Six weavers – three each from the Barpali and Nupatana handloom clusters in Odisha – have won the Digikala Handloom Design Competition. On January 12-13, DEF founder director Osama Manzar and Microsoft Lead (Community Affairs, CSR) Manju Dhasmana awarded certificates and cash prizes to the winners during a small ceremony in the area. More than 200 participants – weavers from the two clusters and others – participated in the event. The contest is one of the first steps in the implementation of the Digikala Odisha integrated handloom cluster development programme initiated by DEF in partnership with Microsoft.
The project involves comprehensive digital intervention in these two clusters along the lines of what DEF has already accomplished at Chanderi in Maharashtra. The weavers of these two clusters have no access to the national or global market and middlemen exploit them ruthlessly as they produce exquisite handloom products that fetch premium prices at retail stores in India and elsewhere. At the moment there is almost no Internet connectivity in the remote rural areas where these weavers live and work in dire poverty.
DEF’s digital intervention is aimed at changing all that. The weavers will be trained in digital literacy and digitally-enabled community information and design centres will be set up so that weavers can benefit from creating their own digital designs or using designs from a digital design library to be created in the same way that has been done at Chanderi. This intervention alone will boost incomes by reducing their idle times and dependency on middlemen and master weavers who now produce the designs. Each of the community information and design centres will have all the necessary digital infrastructure such as desktops and laptops, digital design software, printers, scanners, digital cameras and so on.
The information centres will also enable the weavers to benefit from various government schemes and entitlements, access to the information super highway, distance education and e-learning, digital and English language skills to enable them to tap more diverse livelihood opportunities, telemedicine and health information and all possible benefits of the digital era. The centres will have broadband Internet connectivity by using wireless technology. Ultimately, the objective is to empower the weavers to launch their own e-commerce portal so that they can directly access national and global markets and become completely free from exploitative middlemen.
Meanwhile, DEF’s local team has identified Kusanpuri village in the Barpali area to set up the first Self-Help Group (SHG) of weavers who will be trained to run and operate their own digital community information and design centre. DEF will provide the initial training and over time the centres are expected to become sustainable entities on their own.
As reported in the previous issue of the newsletter work is also going on full steam at Barabanki weavers cluster in Uttar Pradesh where DEF is implementing a similar integrated digital cluster development programme in partnership with Ericsson.