Kriti Team was founded with a lot of love and hope by Aanchal Kapur almost 20 years ago. Deeply committed to working and providing value in the social sector, Aanchal started Kriti Team as an organisation that offered creative expression to development thought and action. She envisaged a space where likeminded people working in the social sector or NGOs could converge and find resources, conversation, guidance, and help.
Over the two decades, the Kriti team helmed by Aanchal – along with capacity building and communication techniques – also run a highly successful film club and an eCommerce platform (www.gestures.in) to help artisans make a living.
As a two-decade-old veteran of the social sector, it would be correct to claim that Aanchal has seen it all! From the highs of helping people across the country to the lows of running an enterprise solo – she has kept her enterprise self sustainable all throughout.
A journey worth reliving, I say. So here we are in conversation with Aanchal, trying to understand what keeps her (and Kriti Team) motivated and going strong.
Q. How did it all start? Tell us a bit about the motivation behind the launch of Kriti.
A: Two decades ago, liberalisation was bringing a lot of change and influenced by the new opportunities presented, I decided to work with a self-sustainable, not-for-profit model. The idea was that we wouldn’t take any grants etc., rather manage to fund our social sector activities with advisory work. I firmly believe that your work should create demand, and this seemed like a great place to put it in practice.
And I am incredibly proud of the fact that we have managed to fund all our work for 20 years now! We helped thousands of people without a single donation! It has certainly not been easy, and now the time is ripe to bring in key partners. I feel to take our work to the next level; we need capital. Some of our activities can really bring in a revolutionary change but only if we do them on a larger scale and for that self-funding is not the way to go.
Lots of stuff that people really responded to turned out to be stuff we started on the side – such as the Kriti film club, our annual diary and Gestures, all these just grew to become a huge part of our identity. Now they need room to grow, and I really want to see how far we can take them.
Q: Let’s talk a bit more about Gestures, your eCommerce platform. It is one of the first in the country to bring artisans online. How did that take off?
A: While working at the grassroots level with several women’s groups and communities in the early to mid 1990s, I found that a lot of training programmes were being conducted on income generation activities with women but none were giving them any market linkages nor working in a sustained manner to help build quality and production beyond the initial phase.
I used to often bring back stuff from my visits to different villages. My friends and colleagues would envy my collections and ask me to bring these products for them too. When I started Kriti team, I decided that we would keep a cane shelf in which we would showcase and make available products made by some groups…that shelf continued to grow into Gestures.
Q: So, Gestures was your attempt at entrepreneurship in a way? Was it planned, and what were the challenges you faced getting it off the ground?
A: Since I was primarily a social development worker and not a business person, I did not understand the term ‘entrepreneurship’ which had started coming into popular parlance by then.
I thought it was a bad business word, but as many of my friends tell me, I really jumped into the social entrepreneurship model without using what it was offering. The marketing and outreach of community-made products saw many of those groups grow and gain ground–something I am very proud and happy about as that has been my contribution to the communities.
The main hurdles faced were related to funds for marketing as we would have opportunities to sell at big events but couldn’t have money for stalls. Where we got free stalls, we would sell, but often the expenses would be more than the sales or the small earnings from the margins available.
I also realised that we at Gestures needed to get more bulk stock in order for the effort to be cost-effective as then our small margins would add up to more altogether. I also started to bring in more volunteers and friends to become part of the outreach circle. At one point I realised that we needed to go online and we set up www.gestures.in
Q. Did you face any special women-centric issues?
A: As a woman, I think I was not an aggressive business person and maybe that affected the way I projected Gestures. Many of the investors and donors were male who had their own gender biases and saw me as just a social worker trying to do some good rather than trying out a different kind of business-sustainability-non-profit model of financing our work and supporting community livelihoods.
Sometimes I faced issues like parental displeasure at me coming late from stalls and fairs where we would put up stalls and worry for my safety.
Q. What would you say you have learnt from your journey?
A: In terms of business, my biggest learning is (Yes, I know most b-school graduates know this in college!) that marketing needs money and with money comes skilled human resources, something we are currently lacking. Good thoughts and idealism do not work in the capitalist economy without money. It may continue to exist but will not become profitable.
Also, customers buy the same thing from different sellers, but they stay with you when they know that you are honest, transparent, and making a social contribution and sharing the stories with them.
Q. As Kriti grew; how did you build your confidence to push further?
A: For me, the confidence lies in the fact that every day, we are making an important contribution to the livelihood of a human being, even if it is small. The increasing quality of products has also enhanced my confidence in their saleability. The fact that people are finally waking up to be sustainable and environmentally conscious consumers also contributes to confidence.
I have seen really small groups whose products we have sold grow and become sustainable, sometimes profitable too, and I know how that changes lives and can reach more marginalised lives. This pushes me to keep going as I know the journey has only begun, and we have many more paths and producers to reach and support.
Q. Is there anything you wished you had done differently?
A: I have gone with the flow and perhaps got some timings wrong in the growth journey. Had I been more business-oriented and looked at finding support to stabilise and sustain Gestures, maybe it would have reached greater heights. But then, it can perhaps happen even now!
SoaringEagles wishes Aanchal and Kriti Team the very best in their journey of impacting lives positively.