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Avani works towards improving the livelihood of rural marginalized communities by skilling them and involving them in weaving and traditional craft. Avani is a hub of opportunity; constantly developing new approaches to sustainable, conservation-based livelihood generation for rural communities.
Avani initiated their work with solar energy, by installing solar lights in villages and charging minimum payment so that every family could access the electricity. Avani found that the very poor families were not participating because they can't afford to pay INR 30 a month. So, it took the responsibility to increase the income of the poorest. In the village of about 20 families, identified the traditional craft and started working with them. "The first purpose was to increase income from those 20 families. we get to know about wool, the wool craft, and so many things in order to set up the entire business and supply chain", shared Ms. Rashmi.
After a few years, the business grew considerably and they were doing pretty much well. This is entirely producer-owned artisans and farmers from the board of this cooperative and ownership entirely lies with the producers and the farmers. So, the cooperative until before the lockdown was paying the wages of 2200 families from sales.
Avani started focusing more on socially vulnerable women, who were left behind in the village where she is abandoned by her husband, Widows and, physically challenged people. So, there were women who had no skills, and there were women from the traditional artisan community. So, they upskilled the ones who had the traditional skill of weaving spinning. And they had also completely trained the women who had no skill. The other category was school dropout young girls in the village. Where they trained these young girls at the right age and later these women started supporting their families and also became the decision-makers in their families. So, there was a major shift in terms of the girl’s marriage age from 18 years to 24 or 25 years. Avani has indirectly initiated women empowerment in the society
Rashmi was born and raised in the city of Delhi. When her father took her and her siblings to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh's ashram in Poona when she was ten years old, she was lucky to be introduced to a live master (later called Osho). They grew up listening to Osho's talks on various spiritual teachers and mystics. His comments on women reaffirmed her rebellious convictions that women had equal rights to be who they chose to be. She decided to reside in the Rajneesh Ashram when she was 21 years old.
Rashmi lived, worked, and meditated with a group of 5000 sannyasins from 50 different nations for about three years. She worked in the English publishing department and had the fantastic opportunity to learn from some of the best designers and computer experts in the industry. She met her husband there, who shared many of her thoughts.
Rashmi and Rajnish's lives were turned upside down when they felt compelled to return to the world while remaining meditators.
They left the ashram in 1990, returned to Delhi, and embarked on a new adventure. After a brief stay in Delhi, they opted to relocate to the rural mountains of Kumaon, where they spent two years near Mukteshwar and subsequently Bageshwar. Rashmi realised she'd found her purpose at that point. The unlearning that happened during those two years in a thick forested area devoid of much facilities or accessibility allowed her to adapt, adjust, learn, and contribute in a divergent reality where poverty and happiness coexisted with contentment, deforestation, and hunger, allowed her to adapt, adjust, learn, and contribute in a divergent reality where poverty and happiness coexisted with contentment, deforestation, and hunger. She had a strong respect for tribal culture and learned a lot about it.
Next stage in life- Rashmi moved back to Delhi and got connected with Bunker Roy of the Barefoot College, Tilonia, Rajasthan and worked with him for two years in Delhi, with the network organization of Tilonia called Sampda
They returned to Kumaon in 1996 with no goal, no project, and no geographical location after collecting the necessary expertise. All I had was a strong yearning to dwell in the shadow of the gorgeous Himalayas once more. Rashmi returned to Delhi and made contact with Bunker Roy of the Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, with whom she worked for two years in Delhi, with Tilonia's network organisation, Sampda. They returned to Kumaon in 1996 with no goal, no project, and no geographical location after collecting the necessary expertise. All I had was a strong yearning to dwell in the shadow of the gorgeous Himalayas once more.
Rashmi narrates- “Initially, we collaborated with a Gandhian organization that was based at Dharamghar, about 50 kms from Bageshwar. They intended to work with bringing solar lights to unelectrified and inaccessible villages. There were no telephones in those days. Bit by bit, we established a dialogue with the local community.” Soon, the Avani project was launched.
