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Today I balance my work and passion for uplifting the livelihoods of marginalised people. My first project, WORK+SHELTER (W+S), was co-founded in 2011 with Theresa VanderMeer. We belong to different nationalities and have unique skill sets and backgrounds. Essentially, W+S creates safe spaces in India where women can come to work and earn a fair wage. Seema, a neighbour, was the first to come on board. Thereafter, we quickly recruited other women who saw how Seema’s income had shifted the power dynamic between her and her alcoholic husband. Importantly, the recruits had to desire economic empowerment, want to send their kids to school, and be willing to learn and work. Many of the women working in W+S are the sole providers for their families. Each woman has a unique back story, but the most important takeaway is that the ladies employed are strong, determined, creative, and have the capacity to learn and become highly skilled artisans. They’ve learnt knitting and sewing, computer skills and can communicate by Skype. They’ve grown from making basic hand warmers to sewing perfect T-shirts, from being timid introverts to women who can speak up for themselves and are not shy to meet visitors coming to the shelter.
Our Business in India
New Yardsticks Foundation (NYF) seeks out donors to fund programmes for destitute women and children in India. New Yardsticks (NY) facilitates NYF by finding partners possessing complementary sets of expertise and local experience. The projects should be, or have the potential to be, self-sustaining within a predetermined period of time.
Suitable projects involve financial literacy, vocational skills and personal development for the beneficiaries. Based on an evaluation model developed in-house, NY pre-screens the projects to evaluate whether they can actually achieve what they aim to achieve. NYF funds projects depending on the pre-screening results. Besides supporting W+S New Delhi, NY has been previously involved in India with Snehalaya, a non-government organisation which works to bring about lasting change for marginalised communities through emergency rescue and rehabilitative care.
Namita Taneja Krul, Founder of New Yard Sticks and New Yard Sticks Foundation, is a Dutch national of Indian origin, born in Australia, and brought up in several developing countries. She has an MBA from Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Her day job is at the BNG Bank in The Hague, while she directs her free time to achieving the philanthropic and business objectives of NYF and NY. Namita was awarded a ‘World of Difference’ Global Award by The International Alliance for Women in 2013.
You get Namita Taneja Krul, RSM graduate (MSc Busi- ness Administration 2010) and nominee for the 2014 RSM Distinguished Alumni Award.
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The founder of New Yardsticks, an organization aiming at transforming the way the charitable projects are looked at, Krul believes in the amalgamation of business with charity. Non-profit organizations, she says, while motivated towards the welfare of a community, also want to see reasonable gain as a result of their effort.
Understanding the needs of the beneficiaries will help achieve those efforts in a streamlined manner. “I happened to visit an orphanage which had 200 children,” she recalls. After a close dialogue with the management team of the orphanage, Krul realized that while food, shelter and education are of primary importance, in organizations such as these it is important to look deeper and find solutions to how things work. “There is a substantial necessity to make strategic choices and focus more on the interdependency of value creation, product development and distribution channels to evolve a network and management which supports everything under its shelter.”
As a role model her team worked with the women in a shelter and trained them to make toys. This eventually led to them sewing products with industrial machines. So, a pilot project that was given its due analysis made its advent towards a massively scaled venture.
“While charity-based, the business model made the women look beyond their realm and plan their own future. This brings a smile to my face,” she says. Her aim is to plan ahead and yet ensure that no one is exploited. “Ultimately, there is no margin for risks or errors when it concerns marginalized people. When you donate funds, you definitely want to improve the livelihood and help them do better.”
She was nominated in the Entrepreneurship category by UnitedSucces. UnitedSucces is a world-wide network platform for business women with the purpose to Connect – Unite – Grow (www.unitedsucces.com).
Personal note: Namita was honoured by her nomination and she now feels privileged to join the ranks of remarkable women with a footprint in empowering women.
20th August 2013
the statement, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Her organization, WORK+SHELTER creates safe spaces across India where women in need can come to live and work.
W+S encourages self-reliance amongst its female stakeholders while promoting hands-on training and capacity building. At W+S women are taught to use the skills they have or develop new ones, and contribute to the success of the organization by effectively filling their role within the larger production process. Apparel and accessories produced by the women are then sold to overseas markets.
Why Women? Why India? According to the World Bank, India is home to nearly 1/3 of the global poor. In some Indian states, as much as 70% of the population suffer deficits in health, education, and living standards (HDR 2011). Further, women compromise 70% of the world’s poor (ILO). WORK+SHELTER is working to change that. WORK+SHELTER focuses on women’s empowerment and poverty alleviation.
Fundamentally, the organization provides women in India with fair-trade work and, should they need it, a safe place to live with their dependents. Each shelter has a physical location where activities are centralized. At our pilot, W+S New Delhi, women are entered into our paid training program where we teach them the skills to create high-quality products for the export market. The only entry prerequisite work shelter has is demonstrated economic need. When the woman completes training and begins to produce for the export market, Work Shelter increases her pay. The women are paid whether or not the products sells.
