“WE’RE ALL EQUALLY responsible for poverty”

Just next to the Communidade in the heart of Saligao market, Maria Fernandes has barricaded a portion of her balcony to make way for ‘Swadeshi Joy’, a colourful little store with all things indigenous.
Aside from the pretty handmade items, Lisa Monteiro is taken aback by the novel policy of ‘Economy of Sharing’ that the little enterprise is based on.

“WE’RE ALL EQUALLY responsible for poverty”

Abold banner announcing for ‘Swadeshi Joy’ proudly boasts that “all products are traditionally crafted, handmade, ethical and environmentally friendly.”
And right enough, Alessandra Biana L’Abate, a Khadi and Malkha activist, weaver, textile designer and Sarvodaya worker, who inspired Maria Fernandes into the venture wouldn’t settle for anything less.
An Italian who has devoted her life to supporting the traditional weavers in India, Alessandra L’Abate, felt that the time was right to set up a store in Goa where their work could be marketed. But don’t get her wrong, she isn’t looking to cash in on the tourists visiting the state or else her store would have been by the beachside.
That this Gandhian has chosen the name ‘Swadeshi Joy’ for the store, says it all. “The Swadeshi principle is all about using cotton in our own country for our own use. These artisans need to eat three meals a day. The export market allows them 20 lunches a day for one month and then abandons them for the rest of the year. Export is not sustainable for them,” she
explains.
“Let tourists understand that Goa is not just about the beaches and that’s why we have picked the Saligao market area. I’m fed up of the Saturday night markets too. Our enterprise adheres to certain social values and we would like to highlight this,” she said.

So once the clothes, bags, toys, yarns, fabrics, decorations and khadi, malkha and Ahimsa silk fly off the counter, something beautiful happens in ‘Swadeshi Joy.’ A practice that is almost unheard of in businesses in India- part of
the profi ts are divided and shared among the global EofCs.
Alessandra or ‘Chandra’, a name given to her by a freedom fi ghter in India and one that caught on instantly in her interactions with traditional weavers in Tamil Nadu, adopted this principle of Economy of Communion or Sharing from the late Chiara Lubich, the Italian Foundress of the Focolare Movement.
Lubich, a recipient of the 1966 UNESCO Peace Education Prize and the 1977 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion and Peace, expounded the idea of economy of communion or sharing after a trip she made to Brazil in 1991.
She noticed the favelas surrounding the developing city where people lived in abject poverty. Disturbed by the stark contrast she proposed a new economic model where for-profi t businesses could voluntarily share profi ts in three parts 1) for those in need 2) for educational programs that foster the culture of giving and 3) to invest back into the business.
This economic model, called the ‘economy of communion’ (EofC) or‘economy of sharing’ has not simply remained an idea but is being implemented in various production and service on every continent.
There are currently more than 754 companies worldwide that are committed to pursuing higher goals than just profi t through the economy of communion/sharing.
“I learnt that poverty is not a problem to be left up to the Government.
We’re all equally responsible for it,” says Chandra who was inspired aftervisiting many such enterprises abroad.
Although ‘Swadeshi Joy’ was only inaugurated on January 1, Chandra seeks to implement this economic model here albeit in modifi ed manner.
Maria and Chandra are going to share the profi ts weekly for the fi rst three months on a trial basis and see what transpires from this.
Hence every Rs 3,000 turnover every week, will be divided into 20% or Rs 600 will go to EofC accounts, 50% or Rs 1,500 will go as cost price and 30% or Rs 900 will go for the proprietor Maria.
The EofC accounts are funds kept aside that will be be used for the needy, etc.
“The economy of sharing is not a form of charity. It is a real revolutionary system of conducting an enterprise and can be applied everywhere, by everyone in business.
This system empowers people to have something to give. We get a chance to have that satisfaction of creating the culture of giving whereby each one has something to give to the community and see the bigger picture.”
Chandra, who has been weaving since the age of 13, empowers various groups of weavers all over India.
Once invited by a group she makes an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses and provides them with a plan to empower their strengths and change their weakness. She assists them right from planting of cotton. Her biggest challenge, she reveals is motivating the farmers to use what they produce. Then she goes on to motivating them to use vegetable dyes, educating them on their rights and benefi ts available to them.
Her aim is to support spinners, weavers and cotton farmers and create in them ‘proudness for their work and creating eco-friendly textiles,’ thereby actualising Mahatma Gandhi’s khadi philosophy. “Nonviolence doesn’t mean being silent,
but to struggle without weapons,” says the activist in her.
“We welcome people who have no other skills or who haven’t yet found their place in society. Some are mentally challenged and others are orphans. By involving themselves in the economy of sharing, they not only feel a sense of pride at being able to stand on their own two feet but also give something,” says Maria, an accountant who gave up many lucrative job offers to set up ‘Swadeshi Joy’ under the guidance of Chandra.
Every Saturday, Maria will invite an artisan for an interactive session that is open to all.

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