In Conversation with Kunal Vaid, Founder and Director, Resham Sutra.
1. How did Resham Sutra as a company come into being? What was the thought process and vision behind starting this business and what have been your impact and achievements so far?
Resham Suta is a social enterprise whose mission is to “make a difference, one rural house at a time”. The company innovates and manufactures rural livelihood machines based on renewable energy. The existence of the Resham Sutra was sparked by a visit by the founders of Resham Sutra to silk producing villages in Eastern India. This made them aware of the extreme agony and drudgery rural women had to endure to make Tassar silk thread by wrapping the thread around their thighs. The women had cuts on their skin and suffered from back pain and joint pain; moreover, work was socially despised. They came back with a strong motivation to help these rural women and free them from the shameful process of the “whirlpool of the thighs”. They firmly believed that in today’s advanced technology age, there had to be a better way for them to do their job! And this idea/thought process laid the foundation for the Resham Sutra, which has so far helped about 15,000 rural women to earn better livelihoods with their machines.
Today, Resham Sutra offers a wide range of affordable machines for yarn winding and spinning and fabric weaving. The machines are energy efficient, allowing the use of solar power for uninterrupted work in rural areas. The machines help improve the working conditions of rural textile producers and double their incomes.
Resham Sutra focuses on creating positive socio-economic and environmental impact:
❖ Socio-economic impact: To date, Resham Sutra’s innovations have directly impacted approximately 15,000 families by improving their productivity and income through modern renewable energy machinery.
❖ Environmental impact: The machines deployed by Resham Sutra – powered by solar energy – have already collectively reduced greenhouse gas emissions by around 6,000 tonnes per year.
The impact of Resham Sutra sets up two virtuous circles. The first cycle improves operational efficiency leading to an increase in beneficiary livelihoods. The second cycle protects beneficiaries from occupational health risks related to practices such as thigh shaking. In recognition of our innovations, Resham Sutra has won the UK’s prestigious Ashden Award for ‘Powering Rural Business’ and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ ISHOW Award. It was also chosen as one of the ‘Top 5 Startups in Agri-Tech’ by the Government of India’s National Startup Mission in 2020.
2. How does Resham Sutra improve the lives and livelihoods of thousands of rural Indian women in the textile sector, free them from drudgery and lead them towards a better future?
Resham Sutra works with the vision of enabling, empowering and locally organizing disadvantaged rural textile artisan communities towards self-sufficiency and financial independence. And to do this, the company offers complete solutions to its rural customers by providing them with end-to-end support, including links for the supply of raw materials and the marketing of finished products, as well as commercial support. to manage their operations more efficiently.
Resham Sutra products (machines) are installed and serviced by its network of field representatives. To this end, the company also partners with various NGOs, government agencies, etc. on various sites.
3. Why and how do you set up Farm to Retail integrated value chains? Please explain.
Resham Sutra helps tribal farmers get into silk farming. Support includes provision of environmentally friendly techniques, holistic development and better technology, as well as integration of value chains from silk production to retail through effective technology-based interventions and other types of interventions.
The integration of farms into the retail value chain is extremely important as it is bound to remove intermediaries at different stages to increase the value share of producers. Also, the use of modern solar-powered production equipment and a sustainable business model can attract the younger generation to this profession and stem its attenuation towards cities/urban areas in search of greener pastures. This of course bodes well for the future of the machine.
For example, Resham Sutra is facilitating the “silk farm to retail project” in the Simdega tribal area of Jharkhand, where current yields from land are extremely low and large tracts of land are left uncultivated. due to lack of irrigation. Here, Resham Sutra is promoting the planting of mulberry trees with tribal farmers – which has the potential to increase their incomes many times over.
Here, the company is setting up an agricultural infrastructure with the support of the CSR branches of companies in the region; the construction of modern and sustainable agricultural practices such as the use of integrated watershed development and the construction of livestock houses using CSRB blocks. Over 200 acres of plantation have been developed involving over 100 farmers and another 300 acres will be planted this year. Simultaneously, women in the community are being trained to make silk thread and weave fabrics using Resham Sutra’s solar-powered machines.
4. Tell us in detail about Resham Sutra’s Rural Experience Centers or CERs. How are women particularly supported or trained by these Centres?
Resham Sutra has set up a number of Rural Experience Centers (RECs) in major rural clusters in India. These centers provide customers with comprehensive purchasing support, including product demonstrations, trials, financial support, after-sales training and technical support. CERs also assist village producers to create value addition by manufacturing yarn and fabric within their communities using locally available raw materials and further provide marketing and sales support.
Interestingly, some of the RECs in Resham Sutra are owned and managed by local women. RECs usually first train rural women for 2-4 weeks to make yarn or cloth. After this training, the women are helped to form SHGs; this allows them to engage more sustainably in production activities. Subsequently, the women are helped to obtain machinery and raw materials with the financial support of Resham Sutra’s partner financial intuitions.
Beneficiaries are encouraged to think and act like independent entrepreneurs from the start. At the same time, they get the benefits of being part of a larger group of people doing the same activities. Through existing networks and with the help of the Powering Livelihoods team, we identify and engage reliable and established women’s cooperatives who have a common interest in supporting end users.
5. Resham sutra is supported by Powering Livelihoods, an initiative of CEEW-Villgro. Mention how this initiative helps Resham Sutra achieve its goals, grow and evolve?
The Powering Livelihoods program, jointly run by the CEEW and the Villgro Innovations Foundation, aims to boost India’s rural economy by increasing the penetration of clean energy appliances for livelihoods.
For us at Resham Sutra, the support of Powering Livelihoods helps us scale up our operations and expand the area of impact. We have been able to scale up initiatives such as setting up RECs, deploying “Pay as you go” technology for inclusive finance and setting up rural infrastructure for beneficiaries with their support. Additionally, the program helps us deploy a gender lens to make us more inclusive and responsive to customers, employees and other beneficiaries, as well as establish data-based evidence of the impact generated by our work. .
6. What are your future plans to build and create sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor?
In the months and years to come, Resham Sutra will continue to create sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor by providing them with healthy on-farm and off-farm employment options – leading to diversification of income sources and protecting them. of the agrarian crisis. As the majority of the company’s beneficiaries are women, Resham Sutra intends to engage with them to create conducive working conditions and empower them economically. To achieve this, Resham Sutra will at the same time continue to strengthen its backward and forward linkages across the rural textile value chain.
Resham Sutra also plans to introduce a digital platform that will enable rural producers to better manage their business and find a wider market online. In addition, the company has also already introduced quality certification and standardization of rural products, which we believe will build trust between different market players and enable more trade. In the near future, we are looking at more customer financing options and engaging institutional players for the same. We also intend to grow and expand further in the eastern and northeastern regions of the country, as there is significant untapped growth potential in these regions.