All over the world, big corporations have come under scrutiny for their unethical labour practices, contribution towards growing inequalities, and unsustainable products. Opposition against fast fashion companies has been mounting. As calls to boycott them gain popularity, the consumer void has widened, which needs to be filled with alternatives.
Alternative economies comprise of companies that move beyond the profit-driven, hierarchy-led model, and into social entrepreneurship and cooperatives. The idea that entrepreneurial models can also focus on community development is being taken up by civil society and student organisations. One of such organisation is Enactus Kirori Mal College, a chapter of the international student-run social entrepreneurship organisation Enactus, working with the students of Kirori Mal College, Delhi University. They chapter has three running projects: Project Dor, Project JanBhoomi and Project Syahi.
Project Dor developed from a skill development programme in 2016. Dor works with a team of migrant women from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal to manufacture handcrafted tie-and-dye products. Tie-and-dye, a traditional Indian art form originating in Rajasthan and Gujarat, has been sidelined due to a cultural shift towards Western fashion.
However, Project Dor makes neo-ethnic, versatile and gender-neutral cotton and chanderi scarves, dupattas and cushion covers, and aims to bring the apparel market’s attention to this dying art. Dor has also made considerable strides in being a sustainable brand, since they are now zero-waste (all of our defective scarves are made into potlis). They even have eradicated plastic use by packaging their products in paper.
The EKMC members teach the community the technical aspects of production, as well as organise workshops for them in collaboration with other NGOs, disseminating awareness on health, hygiene, social issues and education.
Dor has led to the emergence of a community of women who are financially independent, as well as on their way to becoming entrepreneurs. The beneficiaries are being trained in business operations, from production to marketing and finances, since the ultimate goal of every Enactus project is for it to be run by the community itself, with minimal help from Enactus members. After four continuous years, Dor is on its way to becoming a completely beneficiary-run business.
During our time working with Dor, we realised that the problem of women being financially dependent on the male members of their family is extremely pervasive. So, we chose another community of women as our beneficiaries for our latest initiative, Project Syahi. Syahi’s team of skilled beneficiaries is a community of women who reside in Tilak Nagar, New Delhi. After joining Syahi, they have access to a stable source of income. Like Dor, Syahi’s community is also learning the basics of entrepreneurship.
‘Syahi’, meaning ink in Hindi, is a unique idea that translated to a business with an ambitious aim. Project Syahi creates pens made out of paper. The problem that this initiative is trying to tackle is that of single-use plastic waste. The stationery industry is one of the largest contributors to the menace of plastic waste. In India alone, more than 1.65 crore pens are discarded every month. Under Syahi, the body and the cap of each pen are shaped from upcycled paper. All Syahi pens have a seed attached to their rear end. This means that after you finish using the pen, you can plant it in soil. As the paper disintegrates, the seed will grow into a sapling and enrich your garden.
Plastic waste is extremely harmful to our land. In India, where agricultural land is essential, land degradation must be tackled. Because of factors ranging from plastic waste to chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the total area of fertile land is decreasing, and being replaced by land that yields crops of lesser quality and quantity. This is the focus of Enactus KMC’s third initiative: Project JanBhoomi.
JanBhoomi works with farmers, schools and nurseries to solve the problem of land degradation and pollution caused by chemical fertilisers by replacing them with the organic alternative of compost. This also effectively leads to better waste management, since most of the biodegradable solid waste is being turned into compost. Even the packaging of the compost is eco-friendly, leaving no room for unsustainable practices.
Project JanBhoomi also creates organic compost through flower-composting and other techniques to replace harsh chemical fertilisers that harm fertile land. Advocating for growing your own food, it has a customisable gardening toolkit with five high-quality tools, which are a hand cultivator, a gardening fork, a trowel, a weeder and a transplanter.
Changing our consumption patterns is something that most of us can do on an individual level. If we shift the market’s demand from unethical corporations to local, small businesses, we will be contributing to the livelihoods of people who really need it, as well as softening the devastating effects of climate change. Drop by drop, we can make an ocean.