Wow! What a great surprise birthday wake-up from my lovely WORK+SHELTER ladies! They pretended to feed me Indian sweets and sang Happy Birthday. It was well worth the pain of waking up at 6AM EST. 😀
This past year was all about bringing the W+S New Delhi vision to life – a year well spent.
My wish is that in 5 years we’ll see 5 more WORK SHELTERs! Better get started!
I’m so excited! I’ve arrived in Delhi and though it was only three months ago that I left, it seems ages ago. I’m here for three weeks. It’s too short for all my plans but lets see how much gets done.
First things first; a visit to WORK+SHELTER. The women greet me as a loved one coming after centuries. The warm and hearty hugs tell a tale in itself, the shine in their eyes, the smiles on their faces, all together so wonderful to meet up. Today, we are taking interviews and filming the story of WORK+SHELTER so that we can share it with stakeholders, family, and friends. Not a day passes by when Theresa and I are not working on this project to make it a long term sustainable initiative. What started as a recognition of an opportunity to put our dreams into practice has turned out to be a way of life for us both. By this I mean that this initiative has become an integrated part of our lives and is no longer just a project.
The marginalized ladies start off during the interview in a very shy and timid way to give insight in their present situations. However, the more we talk about issues concerning them, the more open they become in venting their thoughts and personal situations. Because I don’t want to go into each individual personal life, I won’t go into specific details. However, the topics which they have to deal with besides earning an income (because the husbands are too lazy to work) include domestic violence, abuse, fights, and disrespect from their spouses.
This visit is also an eye opener in a very positive sense. There is a warm and harmonious atmosphere in the shelter, it’s beautiful and absolutely clean compared to the surroundings outside and there is a cheerfulness between the ladies. It is indeed a safe space where these destitute ladies can share their life stories and support each other whether it’s for work or for their mental health.
I’m really very proud of “our” ladies and I’m glad Theresa and I started this safe haven. May our dream support empowerment for more and more women come to fulfillment!
Signing off from New Delhi
WORK+SHELTER was just an idea in 2011 – we wanted to create a place where women in New Delhi can come to live and work. And many of you gave to this idea, enough that soon we had the funding to move forward with realizing the vision. After receiving your contributions the real work started. For nearly a year the W+S team laid the groundwork for success in India – we Skyped, made plans, made contingency plans, and fine-tuned the details of launching the W+S New Delhi pilot.A lot has happened that we want to share with you. The most important part? We were able to successfully launch W+S New Delhi. A group of local women are there working 5 days a week. The word is spreading and we are operating as planned. Details are below:
Shelter Location and Building:
To run the shelter in our absence we hired a local manager. The manager role is meant to be the link between the women and shelter operations and the international management team. We hired Priya*, petite and in her 50’s, with years of experience in the NGO and export world. Further, she could identify with the women’s plights because she herself has struggled to support her child when she was widowed. We thought she was a perfect fit.
We moved forward with training her. Then, once Theresa was back in the U.S. and Namita was back in the Netherlands, Priya suddenly quit, stating that her commute (nearly two hours each way) was too long.
We panicked. How could we reassure the women that they would still have work, and manage daily operations from so far away? Would we have to fly back to India in the meantime? How could we afford this?
Despite the worries, our local resources pulled through. Friends volunteered to manage the shelter temporarily. One of the women, Seema, took the lead to the best of her abilities and kept the other women on track. And now, mostly via Skype and international phone calls, we are in the last stages of hiring a replacement manager.
We’ve learned an important lesson. While it is important to control how much money is spent on administrative costs, we now realize that it’s important not to invest all of our training into one candidate, who can leave at any time for any reason. We can’t afford to now, but in the future we would like to hire both a General Manager and part-time Assistant Manager, so that there are more checks and balances in case something like this happens again.
Legal Organizational Registration:
Thus far we’ve been operating informally, but in order to continue our work we need to legally register WORK+SHELTER both in the US and India. That would be easy if we were working in one country, and had a mission that was reflected by just one legal structure.
In India, everyone had a legal opinion, and after getting the run around for months we have written our bylaws and are finally on our way to registering as a trust.
In the US we’re lucky to have some preliminary advice from a friend who recently graduated from law school. However, if you are or you know someone who is a tax attorney, please please please connect them to us.
If we want to be sustainable we have to create products somebody, somewhere wants to pay for. Further, they have to be high quality and made efficiently. This requires training, setting expectations with the women, creating an incentive-based production system, and obtaining fairly-priced raw materials and equipment.
We have to be super conscious of our costs. If a shawl/bulky scarf takes 3 days to knit, even without material and marketing costs it has to have a wholesale price point of over $20 for us to even break even and pay a fair trade wage. Let’s say that the end cost for us including materials for the piece is $35. Since most retailers double that price (at the minimum) we’re looking at a shawl that retails for over $70. That price point puts us out of the realm for the average buyer.
Having searched all over Delhi for yarn, and only finding synthetic materials like acryclic and polyster, we went on the hunt. Ludhiana, an industrial town in Punjab, is known for being India’s textile center. Road trip! Once there we wandered around from shop to shop, and then into offices, finally meeting a family who owns a small yarn mill. It turns out they actually provide wool to a group Theresa made a field trip to visit a few years back, Panchachuli Women Weaver’s Cooperative. We learned that while cotton is a common crop in India, wool is mostly imported from Australia or New Zealand, and that when you burn acrylic yarn the fiber actually melts like a plastic would.
Beyond all of these production aspects, financial sustainability also requires sales, the next frontier.
Thus far, the Kickstarter money has been used only for the following purposes: salary for the local manager, salary for the women, cleaning and construction costs for the shelter space, and purchase of basic furnishings.
So much to do! Our end goal is to be able to support women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation through job creation,while focusing on the women’s unmet social needs. A lot of other work you wouldn’t always think of comes along with meeting that goal. We just relaunched our web-sites, are building and improving our product line, planning sales avenues, developing social media outlets, and are collaborating with other designers and organizations to better accomplish our goals.
We still need a lot of support. If you want to do more you can:
- Like and follow WORK+SHELTER on Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest!
- Like and follow The Lotus Odyssey on Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest!
- Volunteer, or get your friends to! Check out opportunities here!
- Buy The Lotus Odyssey products, carry them in your store, sell them in your community, or encourage your local boutique to give us a call!
- Financial support – send us a big fat check, or click here! 😉
Finally, thank you so much for your support. If you find yourself in India, please do stop by the shelter. And if you have any questions, please do get in touch.
Theresa, Jorel, Namita