TALKS | Systems for equity, collectivism, co-design and citizen movements

Systemic Design Thinking for Creating Sustainable Products Through Women Self Help Groups

An Experimental case study from the outskirts of Lucknow  

Poonam Jayant Singh, ICAR NBFGR India

Read the working paper ⇒

Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2 and 5 provide for ending poverty, hunger and bringing gender equality by 2030. Women have been at the sidelines due to economic malnourishment owing to the inherent structural forces entrapping women away from decision making. Livelihood empowerment has been one of the central themes of the Government of India. An initiative was undertaken to interact with rural women SHG to understand how they work in the area around Kalli Paschim, under Mohanlalganj block, adjoining outskirts of Lucknow to understand problems at ground level. SHGs around the area were scouted for interaction. Participated as a spectator during SHG monthly meetings and informally discussed about the problems faced by them. The main problem was getting work , orders and market. The women from SHG took loans from the voluntary organisation they created and contributed monthly amount, that was further recognised by National Rural Livelihood Mission for basic household needs. The main objective of the mission was to provide financial empowerment though livelihood creation. Systemic design approach was used to find what can be done to solve the problems of getting work, and marketing. The women were first motivated to work for earning, trying out skills they had. Once they understood they were motivated to work. Since capital was an issue, scouting was done for available raw material and women were mentored to create for financial empowerment

Two minimalistic Design experiment interventions
• Terrarium clay balls
• Jute with Chikankari ODOP

Two experiments were conducted to understand if a model can be developed for replication. Since procuring raw material would be cost intensive at early stages, locally available free material was scouted for its use. The area had moonj grass that they used for making baskets. Clay was amply available for free. The intension of the experiment was also to create a rural urban connect catering to office space. A need based assessment was roughly made and asked as to what additional item can be put up on table by users. Since office spaces don’t have greenery, a breathing terrarium was zeroed on. The women created their own clay balls and motifs that could be used for decorating mud pots and terrariums that also helped to cover mud of the pot. (Image 2) ICAR-NBFGR also procured clay balls for using it as an aquarium biofilter and as a substrate for fishes. Connecting clay and biocompost, freely available, a product was ready to be supplied to offices. Here rural women first exhibited their products in an urban exhibition, learning from the feedback improved upon it and supplied it to office spaces. Transportation of glass terrariums was a problem. The women are trained in the art and pursue it as and when there is a demand. The baked clay balls also found its use in aquariums as they were baked in home cooking Chula used in rural areas. The baked clay balls and local motifs also found its use for layering the top soil of plant pots to proven weed from growing and keeping the soil intact. This small initiative gave us insights into the challenges these women face with leanings form them. A structured handholding and mentoring was needed for helping the women get into the mainstream of entrepreneurship

Another systemic design initiative was experimented. Jute was available in the local market. Women were already skilled in the living traditional art form of “Chikankari”, that is also a registered Geographical indication of Lucknow and surrounding area. The practitioners of this art learn form generations to generations orally through practice. The Uttar Pradesh government also started One District One Product (ODOP) initiative to bolster entrepreneurship. Since the market had chikan surplus, an initiative was taken to combine both jute and chikan and create uniqueness not available in the market. An initiative was taken to connect women SHG with Urban offices where workshops , conferences and trainings take place, thereby creating demand of products. Custom design products were co designed by community and a student designer that provided uniqueness by getting into the niche that replaced plastic. Examples are custom planted cum bouquet that could be reused as a planter to be given in conferences, table top pen holder cum diary carrier , reusable utility rolled paper/ bottle cooler (Image 3) Similarly files, folders and small bags were created with uniqueness of ODOP of Chikankari. This helped to give a unique placement to the product and these products were procured for workshops of FAO delegates, farmer trainings, researcher trainings. The SHG now provides product to a Women entrepreneur member registered under Udhyog Aadhar a scheme of Government of India for MSME.

Here a quadrupole innovation approach and systemic design intervention was used incorporating members of private citizens, government agency, researcher and the Self help group. Bringing together all four pillars, creating a network helped in out of box thinking for venturing into new areas by taking a risk, if mentoring and handholding support was available. But there are challenges for women change-makers that needs government intervention. A direct procurement strategy by government bodies by SHG will help women to create a networked cluster in an area for a particular product. Government intervention can help for bridging the gap by compulsory procurement by event managers for a government event to procure handmade goods from SHG. This will help in creating a flow of demand through event managers. This also helps in rural urban connect. Till date only 32 SHG members have registered in whole of Uttar Pradesh out of a total of 747 women SHG members registered pan India on GEM portal. All India Women SHG members number at 71624405 . The figures itself reflect that handholding and mentoring with unique creative ideas are needed to support and help women SHG members climb the ladder of entrepreneurship. The products could have had an Intellectual property portfolio by registered designs and trademark, but such endeavors need funding support. A common space for women shall help in creating their products by using on rent equipment. This tudy challenged our thinking about the entrepreneurship process that ended on creating an SHG. But the ground realities and challenges cannot be understood by arm chair policy making. By this abstract if a voice reaches the policy makers for intervention and changes in procurement rules by compulsory incorporation of procurement from registered women SHG, will help in affirmative action.