Social Enterprises Do Scale: Jaipur Rugs From 9 to 40,000 Artisans
BY PAKSY PLACKIS-CHENG
Nand Kishore Chaudhary started Jaipur Rugs Company with two looms and nine weavers. In less than four decades, Jaipur Rugs has grown the floor covering business to approx. $18 million annual revenue working with 40,000 artisans in 600 villages. The social enterprise has been featured in the book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by C.K. Prahalad. It is cited as an example of a social enterprise breaking the cycle of poverty.
impactmania spoke with Yash Ranga at Jaipur Rugs Foundation. Ranga went from Silicon Valley to Rajasthan, working on artificial intelligence to working with 40,000 artisans. We spoke with Yash Ranga about his transition from maximizing shareholder value to maximizing the livelihood of all stakeholders. He shares how NK Chaudhary taught him there is place for love and compassion, even in business.
Yash, tell me why there is a Jaipur Rugs Foundation in addition to the Company.
Jaipur Rugs Company is a manufacturing and export business. The carpet weaving business has been one of the oldest industries.
The exporters have grown their lives and have grown their wealth as well. The quality of life of the artisan who are involved in the industry has not grown. Since the beginning Jaipur Rugs Company’s founder, NK Chaudhary, realized that this industry is of classical artisans who have this creative capacity to produce these beautiful carpets. However, NK Chaudhary didn’t see these artisans’ lives improve.
The core purpose of the Jaipur Rugs Foundation is to get these artisans to constantly improve their livelihoods.
Does the Foundation receive support from organizations outside of the Jaipur Rugs Company?
About 70 percent of the income of Jaipur Rugs Foundation comes from the Company’s profits. Funds from different organizations and government organizations account for 30 percent. The recent project that we’re doing is in Bihar region, which saw the worst drought in India. We have partnered to skill and support 2,000 rural women.
Why are you part of this endeavor?
I was working as a marketing consultant for Silicon Valley base boutique IT company. I was dealing with high-end technology like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data.
During that period, I was not very comfortable with my own being. I was having a phenomenal lifestyle, but I was asking myself every day, “What am I doing today? Is it taking me closer to where I want to be in the future?” I realized this is not the higher purpose for which my being is.
One Friday, I realized I needed to work with human beings around me. From there, I did a lot of research on conscious capitalism, social enterprises, and I learned from having a conversation with the founder of Jaipur Rugs.
Tell me about that conversation.
The conversation began with a quote of Buddha,“Who’s a fool?” We patch all the accumulated information in a rudimentary way and presenting it as knowledge. Professionals like us, feel that we know everything in the world, when actually we are the fools. [Laughs.]
There is a whole set of raw wisdom, which is available within us and around us. We tend to neglect that original existence. That raw beauty is the authentic wisdom. Mr. Chaudhary was sharing how he utilized the wisdom at the grassroots and transformed the whole carpet industry. That was something that struck me. This is the future of work.
My strong conviction with the strong frequency that resonated well with Mr. Chaudhary, brought me to Jaipur Rugs. I didn’t know anything about the industry, I had no idea what my role would be, except for that I was made to work with human beings.
What has been a surprising learning in transitioning from a tech job in Silicon Valley to a social enterprise in Rajasthan?
It was a shift in perception from fear to love. I have seen many businesses and worked all around in the corporate sector, which is so dynamic. All these top managers, CEOs, have sleepless nights, always. No matter how good we are living.
When I met Mr. Chaudhary, I asked him, “How do you define business?” He says, “Business is the creator and preserver of human civilization. A business stands next to love. The most important factors in this whole life of ours is nothing but love and compassion.” To have a strong conviction of both love and compassion in business too, was an incredibly learning for me.
You’re dealing with so many different stakeholders. From government officials, artisans, partners, to people in your own internal organization. How do you make sure that all these people and their goals align?
We all are working on this one insurgent mission. That is to serve the underserved artisans. If solved in a way that these people get delight at the end of the day, then my job is done.
My biggest customers are the people who are buying carpets. They are putting in the money, the fuel for all people like me in the organization and our artisans. In all this, my key thought process is: how do I serve my underserved artisans? With this, I don’t find it difficult to focus.
Can you give me an example of a person who you’ve worked with, and how his/her life has been impacted?
I met one of our branch managers, Harphool. I asked him, “What is the team size you’re managing?”
With a neutral face, he says, “2,000 artisans.” I said, “How many people do you need to manage these 2,000 artisans?” He said, “All the 2,000 people are in my mind. I can tell you each and every quality of each and every person.” He continues, “It’s easy. I interact with them not as the people who are working for me, I interact with them as my friends, my brothers, and my sisters.”
