A palliative care unit. A poultry farming project. A provision for clean bottled water. A drive to make Kerala garbage-free. And a brand new e-commerce portal, launched on 21 February but still adding stock. Kerala’s poverty eradication programme, Kudumbashree, which works to financially and socially empower over 4.3 million women, has been rather busy this past month. Most notably, with its attempt to get into e-commerce with the website kudumbashreebazaar.com.

It is perhaps likely you might not have heard of Kudumbashree. It is no Amul. But it is no less.

Kudumbashree started 20 years ago with the aim of mobilising women and making them financially independent. One part of their programme works with small units of around five women each—Micro-enterprise (ME) units. These women produce handmade, homemade products, which they then sell door-to-door, in bazaars and at exhibitions. These ME units will be the backbone of the new e-commerce platform.

The website's homepage

Of a total of 15,000 such MEs in Kerala working with Kudumbashree, only 100 of them will sell on kudumbashreebazaar. Yet. This is because “we have only taken the best product from different districts because this is a new step and we should be very careful,” says Ajith Chacko, the marketing head of Kudumbashree. “We’re planning it phase-wise. Every year, we’ll add more and more products,” he explains. Which means more districts, and perhaps more income for more women entrepreneurs. And what products are these? Clothes; decorative items made of natural ingredients; food items like jams, chips, pickles, baked foods and beverages; personal care items like soaps and oils; jewellery; medicines and biodegradable sanitary products. And some more.

But why go online at all? All these ME units already have a steady source of income, through a market that’s familiar, and not alien like e-commerce.

S. Harikishore (IAS), Kudumbashree’s executive director, says there’s a market that wants their products. One they currently cannot reach—Malayali expats. “There are a lot of Malayali people abroad and they have a liking for these products because they cannot get it easily,” he says. “Moreover, this is the online world and people are also purchasing more. There is a trend of online marketing in India.”

There is. But nobody’s quite figured it out. Or, at least, how to make money. Harikishore though is positive they’ll make it to their long-term goal: “To empower the entrepreneurs to upload product themselves with their own login and give stock details real-time so that they will be able to creatively use the web platform.” The organisation hopes it’ll solidify the economic status of the women working with them, and in turn, aid their future generations.

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Durga M Sengupta

Durga edits stories from the Bengaluru office. While she's part of the desk team, she also commissions stories and art at The Ken. Originally from Delhi, she's worked at publications like HT and Catch News. If you are looking to contribute, reach out.

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