READ Global is a multinational non-profit establishing sustainable enterprises to provide income opportunities for rural women in Asia. In my time working with the organization, I facilitated the launch of skills training and handicraft enterprise initiatives across rural India. The focus was to develop workplaces that met the unique cultural needs of marginalized community members, providing an environment that made them feel safe, productive and proud. Operational challenges such as space utilization, raw material waste management and storage, were solved by co-creating new processes with users. The project also required developing brand strategy for the enterprises, as well as establishing relationships with distributors to secure a recurring revenue stream for the artisans.
User research: The first phase of establishing an enterprise involved in-depth qualitative research to understand the needs, pain points and skillsets of the community members that would be enterprise employees. This was done through immersive sessions, interviews, surveys and observational inquiry. The insights were translated to system maps and 'before state' journey maps that helped me empathize with their circumstances and aspirations. In addition, building these frameworks helped me clearly communicate opportunities to colleagues and corporate sponsors, which was crucial to the success of the project.
Ideation and co-creation: With a solid foundation of user needs, I was able to proceed to the next phase which involved working with key stakeholders such as donors, users, local government and senior management to identify multiple ways in which the existing pool of skills could be harnessed and commercialized. This list included various craft skills such as basketry, furniture making, handloom weaving, and agricultural skills such as spice manufacturing and food preservation. The ideas were narrowed down based on the community members' interest, potential for profitability and sustainability. Simultaneously, prototypes and system maps were developed to rethink and develop the physical environment in which the artisans would be working, This included some technological changes, such as incorporating machinery that would optimize the workflow, and setting up digital payment portals that would change the way users managed payments.
Implementation: Once the focus of the enterprise was determined, I innovated operational processes that would reduce waste and streamline the supply chain for production. I also led brand positioning efforts such as product showcases, exhibitions and leveraging e-commerce platforms, which directly impacted sales for the micro-enterprises.