It’s not about managing; it’s about being connected and having a relationship with people. I realized that we, with formalized business – and art degrees, are all living in a cloud.
Tell me about one of the artisans and how Jaipur Rugs has impacted his/her life.
Through our Foundation, we run a program called Alternative Education Program. It is for women artisans who have never been to schools. They get basic literacy and math; write their name, calculate what they are working on so that they do not get cheated. Also to gain the understanding and importance of education, so they allow their children to go to schools and pursue their careers through education. I asked one of the women, “You can now write your name, you can read, you can do some calculations. What change has this brought your life?” She said, very politely, “I never used to go out by myself, because I had no idea what was written on the bus and where it will go. People used to make fun of us. Sometimes they would make us take the wrong bus. I don’t need to ask anymore. This is my freedom.”
What insights do you have for social entrepreneurs?
If you have a strong conviction of the insurgent mission, you are here in this role as a leader, not just to meet capital at the end of the day or to produce some quantitative impact, “I’ve reached an X amount of people.”
What insurgency are you serving through your venture? When you have this mindset of continuously serving your underserved customers. You’ll never tend to lose your focus.
Secondly, connect this focus with your frontline people; the people who are working in the field. The more empowered your frontline gets, the more empowered you get at your board level. Your strategy should never be a top down strategy.
Tel me about the challenges you faced?
The most important challenge, which we faced, is people who have had a certain kind of glittering corporate lifestyle. After the transition back to the basics, it is bit difficult to get adjusted in such an environment. That’s why in our head office, our conference room is known as the higher school of unlearning. [Laughs.]
You probably have the only university of unlearning in the world.
[Laughs.] This is one big challenge. We’d like to develop a community of certain people. There is a new generation of people called Generation C. They thrive on four Cs. The first C is community, the second C is communication, the third C is creation, and the fourth C is curation. They’re very much aware of their higher purpose and embrace this higher purpose.
What is your response to investors who say, “When I invest I want to maximize returns on investments; if I want to do good, I’ll just write a check to a charity.”
You need to see not only the return of investment but also focus on what is the social return on investment, SROI. For my investors, if I invest one dollar, what is the return of this one-dollar? All the things that cannot be monetized: consciousness, love, and empathy. Make people understand what a $1 investment means; social return on investments in addition to the monetary output. With this I am giving you a whole package of impact.
How has Jaipur Rugs expand from one founder with two looms to 40,000 artisans in 600 villages?
The growth journey of has always been a very organic growth. Mr. Chaudhary’s focus was, is, and will always be, on the community with which we are working in. Artisans love to work with organizations where there is transparency. In addition to transparency, it’s about sustainability because it’s a unorganized industry.
This sustainable livelihood to these people, opportunities given at their doorsteps has always made us more deeply connected with our people. This is how we grow. Most importantly, our customers appreciate this authentic story behind what we are doing. We all win. The more empowered the front line became, the more enhanced this organization is becoming.
Jaipur Rugs Foundation focuses on two main pillars: social development and entrepreneurial development. What have you learned that is different from what other entrepreneurs are doing right now?
Social entrepreneurs have a specific problem area. They are trying to unearth that problem and explore the opportunities of that problem. We need to make sure that this process is backed by a sustainable source of income. This can be realized when you work with the mind of a hardcore business and with the heart of a NGO.
What is the percentage of the artisans who can live solely on their involvement with Jaipur Rugs?
They don’t need a supplement income from somewhere else?
They can get supplement income but most of our artisans are deeply engaged with Jaipur Rugs. They are working eight hours a day and making a well living. The best part is, once one person in a family learns this art, it can be transferred to two, three people so that the family’s income rises.
We have stories that these women can afford their own houses and they’re getting their children into higher educations.
What’s next for the foundation?
We are developing new artisans and upgrading the social – and entrepreneurial development of existing artisans. We are working very hard on grassroots leadership development. There is an innate leadership capability at the grassroots level. Mr. Chaudhary always asks when he visits people in the villages: “How come you live so well, so happily, so healthy, with such a limited income?” These people have a natural capability of managing their surroundings so well, that monetary resources are not a problem for them.
In fact, resources are not even a problem in business. The only problem is the human problem. How do we tackle this human problem? How do we get out of these shackles of our brain? We believe that we can solve every problem. We are working very aggressively in developing leaders; developing an innovative thousand hours course in which we train artisans. Our vision is to see senior positions in our corporate offices from our artisan community. With this, we started transforming women artisans who used to just weave.
Give me one word that describes your journey so far.
In search of light — in search of right.