A World Bank Consultant who wove a network of opportunities for thousands of neglected rural artisans and weavers


The diversity of the Indian culture is mirrored in the immense diversity of art and handicraft in our 29 states. But, while our economy remains in transition, the handicrafts sector is still reeling in from the fatal blow of the colonial rule. Our rural artisans and weavers continue to face challenges in terms of productivity, input and that of a fragmented value chain. This is exactly what Tisser has tried to facilitate and overcome since its inception. It was while working as a consultant with the World Bank for the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), initiated by the Government of India and several other standalone projects, that Dr Megha Phansalkar realised the plight of our indigenous artisans and weavers and started Tisser. The word Tisser has been taken from French where it means ‘to weave’.

Dr. Megha, A Ph.D in System Design for Resource Planning and Management, realized that the indigenous weavers and artisans suffered as they lacked design and marketing support, which left them at the mercy of exploitative middlemen and without a stable source of livelihood. Hence emerged the idea of Tisser, a social enterprise which is trying to generate a much-needed source of income for these artists. Early on, Tisser realized the need for incorporation of modern styles and techniques into the age-old traditional skills of the artisans.

Tisser, which is being bootstrapped and initially started with 100 artisans, has now reached 10,000 artisans in just a span of a year and a half. It has woven a network of opportunities for the rural artisans and weavers to showcase their talent at an international level. Having started initially with just 2 products, it now provides customers with a range of more than 300 products to choose from, spanning across the categories of clothing, artifacts, and accessories. Currently being mentored by the global poverty alleviation enterprise TechnoServe, the Netherlands-based Women on Wings organization and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Tisser continues to have a novel impact on the lives of more than 10000 artisans and weavers through livelihood provision and skill building.

The organization has also introduced fusion work, thereby revolutionizing the existing forms of traditional art to suit the urban palette. Beyond opening up a new market for the artisans, Tisser also utilizes the generated profits to fund the education of rural children, especially girls. It has been able to make a net payment of more than Rs. 1 Crore to the artisans in the short span since its inception.

Megha believes the success of the organization in the upcoming years can be measured on a four-fold basis – in terms of rising sales figures, payment made to the artisans, a number of artisans engaged actively and the number of products offered by Tisser. Having built an extensive wholesale and retail portal online, Tisser further aims towards strengthening and expanding the regional hub model which has been successfully initiated in four regions and intends to scale up through funding from various sources so as to tackle their limited growth challenge.

Tackling the brunt of westernization by portraying our cultural heritage, Tisser helps innumerable, talented rural artists who go unnoticed and live in poverty. They are running a crowdfunding campaign for this purpose and needs support from all of us. You can contribute to their efforts here.

PARTHABI KANUNGO | TOC

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