Empowering the CMH Sector with an Artisan-Centric Strategy
Dr. R.K. Singh
India’s artisan sector is rooted in the country’s heritage and culture and its contribution, especially to the local economy, is immense. With changing market dynamics, however, India’s many artisans and craft-led MSMEs find it difficult to compete and remain relevant in the market.
To take forward this vast cultural economy, we need to pool resources to create an enabling environment. SIDBI has been testing multiple approaches to support craft-based MSMEs and over the years, has been active in 100 artisan clusters across India. Based on SIDBI’s experience, we find there are multiple areas where sustained efforts and resources are required to catalyse end-to-end sustainable, replicable, and scalable solutions.
Bridge Information Asymmetries:
Artisans are often in the dark about existing government schemes and programmes that could benefit their work. To solve this, information needs to be delivered in local and vernacular languages on a regular basis.
Collectivising for Better Advocacy:
Artisan communities and clusters would benefit from being a part of organised associations that can collectively voice their challenges/aspirations and expectations on local, regional and national level platforms. For example, under Project CARE, SIDBI adopts an artisanal cluster, interacts with stakeholders, identifies challenges, and tries to resolve them through stakeholder participation. Under Mission Swavalamban, SIDBI adopted four critical tools – sampark (connect), samwad (dialogue), suraksha (security web) and sampreshan (dissemination) – to understand artisan entrepreneurs’ pain points and convert them into opportunities.
Access to Services:
Artisans face a constant lack of localised business service providers for their different emergent needs. Under the Cluster Intervention programme (CIP), SIDBI maps the diagnostics of the entire value chain of artisanal clusters and follows it up with an action plan. The focus is on ensuring that locally available service providers can render sustainable services in the areas of skilling /reskilling /upskilling, design, technology, marketing, process/product reshaping, and so on.
Linkages to Academia:
Linking artisanal clusters to academia is essential. SIDBI has set up Dynamic Chair Professors in a few universities where students identify product/process/ design//technology related problems, convert these into solutions and pitch to mentor professors. Similarly, they also attempt to solve problems identified by stakeholders. The identified solutions are then funded by a corpus.
Catalysing Innovations and Innovators:
Localised challenge funds can drive new innovations. These can aid artisans and MSMEs in launching new pilots and validating innovation. CSR funds can also be channelled towards testing products, processes, design, and marketing strategies. National and regional incubators can aid this process. For example, SIDBI set up The Swavalamban Challenge Fund to catalyse green livelihood solutions for enterprises.
Customisation is Key:
SIDBI prioritises women empowerment to further strengthen the artisan landscape. Many steps have been taken to connect them to capital, technology, capacity building, and so on. In order to maximise operations and impact, customised approaches are the need of the hour.
Formalising Artisans and MSMEs:
Given the very large incidence of MSMEs in India, their formalisation and integration into the mainstream has to be taken up on a priority basis. Institutional support is not only needed to organise them into collectives but also for creating common infrastructure, business services, and market access. Setting up infrastructure like Common Facility Centres (CFC) in remote and dispersed rural geographies can build on-ground capacities of informal artisans.
Accelerating Demand, Building Supply:
While kindling demand is important, preparing supply to attract and retain artisans is equally critical. In the long run, simply offering access to markets through onboarding on ecommerce platforms or exhibitions will not be enough. As demand grows, equipping artisans and MSMEs to respond quickly and efficiently to new business is equally vital. They will also have to be educated on all aspects of managing a business — packaging, pricing, branding, etc. This approach can help many artisans become entrepreneurs, which in turn will enable India to play a more competitive role in the global arena.
Investment and Policy Support:
Given that market access remains one of the biggest challenges, philanthropic capital and social investors will have to play the role of “market-makers” before commercial investors show their inclination. From a policy perspective, support to artisans could be brought in through focused interventions through missions and institutions such as Bamboo Mission.
India is the second largest bamboo producing country in the world. There is a need to build the export capacity of bamboo-based products. We believe Public-Private-Community (PPC) models need to be evolved where hard infrastructure should be created by the government, and skilling/ capacity building should be taken up by the private sector.
In essence, Inducing Access and Reducing Excess is the cornerstone of this artisan-centric strategy. An actionable agenda around Additionality (multi-skilled artisans), Breaking Barriers (constantly looking at emerging opportunities), Change (change is constant, innovation is key), Digital (tapping digital enablers in the ecosystem for decisive framework) will be critical to its successful implementation.
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities they represent.)
Dr. R.K. Singh
Dr. Singh, a development banker, is Head, Green Climate, Energy Efficiency and International Cooperation, SIDBI. He has led the multi-partnership MSME Financing and Development (MSMEFDP) project supported by the World Bank, GIZ, KfW and DFID, UK. As Founding Director of SIDBI Swavalamban, he launched Mission Swavalamban, promoting a culture of entrepreneurship. He has also spearheaded digitally inclusive projects such as PSB Loans in 59 Minutes, Mitra portals, among others.