Their appearance and the solar energy scheme were met with mistrust. It took them about a year to gain the community's trust and support. They also understood that the impoverished families couldn't afford power, so Rashmi needed to come up with a strategy to employ them. The textile programme arose from this. They started working with 20 families from the Shauka group, who were typically Tibetan traders who made blankets, tweeds, and carpets out of Tibetan sheep wool.
The basic principle is to help young people who have had little or no opportunity to learn, grow, or make a living. They taught weavers and dye plant farmers to unskilled and semi-skilled rural women and school dropout young girls.
They are the first to cultivate altitude-specific indigo in Uttarakhand's Kumaon region, providing a sustainable alternative to colourants for textiles, art supplies, cosmetics, paint, and wood stains. Synthetic dyes and detergents are among the worst pollutants of land and water on the planet. Through the textile and natural dye initiative alone, they have earned about 5 crores in cash income in this region. They are now a resource that will assist in the replication of this model with modification to diverse places, having built a realistic model of a rural sustainable business. They provide skill-based training as well as training in formulation and management. They want to establish resource centres in the north and south of India that will serve as active hubs for knowledge exchange and interaction among handloom and handicraft practitioners. It would also serve as a hub for innovation, research, and development, allowing the model to be spread across multiple regions.
Their work with water, electricity, and dyes contributes to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly production cycle.
Firstly, Avani-Earthcraft focussed on local people, local resources, and local skills, that is actually hand spinning and hand weaving. Since these traditional practices were disappearing very fast, to do the business that best interests the society in general, they focused on these skills and trained local people.
Secondly, in 1997, they started with Tibetan sheet wool for hand spinning. But then they realized they would only be able to sell silk during the winter season and that would result in a dip in sales. Then they carried out research in which they were able to find out that Uttarakhand had 400 farms of mulberry silk but there was no value addition done. So, they thought of growing wild silk and introduced a very specialized product line in silk by procuring yarn from Assam. After they forecasted the demand, then they went for bringing natural fiber to the local area. That’s how they were into the business and planted around 10,000 trees for silkworm rearing in that ecosystem. So, this is how the whole program of sericulture has a direct impact on forests and incomes.
Then, comes the use of dyes into the picture and as always, they didn’t want to use any carcinogenic product as their ultimate goal has always been to create a positive impact in society and do no harm to the environment. So, they thought of plant-based dye as pollution has been a big concern for our country. So, this was all about the business model of Avani-Earthcraft which focussed on sustainable aspects of developing a business unit and doing a greater good to the rural sections of the society with inclusivity principle and indigenous offerings to the local people by upskilling them.
"Since the brand name of Avani is associated with our business and it has great recognition in the market as we are in the business for more than two decades", shared Ms. Rashmi.
The business model was formed in such a way that it focussed on the social, environmental, and economic aspects of sustainability which positively impacts society. Regarding the environmental aspect, they harvest about 9 lacs of rainwater in underground tanks for processing of natural dye, and more importantly, 80% of the water used at Avani is recycled and reclaimed for growing vegetables and processing of dyes.
Therefore, everything put together brings sustainability into the business in a three-fold way and as the world, today is progressing towards more of using sustainable products and saving the environment considering the pollution and many other negative parameters, this has actually brought more customers to them and also helped in retaining the existing customers and set up a loyal customer base.
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Rashmi Bharti, CEO
Avani was founded in 1997, originally as the Kumaon chapter of the Barefoot College Nestled in the Kumaon region of the Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, Avani is a community built on the principles of sustainability and local empowerment. A global network of diverse employees, interns, and volunteers gives life to Avani’s community-centric rural development programs. In a region where small farms are many families’ only source of income. The name “Avani” comes from the Hindi word for Earth. Avani creates opportunities for rural women and men to find viable employment through a self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable supply chain. Every business decision related to Avani products is guided by a strong responsibility toward environmental best practices and sensitivity to the cultural context of the villages where they work.