The goal of Aspiration International (AI) is to work with artisan groups, individual craftspeople and their families all over India; to bring them out of poverty and enable them to become independent. The objectives of AI are:
- to promote and develop cottage industries
- to advance the economic and social welfare of artisans and craftspersons through all practical means
- to develop markets for cottage industries in overseas markets.
Aspiration is based in Delhi, India, and is a fairly small fair trading organisation in comparison to others in India. Aspiration believes in sincere work for the welfare of artisans and families (which are located in northern India including Jaipur and Saharanpur) by promoting fair wages. Some groups have even become self-sufficient, independent artisans in their own communities.
AI currently works with about 30 groups, and in general these are workshops often owned by a master craftsman who employs and teaches others. There are some co-operative groups, and notably one that is producing dhurries. They are described in their relationship to AI as “Producer Partners” and the policy for AI is to work with the same groups long-term to allow them time to develop. In the main, group leaders come to Delhi, but AI staff also visit maybe three times a year and know all the groups well.
The disadvantages that craftspeople (mainly men) suffer are lack of income to support a family, exploitation in the domestic market, and lack of knowledge about design and quality matters which will enable them to compete in the foreign markets. Most groups are Muslim; their situation of poverty and low levels of education have lead them into craft production which in many cases they have learnt from their parents.
In the many Muslim groups, for cultural reasons women work only from home. It is reported that one wood-producing group that is led by a Hindu, has women both checking and unpacking; in addition they have a patchwork group comprised of nearly all women. The owners of AI use their influence for change, particularly in talking to craftsmen about the need for education for girls, and aspects of business required for success such as the need for personal confidence. Further benefits have included design technology, research into ancient designs for new products, and quality control assistance. Evidence of AI's success is that not only are the pay rates of these women above the minimum wage, but some other groups have also become self-sufficient, independent artisans in their own communities.
In addition are the following financial benefits:
- many workers in the wood workshops have salaries between 3000-5000 rupees which is good pay for Saharanpur.
- workers are sometimes paid whether there is work or not; some are paid for 3 days every festival; and some have received support when they have been ill.
- some workshop owners have been able to set themselves up and employ others through 'no interest' loans from AI.
- AI will financially support the groups when problems occur.