The best innovation on the talent front is to hire people from multi-disciplinary backgrounds and have small teams
I was introduced to the world of craft through a brief internship with UNESCO on its project with the Crafts Council. Interactions with artisans made me realize that at no time during our education were we introduced to the beauty and rich heritage of India. I met many artisans willing to sell their work not for its value, but at a price which would fetch them basic subsistence. When the son of a lac bangle maker said he never wanted to do what his father did — that was my inspiration. I resolved that one day this son would be running a lac bangle enterprise, earning much more than what his father did and his son would never dishonor his profession.
I also met some very hardworking women who had learned the local language, even though they were not Indian. They lived away from their families while working to train artisans at making better designs. It was that moment, when I felt, “Why aren’t we recognizing these crafts?” which led to where we are today! Midway through my work, I also came to know about Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay — a pioneer in her own way. If it wasn’t for her vision, we would never have had an NSD, or the Performing Arts Museums or even a Crafts Council! Her vision created a legacy of recognizing culture. She is my inspiration. By continuing her work, I too aspire to leave a legacy of culture and innovations in art, for future generations.
Happy Hands, I have to tell you, wasn’t a planned thought. As soon as the idea occurred to me, I resolved to work on it immediately after graduating. While I mobilized artisans to become our partners, friends helped us get registered and find volunteers. After we formed Happy Hands we approached PepsiCo’s Frito Lays division which was launching a line of food products with Indian flavors. Together we created an ‘alternative’ street within a mall with crafts, folk performances and workshops. The response was encouraging and ever since we’ve moved ahead with increased support from the public. This was when we sat down to brainstorm on projects and activities we would do at rural and urban spaces.
We depended entirely on founding members at the beginning. We later hired people from our social circle who were interest in what we were doing. Our talent model has mostly been part-time employees. We’ve also outsourced work to other entrepreneurs. In a way, the recession actually helped us because there were a lot of volunteers who were taking a break from work. In fact, one of our Board members today was still looking for a job back then. He brought his unique strengths when he joined us.
Each member of the core team or advisory board is a specialist in his area. The abilities of the people we associated with eventually created our reputation for quality work. We’ve had a lot of people who initially came to volunteer, then decided to do it regularly and finally became part of the core team. We keep evaluating our performance in the past and examined wherever we have gone wrong. I would prefer to call those aspects we could have done in a better way ‘learning experiences’ rather than ‘mistakes’.
We’ve hired some wrong people in the past and have seen resources going to waste on people who did not deliver. We have learnt from that. Our working model has undergone a change. From a marketing-based model, we now conduct enterprise sessions for the artisan cluster so that they can learn and manage on their own. I believe it’s better to impact 50 people so that they are able to inspire and motivate others in their community, rather than impacting 200 people who do not even remember your intervention after a year’s time.
The best way to gather talent is to hire people from multi-disciplinary backgrounds and have really small teams of people who complement each other’s skills. You get better delivery that way. It helps if you let the team know what they are responsible for and what results you are looking at. It also helps a lot if the execution team participates while planning interventions. This motivates them to achieve the planned results. Our journey has been one of learning and of constant excitement at discovering new people and cultures, engaging with them and producing quality work!
(As told to People Matters)