Industree Foundation: Empowering the Women, POWERing the Future
Industree's POWER ( which stands for “Producer-Owned Women Enterprises”) project has made a profound impact on the lives and livelihoods of women through its three pillars of Workforce Development, Entrepreneurship and Finance, and Enabling Environment. The empowerment and development efforts have addressed women's needs, aspirations, and access to critical resources such as their own labor and finances, as well as decision-making power both at home and in the workplace. The initiative, supported by USAID, has had a ripple effect on Industree's dedication to promoting gender equity and climate intersectionality.
Through a successful partnership with USAID, the Industree Foundation has been making impressive strides in empowering marginalized communities in rural areas. The POWER project has been focused on bringing work closer to the homes of these communities, resulting in the empowerment of rural women who have become thriving micro-entrepreneurs. The project has been in operation for three years and has worked with over 6,800 women producers who now collectively own and operate their own enterprises. By working across the three natural fibre-based value chains, including Banana in Tamil Nadu, Bamboo in Karnataka, and Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP)/ biodegradable leaf plate in Odisha, the project has made significant headway in its mission. Furthermore, the project has mobilized 1,200 farmers in Karnataka and trained them in sustainable cultivation and harvest practices of the bamboo plantation, who now serve as a vital source of raw materials for bamboo-based enterprises.
Prior to the POWER initiative, women walked miles in search of work with uncertainty in work and incomes. POWER created socio-economic opportunities near their homes offering them to be a part of the formal workforce and participation. Valuing them by empowering and paying heed to their voices made them leaders in decision-making, both at home and workplace. Sourcing natural fibres for women to create handmade and high-quality products has resulted in sustainability, woven into every process, right from Farm to Home. The initiative has complemented the efforts of Industree towards Equity, Climate and Gender and is continuing to do so.
Environmental consciousness is ingrained at every level of operation. From the usage of raw materials to systemic operational efficiencies, efforts are made to keep the carbon footprint to a minimum. Almost 90% of the raw material is utilized for product making, hence generating more economic value from the same raw material. Some of the other conscious efforts include the use of natural fibre as raw material and the usage of renewable energy.
Industree believes that if the artisans have access to a sustained and consistent demand for their products and services and are also provided with an enabling ecosystem, they can integrate into the formal economy and lift themselves out of the state of poverty. Therefore, they work towards building a self-sustained producer company that especially empowers women socially and economically. Professional support from Industree Foundation allows them to develop local and global markets.
Industree enables women with opportunities to leverage forest-based enterprises, providing continuity in work and decent incomes, and building their socio-economic cohesion while enabling them to preserve their prevailing culture. Theory of Change focuses on the key strategy that transforms women's green resources and skills into a higher value product, such as a globally compliant buffet plate. The higher-value plates have the potential to fetch a 10X price of 10 cents with customers across India and can be supplied globally at these prices. Through the intervention of improved production methods and infrastructure, Women earn a decent income in disposable plate value chains. This income would double with incomes from other forest products.
The climate-driven impact has significantly supported natural and eco-friendly based products, with women driving the climate actions and conserving the environment at the grassroots level. For the utilization of sal leaves in the Non-Timber Forest Product (NTFP) leaf plate value chain, the enterprise does not harvest sal leaves from the sal tree but utilizes the fallen leaves from the tree, which is forest litter. Women here are taught skilful ways of sourcing and manufacturing products, thus saving a lot of carbon footprint. The sal plates and bowls, for example, which are made by the tribal women of Odisha aim to replace plastic. There is scope for these products to be taken to the international markets as well, especially since communities across the globe are looking for sustainable solutions that can substitute single-use plastic.
It helps create socio-economic impacts such as increased incomes, entrepreneurial opportunities, upskilling through livelihood skills, gender empowerment, agency, and ownership. Developing cultural and traditional skills along with modern skills is a holistic approach to running an enterprise. The brand has mobilized thousands of women from rural, tribal, and underprivileged communities from Odisha, such as women of Khonds, Kui, Dharua, Bhumia, Gadaba, and Paraja tribes to build their skills and capacity to enable them to become entrepreneurs and manage self-owned enterprises. Further, the eco-friendly, biodegradable tableware is then dispatched to buyers in the local and national markets, to be used at community gathering such as weddings, or restaurants.
The impact created (in numbers)
- Since work was taken closer to their homes, 55% of the women are able to walk to the units.
- 85% of the producers agreed that they learned new livelihood skills to earn income.
- Before POWER, women producers kept their personal savings in banks, which has increased by more than 50% with financial learnings under POWER.
- 66% participated in major household financial decisions.
- 58% participated in non-financial household decisions.
- 89% of the Micro Enterprise Leaders share that training helped to become better managers/leaders.
- 87% reported an increase in their incomes.
Success stories/ quotes from beneficiaries
"Industree's intervention through the Producer Owned Women Enterprises (POWER) Project has changed my life. Before, I had no control over my finances and household decisions. But after attending the meetings and undergoing the 6Y program and gender training, I learned valuable skills like machine stitching and managing my finances. Now, I work as a sewing machine operator and earn my own money. Thanks to the training, I can save and budget for things needed at home. I'm happy that I can provide a better living for my family." - Anumati Malik
The POWER project has been extended for two more years and will work with a total of 7,000 beneficiaries. This includes 3,600 women in the non-timber forest produce/biodegradable leaf plate value chain in Odisha and 1,400 women in the bamboo value chain in Karnataka, as well as 2,000 farmers in bamboo cultivation in Karnataka. The main focus of the extended project will be on developing markets, including setting up a producer-owned distribution and sales channel nationally in various cities in India while exploring international market channels. Additionally, compliant infrastructure and traceable processes for exports in the NTFP/biodegradable leaf plate and bamboo value chains will be initiated, resulting in increased revenues and bridging the gap toward enterprise sustainability.