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THE BUSINESS Of DHARAVI

Monday, March 09, 2015
By Mayura Shanbaug

Pottery, jewellery, apparels, shoes, leather bags, belts and jackets et al, are all manufactured in the by-lanes of Asia's largest slum. All small entrepreneurs, mostly unorganised, but collectively doing businesses that runs into thousands of crores per year are mostly suppliers to major wholesalers who pay them a pittance for products that are sold at multiple time its costs in the retail markets. But  now that seems to be changing as ecommerce portals have realised the potential and variety of offerings that spout out of this area and are rushing to exploit it. Snapdeal has taken the first bite and soon others will follow changing the fortunes of these businesses forever...

Dharavi once characterised as a  notorious slum settlement, has also been a hub of many activities... be its portrayal in the Oscar winning movie by Danny Boyle which fetched the region its share of slum tourism or the ambitious, but debauched project of cluster redevelopment by the state government. This time, it is in news again for striking a deal with one of the largest e-commerce platforms in the country.

Snapdeal.com, India’s largest online marketplace has tied up with DharaviMarket.com to provide a nationwide reach to local artisans and small and medium sized businesses of Dharavi. The company will create an exclusive store for them called ‘Dharavi – Snapdeal store’. The store will offer a variety of products ranging from Fashion Accessories, Luggage and Men’s Clothing. Currently there are over 300 products listed on the site which include Dharavi’s signature products such as Pottery Jewellery, Apparels, Shoes, leather bags, belts and jackets.

DharaviMarket.com is a 'for profit' initiative aimed at making the skills of the squatter settlement more accessible to the consumer while providing the local, skilled craftsmen and artisans direct access to local and global markets. It aims at providing, world class, quality goods at cheap prices as one would directly buy from the manufacturers while giving the craftsmen a price worth their craft and effort.  

Behind this news, there is a larger and much significant story is at play, orchestrated by a 29 year old journalist-turned-urbanologist and now Founder of DharaviMarket.com, Megha Gupta. This story is important on many counts... as it involves the biggest and perhaps most celebrated slum of India-Dharavi.

Secondly, the development has a potential to create history or a success model which could be replicated at other places with similar stipulations and will be quoted as a success story by the B-schools of India and world. Thirdly, Gupta represents the ethos of young India which dreams of bringing social change not just by offering lip service, but going out there and doing it.

Gupta, in her previous avatar -before she became an urbanologist- was a journalist with the aim of bringing social change through her writings, soon to discover to her chagrin that she was just rushing from one assignment to another trying to meet deadlines...without actually making a difference to the society she set out to make. The infrastructure beat that she covered, in the infrastructure starved city like Mumbai, got her hooked and she decided to pursue an MA in Town and Regional Planning at University of Sheffield, UK.

In 2008, after finishing her course she came back, planning to change the face of the city she calls home. But there were no urban planning jobs. Urban planning was considered to be the domain of architects and not a social subject. She started assisting urban planners of the city in the areas of research for public infrastructure projects and affordable housing. The following years she worked with many urban planners in social spaces like URBZ and Asia Initiative. URBZ, a platform for experimental action-research on urban development hired her services by granting her a project to research transport and commuting patterns of Dharavi residents for six months (later it was extended to three years).

During these six months Gupta got deeply involved with every aspect of Dharavi and its residents, be it their pathetic living condition, daily issues of community or the manufacturing activities. She decided to do something about the local artists and craftsmen and help them to come together by providing them a platform to sell their wares in a better market with better price. And as the saying goes ...everybody collaborated for the good cause ...social media, people and organizations she had worked with like Asia Initiative, gave a helping hand. “One upload on my Facebook account got instant replies and interest and thereafter it just snowballed into setting up this initiative called DharaviMarket.com,” says Megha Gupta. Actress and Social Activist Shabana Azmi  also got associated with the project.

The hurdles like artists not having computers to upload images was solved by the technology called smart phones. “Everybody did not have computers, but they had smart phones. We taught them to click photos and upload them on the site, help them create catalog of their goods for better display,” adds Gupta.

The initiative was launched in August 2014. Within six months around 200 artists and craftsmen registered themselves with Gupta. The registration is free. She plans to take the number to 500 within one year.

Like any other business story... We ask her about the volume of business that will be generated and the revenue that will be earned especially post Snapdeal scenario...in the answer we get a long sigh ...with Gupta telling us matter of fact... “I am very new to all this ...just trying to make sense about the business side of it,” she says.

“Cataloging each product of each artist is a very tedious process, plus logistics of sending the order, acquiring orders and fulfilling them, everything seems to be an uphill task at the moment,” says Gupta . “At times I even have to fund the cost of raw material for the craftsmen to get the order completed on time. Even deaths and illness in their families needs the financial support at times,” she says.  Gupta uses government courier services which she finds dependable and economical for logistics.

Though the beginning is humble -a staff of five including Gupta at present - the grit is very much there. Behind the pain there is much to gain ...the artists registered with them are able to make around Rs 20,000-30,000 per month. After Snapdeal, similar companies like Flipkart, Amazon and others are making a beeline. The goods showcased on the site on the very first day were sold out in no time.

 “We have taken a first step in the right direction and showed the world that people from places like Dharavi can also sell online,” says a very proud Gupta. Creating awareness about the platform is the next step for which Gupta will be targeting festivals like Holi, Ganpati Janmashtami and id which is celebrated with much fervor in the area.

“We ultimately are aiming at making living and working condition for Dharavi and its craftsmen and artists better... plus creating a brand for them in the global arena,” adds Gupta.

“This initiative is great example of how technology and business can come together to change lives of millions of artisans in our country. It is my hope that Dharavi craftsmen will get their due recognition through this online store” says Shabana Azmi, award winning Actor and Social Activist. Meaning everybody will gain. The producers, the consumer and ofcourse the e-tailers...  

Local artisans and SMBs of Dharavi to be on-boarded as sellers on Snapdeal
Snapdeal.com,  amongst the giants in the online marketplace has launched a wide range of products manufactured at Dharavi on its site. The company has tied up with DharaviMarket.com to provide a nationwide reach to local artisans and small and medium sized businesses of Dharavi. This is in line with Snapdeal’s vision to create 1 million successful entrepreneurs within the next three years and empower thousands of artisans and small businesses to sell nationally while supplying locally.  

As part of this initiative, Snapdeal will on-board Dharavi artisans and SMBs and create an exclusive store for them called ‘Dharavi – Snapdeal store’. It will not only provide complete assistance with regards to online cataloguing of products but also help refine the product offerings through its analytics based market insights. Through this association, DharaviMarket.com will be able to scale up its business; and the craftsmen/ artisans under the DharaviMarket will be able to access a national audience by listing their products on Snapdeal.com.

Commenting on this partnership, Amit Maheshwari, Vice President – Fashion, Snapdeal.com said, “At Snapdeal.com, we are constantly exploring innovative ways of promoting entrepreneurship and digitally enabling small-and-medium-sized businesses. Partnering with DharaviMarket.com is a Snapdeal endeavour aimed at empowering local artisans by providing a platform to promote and sell their indigenous products to a nationwide audience through a sustainable model.”

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