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THE EVOLVING ENGAGEMENT OF FABINDIA WITH INDIAN HANDLOOM ARTISANS1
J RAMACHANDRAN2 Corporate Strategy & Policy Area D-103 Office Blocks Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore Bannerghatta Road Bangalore INDIA PIN: 560076 Tel: (91) (80) 2699 3080 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ANIRVAN PANT Corporate Strategy & Policy Area Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore Bannerghatta Road Bangalore INDIA PIN: 560076 Tel: (91) 98860 91224 e-mail: email@example.com SAROJ KUMAR PANI Corporate Strategy & Policy Area Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore Bannerghatta Road Bangalore INDIA PIN: 560076 Tel: (91) 98860 91224 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Forthcoming in the Journal of Product Innovation Management special issue on “Creating
New Products and Services for and with the Base of the Pyramid”
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Shubha Patvardhan in the development of this paper. Her involvement was critical to the emergence of the arguments presented in this paper. The authors are also thankful to the Guest Editor, Professor Cheryl Nakata, and two anonymous reviewers for their constant encouragement and insightful comments throughout the review process. This research was partially funded by the British Council office in India. We are also grateful for the assistance provided by Mr. Hasit Shukla and his team at Reliance ADA Group. 2 Corresponding author
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1659794
Abstract Recent research on the Base of the Pyramid (‘BoP’) has called on firms to initiate market-driven interventions directed at the BoP population with the objective of identifying and pursuing mutually profitable means of attaining meaningful poverty alleviation outcomes. In response, firms as well as scholars have engaged at length with the creation of new products and services for the BoP consumer but paid far less attention to the BoP producer – a member of the BoP population who creates value by producing goods and services for sale in non-local markets. Additionally, extant studies have largely focused on snapshot views of BoP interventions by firms, thereby limiting our understanding of the emergence of meaningful poverty-alleviating outcomes over time from these interventions. This paper seeks to redirect attention towards the dynamic of the long-term engagement between the firm and the BoP producer. Using rich case data from Fabindia – an Indian handloom retailer – this paper examines how the engagement between Fabindia and communities of handloom artisans in India has persisted over a period of five decades. We found that, even as it encountered changes in the external environment and pursued newer organizational goals, Fabindia repeatedly renewed its engagement with handloom artisans and facilitated progression in poverty alleviation outcomes. Building on the insights from the case study, this paper presents a process model that highlights the role of innovative management practices in sustaining engagements between firms and BoP producers over time. Additionally, this paper proposes the concept of the ‘bridging enterprise’– a business enterprise that originates at the intersection of specific BoP communities and the corresponding non-local markets – as an interpreter and innovator reconciling the interests of stakeholders across the pyramid.
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1659794
Introduction Over the last several years, observers have drawn the attention of firms around the world to the need for innovative, contextualized, and sustainable strategies of engaging profitably with the poor (London and Hart, 2004; Prahalad, 2005; Simanis and Hart, 2008; Viswanathan, Seth, Gau and Chaturvedi, 2009). Discussions on this issue have centered on the needs, the constraints and the unique resources of the ‘base of the pyramid’ (BoP): a term that refers to the approximately four billion people of the world with a per capita income of less than $2 per day (Prahalad and Hammond, 2002; Prahalad and Hart, 2002), the majority of whom live outside the confines of the formal economy (London, 2008). Our agenda, in this paper, was to study two inter-related aspects of meaningful economic engagement between firms and BoP communities that have, hitherto, received limited attention. First, we focused on the BoP producer – a member of the BoP population who creates value by producing goods and services for sale in non-local markets – rather than, as is common, the BoP consumer (London, Anupindi and Sheth, 2010). Second, we examined the persistence of the engagement between a firm and BoP producers over a long period of time rather than the incidence of a one-time intervention in the BoP by the said firm. Our emphasis is on the dynamic of the long-term engagement between a firm and BoP producers. In adopting this focus, we seek to address two significant gaps in the extant literature that has been preoccupied with snapshots of one-time interventions by firms engaging primarily with BoP consumers. An exclusive focus on specific one-time interventions in the BoP promotes a static view of BoP engagements. This precludes us from attending to the impact, on the engagement, of changes in the external environment or in the goals and objectives of the parties to the engagement. A shift in the research focus towards the study of the long-term engagement and the dynamic relationship between the firm and the BoP community may help us better understand the sustainability, or rather, persistence of BoP interventions over time. Accordingly, in this paper, our emphasis is not on any
