Starting Out at a Fair Trade Cooperative

Starting Out at a Fair Trade Cooperative

The morning sun streaks across a bustling street in Mumbai.

Shakuntula has walked this path many times. After her husband's death nearly two decades ago, she was in critical need of a steady job to support their young daughter. She came to the cooperative at the suggestion of a friend, 19 years ago.

At first, despite training, she felt timid around her co-workers, uncertain of her stitching skills, and worried about her ability to contribute. That changed when the struggling center needed a member to step up and take charge. Without a clear frontrunner, the co-op looked to Shakuntula to lead. She accepted, and quickly mastered the processes of quality control and delegating work to the team.

She says, “After I became in charge, I am very confident. I know that I have control of my life.”

Her perseverance has helped make the center profitable and provide good salaries to the artisans.

Shakuntula makes a point of looking out for newcomers, remembering her own reservation and self-doubt in those early days at the cooperative. Her quality assurance expertise has allowed the co-op members to take on increasingly sophisticated projects.

Thinking about her goals for the future, Shakuntula says, “I will educate my daughter well and make sure that she is having a happy life.” She adds, “I can educate myself, too.”