Jaipur Rugs' brings legitimacy to the weaving sector
Vital to his success, Chaudhary insists, has been treating weavers like family and making them stakeholders – they want the company to succeed as much as he does. Before Jaipur Rugs was incorporated in the 1990s, he spent eight years in Gujarat mobilizing 15,000 tribal artisans to take up weaving. That helped him understand the needs of weavers and their families, which then spurred on another step in the evolution of a new leadership path for his "family": the Jaipur Rugs Foundation (JRF). The JRF builds on the socially progressive work embedded in the business. Shanti's six children are now learning English and math as part of the JRF's education scheme and her husband has enrolled in a skill development program as well. JRF has also ensured artisan certification for more than 5,000 weavers who will get "artisan cards," which is a positive step in bringing legitimacy to a sector like weaving. But as Shanti insists, speaking in her broad Rajasthani Hindi dialect, the most crucial difference the company has made to weavers like her is this: "We get full payment – the money that is rightfully ours. There is transparency. That helps us." For her, the bottom line is that she has a reliable and fair source of income.
Only business will be able to solve India's social issues
The bottom line for Jaipur rugs is similarly rewarding. Having built a capacity of 6,685 looms in 576 villages, its operating profits soared by 35% between the 2013 and 2016 fiscal years. That was an impressive $2.65 million in 2016 – up from less than half a million in 2013. "Our villages have the talent and a range of capabilities," Chaudhary says. "To harness that, India must develop its own models."
Nand Kishore Chaudhary
Nand Kishore Chaudhary founded the business that would become Jaipur Rugs in 1978. His innovative approach to the carpet industry has earned him multiple accolades including the India Pride Award 2011.
So, as Jaipur Rugs expanded its reach to 576 villages, it did not invest in office space for weavers and looms. Instead, it variabilized capital expenditure by empowering branch managers to find weavers who could host looms in their houses. The house owners are compensated for hosting looms. "While this appears to be a logistical challenge and complex at first, how else will we tap into the artisans' creativity?" he says.
Besides progressive work done in recognizing artisan skill and lifting people like Shanti out of poverty, Chaudhary's maverick attitude to business growth also plays a part in helping to sustain a positive new business model that has purpose and social improvement at its core. He is almost evangelical about the purpose of business: "I feel the social issues [in India] can be resolved only through business. There is no other way for organizations or government to redress these issues. The capabilities required to solve these issues are available to a businessman. If we create jobs, then the issues of clothing and housing also get solved."
But that doesn't mean business at all costs or unbridled growth. Chaudhary says that as the business grows, there is a danger of distancing the core weaver base. "That's where the business starts dying." He maintains that keeping an eye on what matters and bringing about positive change are also aspects of the purpose of business. "Purpose is the only thing that is important because without that a business will ultimately lose its way. Purpose," he emphasizes, "is everything." And as the business becomes bigger "it becomes about keeping its soul alive," he adds with a kind of steady certainty. For Jaipur Rugs, that soul is the weaver community, and it's a soul that sings. As the weavers' fingers knot the threads at the loom, they raise their voices in song. And in the heat and dust, Shanti keeps an eagle eye on quality, overseeing the weaving of a carpet that could change all their fortunes.