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Village women deft in traditional skills 'empowered'

- Shillong NGO saves women from traffickers, enables them to look forward to a better future

A local woman works on a handloom. Telegraph picture

Guwahati, Aug. 6: They started production years before the Centre's "Make in Northeast" initiative was conceived, built a brand of their own handcrafted products, provided livelihood to thousands of rural women and thereby prevented unsafe migration and trafficking of women - a major concern in the region.

Impulse Social Enterprise, a Shillong-based firm, which gave the local women's products the brand name "Empower", collaborated with trendy boutiques and joints to promote them outside the region, now plans to cover another 5,000-plus rural women artisans and double its turnover in the current financial year.

"Our target is to promote Empower brand to represent the Northeast in the world and showcase the wonders our rural women can do with their traditional knowledge, skills and a little training and effort from us. We gave shape to Empower brand five years before 'Make in India' or 'Make in Northeast' campaign was conceived. We will collaborate with more and more people of various tribes to nurture and enhance their traditional skills and assets, to help them earn sustainable livelihood and improve their lives," the founder and managing director of Impulse Social Enterprise, Hasina Kharbhih, told The Telegraph.

The enterprise had recorded a turnover of Rs 834,357 during the financial year 2014-2015 from the sales of Empower products ranging from scarves, hand-woven cotton table mats, bags, cushion covers and other attractive gift items. The enterprise is also offering research and consultancy services to business firms, NGOs and government agencies as well.

Kharbhih started Impulse NGO Network in 1993, rescued poor women from the Northeast who had fallen prey to traffickers, rescued children working in coal mines and launched campaigns against trafficking by providing livelihood to women. The NGO has already covered more than 30,000 rural women in the Northeast and provided them livelihood support. They started training rural women who traditionally learnt weaving at their homes and gradually started selling their products with value addition. "We are expanding this model to neighbouring Myanmar as well, as trafficking due to unsafe migration is also a major issue there," she said.

Impulse Social Enterprise, set up in 2010, soon introduced Empower brand of products. "We decided to name the brand 'Empower' as the rural women are becoming economically empowered by utilising their traditional skills. It was imperative to eliminate the socio-economic problems by providing sustainable livelihood and prevent trafficking," Kharbhih said.

"The enterprises create a range of products and services that use local knowledge, traditional art and crafts, natural resources, indigenous talent layered with contemporary design, modern production technology, professional marketing and sales support, and of course, funding. As we believe that artisans' earnings should be consistent, we continue the production even as we have not sold our inventory stocks as we are confident that we can market and diversify our product range as well," she said.

It has also started a special Northeast project and collaborated with brands such as Brewhouse, Delhi-based creative agency, Safomasi, a home furnishing and textile design studio, 1701, a leather boutique, NorBlack NorWhite, an urban streetwear brand and Fizzy Goblet, a shoe company, besides others. The project aims to add value to indigenous skills and products, add modern touch and market them in both national and international markets as well.


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