Perhaps the most crucial round of interview for us—the site visit—tells us the most about a potential candidate for investment. While on a site visit we learn things we never would have learned otherwise. The entrepreneur is on their home turf—often more confident, open and honest than when we first meet them in our office.Obliraj is 21 years old and came to us with the idea of reviving his family weaving business. Obliraj’s family has been weavers for generations. When we asked just how many generations his family had been weaving, Obliraj’s mother laughed and said, “As far back as anyone can remember—not just his father’s family but my family too.”
Unfortunately, families that continue traditional handicrafts and arts like these are changing occupations in India because of new aspirational values for their children to become doctors and engineers. Also as traditional crafts families are not able to compete with machine made priced bulk items, nor do they directly go to market or find ways to innovate with design – families leave their traditional crafts and migrate to cities with the goal of becoming part of India’s economically prosperous. With so much pressure to follow defined paths to success, traditional family occupations are being left behind – especially by the younger generation who just can’t see the value in the craft and poverty of their parents. Many weaving, dyeing and embroidery businesses are shutting shop after countless generations of business because no one is left to carry the legacy on and those who do want to continue, lack the capital to upgrade and compete with bigger players, design innovation or access to markets, either restricted by language, or lack of internet access/communication skills.
Obliraj is different. He’s young and he wants to be an entrepreneur in the line of his family business, but he wants to begin again, differently.
Carrying on a family business is hard work. The looms and other machines in Obliraj’s home were purchased second-hand eight years ago. Now they are in need of an upgrade to a hydraulic system that will double their production capacity. Sometimes determination is not enough for young people who want to carry on the traditional businesses of their families. They also need investment and support. Maybe they don’t need new metal machines—actually the traditional wooden ones work better—but they need better lighting to see, or they need better ventilation to stay healthy – they need visitors with design inspiration, they need new access to markets offline and online.
In our cities we have a massive youth unemployment rate, and it’s only increasing. Without the right skills, young people will never become doctors or engineers. But a lot of these young people have skills they’ve learned at home in their traditional craft businesses. They just don’t realise they are skills. Nor are they sure what to do with them.
Perhaps what we all need to understand, as that it’s best for India and the world we live in as a whole if the poorest young people are able to innovate, and take their traditional craft businesses to new levels of scale.
Their businesses will protect our traditions as we enter into new economies, create jobs for other young people and support villages, stopping the great urban migration.
Invest in a young craft entrepreneur today.
We’ll let you know what happens at the Investment Committee meeting for Obliraj.