Vishal Chordia, Chairman, Maharashtra State Khadi and Village Industries Board (MSKVIB), has devised a unique and scaleable master plan that ensures that traditional arts and crafts become economically viable by using modern retailing formats.
Chordia’s work, currently limited to Maharashtra, could form a blue print for a national imprint
The youthful-looking Vishal Chordia is an unlikely agent of change, an industrialist from the food sector although it is a comment he would prefer to rephrase. “I see myself as a change maker. I am not a catalyst because even as change happens through my decisions, I also change. It is a constant process of learning.”
His views assume importance since he has been chairman of the Maharashtra State Khadi and Village Industries Board (MSKVIB) for the past 18 months. This rural-economy facing organisation, the state-level version of the national Commission, has a crucial role to play and one which Chordia believes it has not fully lived up to.
Among the issues he raises is the way a brand is important to all corporates and the effort that goes into building that brand.
“In the case of the MSKVIB, it has a brand already in place. Just look at the Kolhapuri chappal: it has all the facets of a well-established brand with a high recall. What it lacks is cosumer access!
So, our first intervention was making it available. Along with which was reaching out to the artisans who work on this footwear, find out their issues (which range from accessing quality leather to the lack of skilled manpower) and ensure it reaches markets,” Chordia said.
This is how it went beyond just that pair of eponymous chappals.
At the front end, it meant getting in place a retail outlet where it was accessible to customers and at the back end, skilling people, getting them to take pride in their workmanship and ensuring quality at all stages.
That sounds easy but getting it done is a lot of work. While it could still be called a work-in-progress, since the Board is getting an international designer to give it a more global touch, there is much that has been done.
For Chordia, it is essential to focus on a few things and make sure there is follow through. So, for the moment, he has chosen that the MSKVIB focus on four-five areas. These are solar charkhas for the cotton growing belt centred in Maharashtra’s Amravati district, honey bee rearing in the western ghat region around Mahabaleshwar, the Kolhapuri chappal, all of which can come together to find an outlet through a retail initiative under the Mahakhadi brand. There is also bamboo for the Adivasi belt.
“There is great diversity in our village industries and this is a diversity I am keen we should cultivate and promote. We want to mass customise products which are not replicable. We have a policy of non-standardisation to preserve this diversity which also means the locals put up walls against large companies wanting to enter the sector,” Chordia said.
Explaining his method, Chordia cited the example of the `amrutulya, a small tea vendor in all parts of Maharashtra. “We want independent `amrutulyas’ (small, individual-owned teashops in Maharashtra) across villages: they won’t be a chain of teashops but standalone tea vendors with an independent and unique flavor, a business which can grow sustainably. The aim is to have small, effective long-lasting businesses.”
Is this a model that can be scaled up nationally?
Chordia is cautious, saying, “We are not talking of a single success story. We are looking at multiple individual success stories, whether now in Maharashtra or later across the nation.
The model is to empower locally which can be replicated across the country and keeps our traditional diversity alive. You cannot have one single model for a country as large and diverse as ours.”
Chordia may have a cautious approach but his work has made its mark and recognition has come from the central government. Giriraj Singh, minister of state (independent charge) for Micro, Small and Medium Enteprises has appreciated Mahakhadi’s innovative retail model which he believes is worth replicating nationally.
In his travels across the state, whether to understand issues of the village-level artisan or to promote the MSKVIB, Chordia said he realised that there is huge potential, talent and a desire to achieve. What is missing is that intervention, that last little missing bit, be it marketing expertise, funding or some technical issue. That is what he is seeking to provide the rural artisan, to ensure that people stop looking for jobs and instead become entrepreneurs, howsoever small.
“We want to ensure that people take pride in being entrepreneurs instead of looking for jobs,” is his categorical view.
As a “change maker”, Chordia pointed to new items that are now to be found in the Mahakhadi retail outlet. “No one’s brought the newer market opportunities to potters. They continue to make their traditional items.
So I suggested they make scale models of Maharashtra’s four most important forts which will soon be made as ’fridge magnets, which make memorable and very local gift items. So, too, with the most important temples of the state,” he said.
He attributes his success in all that he has been able to achieve to the support and encouragement from the state’s industries minister, Subhash Desai, and the chief minister, Devendra Fadanavis. “The industries minister and the chief minister and his office have all been very supportive,” Chordia said, adding, “There is need for an outside view into government departments. This requires support from a lot of departments which I have been able to get.”