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For Marginalized Women, Business Empowers Better Than Charity

March 25, 2015 Destination Global No Comments Email Email

unnamed (11)Thousands of women in India are being empowered by a handmade gifts and accessories distributor in Austin, Texas.Matr Boomie, which means “mother land” in Hindi, uses the social impact business model to uplift nearly 2,000 mostly female artisans throughout India funded through designs that have become chic in Western markets. 

This is having a ripple effect on women’s empowerment, especially throughout the Indian countryside where traditionally women have had to rely upon men for their most basic needs. “When we go to a village, we look for women to work with as artisans,” says Matr Boomie Co-founder Manish Gupta. “Suddenly, women are the sought after ones. That oftentimes shifts the whole community’s respect towards women.”

Matr Boomie helps women learn how to take the traditional arts they learned from their mothers and grandmothers and transform them into gifts and jewelry that can be sold internationally. “When a woman does that, they become an entrepreneur. They can work with us or any other company,” says Gupta. This is a very different model than nonprofits or NGOs. “The women work for themselves and become their own small business. It is the difference between long-term sustainability versus a handout.”

Each product contains a tag with the inspiring story of the women who made the gift possible. Matr Boomie customers say that these inspiring messages are an essential part of their appeal – women reaching across continents to share beauty with each other.

Helping artisans make the jump to one-woman businesses has brought to the forefront the need for literacy to keep records for orders and supplies. Matr Boomie has a nonprofit arm that is bringing in teachers to villages to teach women how to read both Hindi and English. And this is having an impact beyond business. “I can now read the newspaper just like my husband,” one newly literate woman reports proudly, “and I keep an account of whatever savings I manage.”

“Traditionally, women have had to rely upon a man for anything to do with writing: dealing with the bank, taking a list to the market, and all other paperwork,” explains Ruchi Gupta, Matr Boomie’s Co-founder and partner to Manish in marriage, as well as business.  “Once women have the tool of literacy they are definitely empowered to not only handle their finances, but their life.”

Working with female artisans has also revealed other factors affecting girls and women. “India is a very cultural society and it has a lot of rituals and laws around everything,” says Ruchi Gupta. “During a woman’s menstrual cycle they are not allowed to cook, attend temple, travel anywhere – they are basically treated as if they are outcasts.” This changes instantly once women have access to sanitary napkins – which are often unknown of in rural villages, absent, or just too expensive.

The husband and wife entrepreneurs running the company decided to treat this issue as another social impact business they could turn over to the women they partner with in India. “There is an organization in India that has come up with a small machine that can produce inexpensive and good quality sanitary napkins. We sponsor the purchase of the machinery for the village, bring in those who will set it up and train the local women to produce these napkins,” says Manish Gupta. “The women then take over production and are able to sell these napkins within their community at a small margin.”

All of these changes together are making a true difference for both Western consumers and Indian women. Beautiful traditional arts that were on the verge of being lost are now available for sale in boutiques across America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand; report the Guptas. And women in rural India are catching up to those in cities in terms of empowerment and education.

“The chain has been broken,” says Ruchi Gupta. “Instead of hearing stories of women accepting the status of second class citizens, they feel confident because they are participating in business. That confidence leads to them participating more in their household decisions. And then they participate in their community’s decisions, elections, and politics. We see the changes come faster and faster.” Sustainable business is empowering a whole sector of Indian society.

These women artisans are able to both preserve beautiful traditional artistic techniques on the verge of vanishing forever while at the same time create cultural change. Because of the unique business partnership between Matr Boomie and the women they work with, mothers can appreciate what they learned as girls while at the same time building a better life for their own daughters.

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