Ecoideaz Ventures has partnered with various micro-SMEs and NGOs who produce eco-friendly products and also uplift rural poor communities in South India. One among them is Indigenous Innovations, a micro-SME based in Shivamogga, Karnataka. Led by a capable woman entrepreneur Monica Levine, this cleantech company has been producing areca leaf plates and bowls and recycled paper bags since 2016.
Indigenous Innovations – areca leaf plates production
Indigenous Innovations has its own production unit based on the outskirts of Shivamogga city where it employs several men and women to produce biodegradable areca palm leaf plates and paper bags. Further, it signs long-term contracts with various cottage industry units based in villages across the Shivamogga district. The women employed in its production unit are extremely grateful for training them in plate production skills and empowering them to handle the unit without a manager.
The story of Suhana Irfan is interesting enough to be retold. She came to work for Indigenous Innovations in 2017, but since she was underage at just 15, Monica refused to recruit her. She had failed in her SSLC exams and wanted to discontinue studies to support her family. When Suhana insisted that she is writing her SSLC exams and this is just a part-time job, Monica took her in. She began working as a helper to other workers, but she soon took up so many responsibilities to become the worker’s team lead.
Suhana handled many responsibilities such as wetting the raw material, feeding leaves into the dye machine and sorting the final output based on quality. Consequently, her salary rose from Rs.6000 to Rs.9000 apart from ESI and other benefits. Few years later in 2019, she got married and left the unit. However, her entrepreneurial spirit has kept her busy even after marriage.
Today, Suhana collects areca palm leaves from various farmers in her village which are considered agro-waste and she sends it to Indigenous Innovations as raw material for leaf plate production. Even today, she is regularly in touch with Monica and shares her daily life issues with her former employer!
Empowering prisoners with paper bags
Indigenous Innovations started producing paper bags from recycled post-consumer material produced locally in Shivamogga. It found that manually producing handmade bags was pretty laborious and fulfilling large orders was difficult. At that juncture, Inner Wheel Club of Shivamogga approached the company for training underprivileged women and children among its connected NGOs and institutions. So Indigenous Innovations took up the task of training hearing disabled children in Taranga School For Deaf Children.
Children and teachers who stay at the residential school were trained for two days by Monica’s team and given the raw material for carry bag production such as recycled paper, gum and tags. They spent 2-3 hours every evening to produce 20-30 bags per person. The children were thrilled to do some activity other than regular studies and that also gave them job-oriented skills. However, the children couldn’t continue this task beyond one academic year since they went back to their villages for summer vacations.
Next, Indigenous Innovations was invited to take up paper-bag making workshop for women inmates of the Shivamogga Central Prison. The jail superintendent was eager to get these inmates equipped with some job-oriented skills, which will help them to be self reliant when they return to the mainstream. So, a group of 6 women were trained in paper bag making, which in turn helped Indigenous Innovations to expand their orders.
Everyday, workers from Indigenous Innovations delivered the raw material to the prison and collected the finished products. Inmates were paid weekly wages based on the number of carry bags produced by them, which gave them some earnings while being incarcerated. They were paid Rs.2 per bag, which typically earned them Rs.100 per day for producing 50 carry bags.
Since most of these women inmates were underprivileged, this tiny income meant a lot to them, while the prison authorities were happy to see their inmates gainfully employed. Sadly, the Central Prison was shifted to new location a few years later, so Indigenous Innovations couldn’t continue this socially impactful initiative. Fortunately, inspired by this initiative, jail authorities have created self-employment opportunities within the jail premises now.