Beyond work and shelter, Work Shelter regularly confers with the women to ensure their other key needs are met. For example, at W+S New Delhi leaders are currently assisting one stakeholder to find medical support for her kidney problems. work Shelter also actively supports the women to ensure children in their family are in school. They are aware of each woman’s unique challenges and actively work with them to overcome them together.
mutual friend from Delhi, Theresa (who lives in Brooklyn, NY) and Namita (who lives with her husband and three children in Amsterdam) decided to join forces on their overlapping passions and lay the groundwork for W+S. In November of 2011, Theresa quit her fulltime job in New York and hopped a flight to New Delhi. With money from a Kickstarter campaign in her pocket and the plans that she, Namita and their third co-founder Jorel had laid out the year before, Theresa was finally on her way to India to launch W+S.
Shortly after she arrived, she rented a commercial space and met Seema, the neighbor woman across the street. Seema of course brought chai like any good neighbor would do, and exchanged small talk (in Hindhi!). After a couple days of this, Theresa watched as Seema picked up a set of needles and yarn, and started knitting. She realized this was an opportunity to realize what she had come to India to accomplish. Seema came on board and quickly helped recruit other women in the community who needed work to provide for their families and taught them to knit.
What started as one woman walking through the door that fateful November day has turned into six fulltime women that W+S has trained and still employs for an above-market wage, as well as provides basic education and medical services.
Theresa gives us a little more insight on her journey below:
Why does WORK+SHELTER work with women artisans in India?
I first went to India on a grant from my college (the University of Michigan) in 2007 to travel and study women’s empowerment issues. I ended up working for a large Indian-based NGO working with artisans and saw that there were still large barriers for getting products to market. I thought design and managing the production process to meet international standards would help ensure success for the artisans wanting to sell abroad. Also on that first trip, I met my husband, who is Indian, and although we now live in Brooklyn, we go back regularly.
What is the process of accepting women into W+S?
Our mission is to provide the women in this tiny community of Delhi a safe place to live and work. The first thing that we look at is the economic conditions of the woman’s living situation. If she needs a job because she lacks basic things like food and shelter to sustain her family, that is enough to be accepted. If she can afford to not have a job but is still interested in participating in W+S, we look at things like location (is she likely to drop out because her commute is too far?), and social services (would the education and health services that we provide help her attain more security)? Many of the women we work with need jobs because they are the sole provider for their families. Each woman has a unique story, but the most important takeaway is that the women we employ are strong, determined, creative, and have the capacity to learn and become highly skilled artisans.
How have you seen the women refine their craft and business skills during their time working with W+S?
Our project manager in Delhi, Anjali, took them to Dastkar, a popular fair where traditional artisans from all around India come to show and sell their goods. Seema, who knits and helps train the other women for us, noticed the high level of quality and has since taken a leadership role in improving the quality of our own products.
Have you had a mentor through the process of starting W+S?
I would have to say my co-founder, Namita. Although we are learning together, she’s always there and willing to talk things through.
What is your biggest challenge right now?
My biggest challenge personally is juggling everything. When I got back from India after launching W+S, I went back to work fulltime. I realized we had a long way to go before I felt comfortable drawing a full income from it. And I’d rather focus on building a sustainable organization, meaning we need to invest in training, quality control and design so that we create excellent products and build a brand. My main goal is to ensure long-lasting jobs for the women, and all of this goes into it. Our global team pitches in, and we have an excellent project manager on the ground in Delhi who goes in every week to keep up with projects. So it’s getting there.
What’s next for W+S?
We would love to get to the point where we are generating enough revenue to really grow W+S Delhi into a solid operation that we could then replicate in other areas of the country. (We get emails on a daily basis from women all over the country wanting to come to W+S for various reasons.) To build that strong foundation at our Delhi location, we intend to expand our education and health programs for the women and their children. It’s not just about giving jobs; it’s the entire ecosystem around that job that we want to support. Eventually we see ourselves partnering with other local NGOs to focus these programs on specific demographic groups, like women who are HIV-positive and have been out-casted by their communities. Our goal is to work with the most marginalized as possible.
make it in five different color combos just to represent all the people around the world that make this organization come to life! In this feature, knitters from the Delhi-based design-led nonprofit WORK + SHELTER brought this collaboration of cowls to life, and exclusively for Rubina.
What to know:
- Handmade in New Delhi, India
- Made from 100% Peruvian Highland Wool super bulky yarn
- Dimensions when flat: 17″ x 12″*
- Comes in five colorways
Product care: Hand Wash Cold, Lay Flat to Dry, No Bleach.
*Due to handmade process, may vary slightly
These products are produced by women in New Delhi with care and precision. Each product is guaranteed of high quality and most up-to-date designs. The products are available on Let’s Expresso.
The aim of this initiative is fair wages to these women so that they are able to support their families and give better education to their children. The co-founders- Theresa Vandermeer, Namita Krul and Jorel Van Os are doing a brilliant job to support Indian art and handicraft. I am proudly associated with them and helping these women under the work+shelter initiative lead a better lifestyle. These women get regular health checkups, visits to other exhibitions, computer literacy classes and most important- motivation and self-confidence to move ahead in life.
When you buy something from Let’s Expresso under the Work+Shelter initiative, you support the artisans of India and help them live a healthy life. These women gain independence, confidence, improve their skills and make these gorgeous products.