Meet the rural artisans who got the opportunity to study at IIM-A

Mohammed Saqib is a fifth-generation artisan of the Rangrez (textile dyers) community in Rajasthan, a community famous for creating leheriya designs in myriad colors. Saqib’s family has been creating Leheriya designs for 150 years.

Saqib is one of 30 “Agents of Change” in the current batch of the Creative and Cultural Businesses Program (CCBP) at IIM Ahmedabad. The Executive program focuses on creative and cultural entrepreneurs in the country, particularly those rooted in India’s craft heritage, and aims to educate them.

Mr. Anchal Jain, Faculty Co-Chair, Creative and Cultural Businesses Programme, IIMA says: “While we have fabulous young creative talent and an enviable base of craftsmanship in our country, we lack adequate managerial and business education for these two critical stakeholders. The CCBP program was launched in 2013 at IIM Ahmedabad to fill this gap and make our claim among the global creative and cultural consumers seriously. Students can understand and learn how value is created in creative businesses and develop the ability to bring all elements of the value chain together to scale their ventures.”

As one of the few remaining artisans working on Leheriya designs, Saqib was keen on finding ways to keep the tradition alive.

Chatting with social historySaqib shares his journey as part of the renowned institute.

“One of my colleagues sent me the link to this course at IIM-Ahmedabad and it came to me at a time when I was quite stuck on how to move forward in the family business and do something different. I applied, was selected, and while I was there, I realized there was more to the business than we had known all along,” says Saqib.

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“Once I designed my craft, I didn’t know how to take it forward in terms of marketing or advertising. I never knew there was such a thing as understanding the market and customer needs, adapting my product accordingly, etc. The CCBP program taught me all that and more,” says Saqib.

He shares that while the previous generation sold the traditional Leheriya designs Melas (Trade shows) the new generation has a plethora of platforms to use, but they need to be trained on how to best use them. Saqib also has a physical branch at his residence in Jaipur, Rajasthan where customers can buy the Leheriya garments directly from the source.

Launched in 2013, the CCBP has influenced the businesses of over 200 entrepreneurs in sectors such as fashion, fragrance, jewellery, art, performing arts, travel, hospitality, F&B, home decor and design.

The program is designed for entrepreneurs with an existing business that is now ready to scale or diversify, or for “entrepreneurs aspiring to become” with a very well defined idea in Uttarakhand.

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The institute grants 80% fee waivers for two to three artisans in each batch, and the remaining fees are sponsored by non-governmental organizations or organizations that want to support artisans.

Rural artisans at IIMA

Navneet Siju (left) from Kutch and Mohammed Saqib from Jaipur engage in weaving and leheriya crafts respectively. Both were given the opportunity to study at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

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From the Rann of Kutch

Navneet Siju is the grandson of Vankar Vishram Valji from Bhujodi, Kutch in Gujarat. Vishram Valji had won the title of Best Craftsman of the Year from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974 after one of the blankets he had designed was submitted to a competition.

Navneet, the family’s youngest craftsman, says: “Up until the early 1980s, our work was communal. We have woven specific and particular products for local communities. It included shawls for men and blankets. It was more of a barter system back then.”

Between 1980 and 1990, machine-made textiles came onto the market, reducing the demand for handmade products. “Because of this, we have struggled to keep our traditional craftsmanship alive. But over time new people traveling to Kutch took an interest and we managed to keep the culture alive with their help. It was also at this point that we realized there was a need to adapt our craft to market trends, but without losing the authenticity of the craft.”

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Weaver at Navneet’s family loom in Kutch

Two years ago, Navneet met a girl from the local community who had also attended the CCBP course at IIM-A. He says when he heard about it from her he applied but waited until things normalized after the pandemic so he could also attend the Ahmedabad campus.

“Taking part in the six-month course gave me great insight into the whole business – from marketing and accounting to how the products are promoted and how they are positioned in the market,” says Navneet.

He says his general perspective has been that of a manufacturer, but the course has helped him see his products from a customer’s perspective. Navneet’s goal isn’t just limited to promoting his own label. He is now very interested in reviving crafts and bringing back the craftsmen from his village who have migrated to the cities.

“A few years ago the number of looms in Kutch had dwindled to about 800. Now there are about 1,200 looms. Although there is an increase, I would like to see at least 1,500 looms running every day,” says Navneet.

He also wants to help build connections between weavers and arts and crafts enthusiasts (customers) to keep the community and this precious form of Indian art alive, he concludes.