Neelam Chhiber

Industree/Mother Earth
Year founded: 

Industree creates rural creative industry value chains through the formation of producer companies and linking them to access to India’s booming retail sector and global markets.

Focus: Rural Development, Enterprise Development, Culture, Handicrafts
Geographic Area of Impact: India
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Annual Budget: US$ 5 million (Mother Earth); US$ 500,000 (Industree Foundation)
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 12,000 (2012)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 100% (Mother Earth); 35% (Industree Foundation)
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, India, 2011

India has a 5,000-year legacy, and about 40 million people working in its creative manufacturing sector. However, most of these people live in poverty due to a lack of working capital, market access and design and/or production knowledge, and still seek the mechanisms to transform artisanship into sustainable development and livelihood. With India’s mass urban migration, bulging cities, environmental degradation and continuing poverty, Industree aims to change how the Indian creative sector operates, freeing people from poverty while celebrating the art, legacy and culture.

Innovation and Activities
Industree builds an eco-system for India's underserved and fragmented artisanal base, enabling equitable market access, design, updated technical training and working capital.

The multi-retail Mother Earth brand was created in 2008 through investment from Future Ventures of the Future Group, one of India’s largest retailers, and now operates eight stores across India. In 2011-12, Mother Earth received additional funding from the Grassroots Business Fund and from Lok Capital. The brand also has shop-in-shop presence in leading large chains, as well as wholesale and export markets. Mother Earth has been selected as a partner in Ikea’s Next Generation project, wherein its inclusive production base will join Ikea’s global supply chain. By scaling up, Mother Earth has helped offer producers a direct market platform to the Indian retail and global markets, ensuring steady business, consistent volume and smooth yearly cash flow.

Industree Foundation works with the Indian Ministry of Textiles, dovetailing trained artisans into market linkages. Industree incubates community enterprises and common production entities that are jointly owned by artisans and local entrepreneurs, typically unemployed or underemployed men and women. Industree leverages the Self-Help Group (SHG) model, wherein production is 100% owned by a group of producers’ companies.

For every 100 Indian rupees of revenue for Industree, producer incomes increase by 58 Indian rupees. As a result, community enterprises incubated by Industree and owned by artisanal communities often break even during their first year of operation. These artisan groups invest their working capital into the enterprises to increase sense of ownership in the operations. In fact, 13% of the shares in Mother Earth are reserved in a mutual benefit trust for producers to purchase at par. Moreover, community enterprises are encouraged to seek retail platforms in addition to Mother Earth, to gain more self-sustainability and independence in the long term.

So far Industree has incubated 24 community SHGs and registered two producer companies in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Industree also sources products from 600 crafts-based collectives and SHGs in 10 Indian states, further expanding the Mother Earth brand and market platform. Industree impacts 12,000 artisans currently, with US$ 5 million of sales (2012). In five years, Neelam Chhiber and her team aim to directly impact more than 50,000 individual artisans by incubating their enterprises and facilitating product diversification, introducing new brands and markets.

The Entrepreneur
Neelam Chhiber, co-founder of Mother Earth/Industree, is an industrial designer from the National Institute of Design, India. She is an alumnus of Social Impact International, the Global Social Benefit Incubator, Santa Clara University, USA, and the Harvard Executive Programme.