increasingly volatile weather patterns; the poorest, most vulnerable suffer the worst. Rug weaving is an alternative livelihood option, and one particularly well suited, and accepted, for women.
Capacity building starts with the Alternative Education Program, where these uneducated women learn basic reading and writing, mathematics and basic calculation skills related to their work, financial literacy, and life skills. Upon completion of basic education, they are introduced to the grassroots leadership development program, weaver engagement program, and young women social entrepreneurship development program to develop entrepreneurial leadership skills, which include an understanding of zero-waste production, supply chain, and essential customer satisfaction, such as on-time delivery.
In rural India, women have grown accustomed to disadvantages. The status quo must be challenged in order to tackle the root causes of these constraints. To start, change agents must recognize and respect women’s financial independence in order to inspire the rest of the community to do the same. Women helping to alleviate a family’s financial pressures instill a sense of shared responsibility, shared dignity, and a shared voice. With formal work, these women feel empowered to make family decisions, access market information, take initiative in the efficient management of work, and most importantly, sharpen their leadership and management skills.
The enterprise has achieved the blessings and recognition of ‘modern Gurus’ and thought leaders through three simple innovations:
Engage—Successful and profitable vertical integration is made possible by including and empowering women as local production managers in the rural communities where products are made.
Develop—Hiring women for management roles makes good business sense, as they have the experience, expertise, and connections to the community. In the process, this practice can influence powerful cultural norms.
Sustain—Jaipur Rugs offers a whole-spectrum experience to its stakeholders. For example, customers can learn about the weavers who made, or will make their rug. They are also encouraged to share a photograph of the finished rug in their home. Customers are also welcome to engage in a These innovations generate financial, social, and community prosperity for everyone in the system, for a broad social impact.
With every knot, Jaipur Rugs and Chaudhary are weaving a new cultural fabric of inclusive prosperity. The business is contributing to the beauty of this world by nurturing independent women, who weave unique rugs that beautify homes around the world, and allows them to sustain their own.