It was the start of my second week of work in India for my company, (Lulan.com) when Hillary Clinton arrived. During her visit, she intended to discuss energy security, agriculture reform, education, counterterrorism and carbon emissions -- all excellent topics for discussion but Indians are also hyper-focused on dealing with everyday life during a time of large environmental, economic and cultural transformations.
The cultural and economic changes taking place in India are astounding. The disparity between villages and cities is stark. The current water crisis is impacting both cities and villages but in different ways. While traveling North of Rashikesh in the Himalayas, I witnessed the floods and saw multiple landslides in one day alone. One major landslide blocked the road entirely and would take days to clear. Instead of waiting for the construction crews, I decided to scale the landslide on the edge of a mountain, with the Ganges thousands of feet below -- not recommended for the faint of heart.
Like most developing countries, different groups of the population reap most of the benefits of the economic changes. The overall population in India considered prosperous is small and lives mostly in major urban areas. Over the last fifteen years, poverty has decreased. About a third of the country's population used to live below the severe poverty line, and before the recent global economic downturn, approximately a fourth of the population still lived on less than a dollar a day. Many believed poverty would decline at a faster rate. This is where Lulan Artisans focuses its efforts. Our solution: include more people, specifically from villages, towns and small cities, to participate in this new burgeoning global marketplace.
Lulan's own research shows that there are many expert artisans with diverse techniques across India. India has a wonderful cultural and economic opportunity with a strategic competitive advantage in their incredibly skilled individuals, from textiles, furniture and basketry to woodcarving. The possibilities for us seem endless. We currently work with strong sustainable artisan communities in different regions of the country and plan to expand in the future. As more artisan groups become self-reliant, they can expand their reach and create sustainable livelihoods within their communities.
Hillary Clinton met with female artisans in Mumbai during her visit. She also recognizes the importance of jobs, skills and inclusion for this particular population, which represents millions of people. Clinton could take this focus even further and urge India to leverage its incredible crafts even more. A broader range of people in the marketplace will contribute economically, helping a country that is trying to offer other services. Since India has such a massive population, if these artisans are included and participate in global markets, they will be able to support their families. This will translate into less pressure on the Indian government to carry them.
Buying from these artisans aligns many factors perfectly: create sustainable livelihoods, decrease poverty, expand economic prosperity, support more local businesses and services, celebrate local culture, preserve skills, all while decreasing the burden on the government. We should all be clamoring to start such businesses.