Poor People's Knowledge - Handmade in India

A review of the 2nd Chapter of World Bank's "Poor People's Knowledge", about the challenges and opportunities in promoting the knowledge and innovations of the world's poor.

Poor Peoples Knowledge"How can we help poor people to earn more from their knowledge—rather than from their sweat and their muscle? This book is about promoting the innovation, knowledge, and creative skills of poor people in poor countries, and particularly about improving the earnings of poor people from such knowledge and skills."

The World Bank's "Poor People's Knowledge: Promoting Intellectual Property in Developing Countries" is a collection of essays by researchers and practitioners covering the subject of knowledge development and intellectual property in the Base of the Pyramid. The book (available in PDF) is an informative and thought-provoking read. Today we touch on Chapter 2 "Handmade in India" by Maureen Liebl and Tirthankar Roy.

Handmade in India: Traditional Craft Skills in a Changing World

India's 9.6 million craftsmen contribute an estimated $3.3 billion to the Indian economy. Crafts also provide part-time income to seasonal agricultural workers and women, a means for workers to remain in their villages rather than move to overcrowded cities, and act as archive for India's rich cultural heritage. Handmade in India discusses the struggle of traditional crafts making in the face of more mechanized, cheaper alternatives and intellectual property problems.

"Artisans in India face the same IP problems as in other developing countries: cheap knockoffs, extensive copying among artisans, artisans who pass along (and sometimes sell) designs belonging to a client, and buyers who have a sample designed and produced in India, then manufactured in bulk somewhere else."

"Problems with enforcing ownership are particularly complex given what the artisans themselves accept as norms of behavior. Copying among artisans is a long-established tradition. Artists acquire their skills by copying."

The authors note that successful craftsmen are market-accepting individuals, who understand that societies evolve and that [outside of a museum] no craft can or should survive without a viable market. As entrepreneurs, craftsmen must seek new markets for their skills, but face four major shortcomings in doing so:

  • Lack of knowledge on how to increase quality, productivity, and technical innovation.
  • A constrained worldview that keeps them unaware of and an unable to access the new market opportunities available to them.
  • A lack of working capital and access to credit. Even if a craftsman receives a large order, they do not have the upfront capital to fund the work and materials.
  • A total lack of civic, professional, and social service infrastructures.

In the end, effective solutions to promoting and protecting poor peoples' knowledge in India will need to account for Indian culture, community & family structures, the Indian caste system, and even deeply held beliefs about individualism: "Aesthetic forms are often thought of as springing from a kind of universal, divinely inspired subconscious." The authors suggest two types of solutions:

  • Adapting traditional skills to new products for changing markets.
  • Repositioning skills and products for upscale markets that appreciate and are willing to pay premiums for handcrafted quality and character.

On the flip side of a problem is always an opportunity. Organizations that offer effective methods to deal with the problems and solutions described in Handmade in India have the potential of opening up huge market opportunities in the Base of the Pyramid. Just remember that the promotion of innovation must be deeply ingrained in culture, a lesson not lost on us here at BRINQ.