specific one-time intervention in the BoP but on the dynamic of the long-term engagement between a firm and BoP producers. A long-term engagement between a firm and a BoP community (of producers) is meaningful for the community only if it leads to significant poverty-alleviating outcomes. It would be pertinent to recall Daviron and Ponte’s (2005) ‘coffee paradox.’ They pose the question: At a time when coffee has emerged as a fashionable drink among developed country consumers willing to pay premium prices for a cup of coffee at their favorite coffee chain, why do we witness a dramatic decline in the international coffee prices received by developing country producers? The coffee paradox compels us to recognize that linkages to prosperous non-local markets need not, by themselves, serve to create poverty-alleviating outcomes for producers of goods and services living in low-income contexts. A review of the BoP literature helped us identify three distinct povertyalleviating outcomes that may emerge for BoP producers as they engage with firms to overcome their constraints. These outcomes, which we term as substantive outcomes, are access to market, access to organization, and access to ecosystem. To understand what sustains mutually profitable engagements between firms and BoP producers over a long duration, and how substantive outcomes are enabled through such ongoing engagements, we studied the case of Fabindia Overseas Private Limited (‘Fabindia’), an Indian retailer of handloom and handicraft products. Fabindia has engaged with communities of BoP producers across the country for a period of nearly fifty years and, therefore, provided us a valuable research site to examine the evolution of a long-term relationship between a firm and BoP producers. Our study offers several insights into the persistence of an engagement between firms and BoP producers, the emergence of substantive outcomes for BoP producers, and the role of innovative management practices in renewing the engagement. As Fabindia adapted to changing business circumstances and changing organizational goals, it provided enhanced substantive outcomes for the BoP communities it engaged with and, interestingly, reconceptualized the role played by the BoP 4
In the subsequent section.producers. In the next section. Consumer-oriented BoP interventions are 5 . 2008. we present a chronological narrative of the evolution of the engagement between Fabindia and handloom artisans and identify the emergence of substantive outcomes for the artisans over the course of the engagement. Following that. we discuss the context of the research and provide an overview of our data collection and analysis procedures. Congruence between ideological centrality and economic symbiosis. we present the concept of the bridging enterprise as an organizational form founded on a business model that makes mediation between the BoP context and the corresponding non-local market critical to its inception and its continued existence. our study highlights that the label ‘BoP producer’ itself encompasses varying conceptualizations of BoP producers held by the firm depending upon their level of entrepreneurial expectations from the producer. Finally. induces the firm to repeatedly renew the existing engagement with BoP producers through the identification and deployment of innovative management practices. we find. Next. we conclude with some thoughts about possible directions for future research. Rangan et al. Conceptual Foundations A review of the BoP literature suggests that firms look at BoP communities in terms of two broadly defined roles – consumers or producers (London. initiatives by firms directed at engaging the BoP can be classified into consumer-oriented BoP interventions and producer-oriented BoP interventions. This paper is divided into six parts. 2007). Indeed. This study also suggests that the long-term persistence of the engagement between the firm and BoP producers depends upon the congruence between the ideological centrality of the BoP engagement to the firm and the level of economic symbiosis between the firm and the BoP producers. building on our case findings. Accordingly. we draw upon the extant literature to provide the conceptual foundations for our subsequent arguments. Finally. we present a process model that highlights the role of innovative management practices in renewing the engagement between the firm and BoP producers over time.
the saving and credit scheme initiated by the Mexico’s Cemex. 6 . 2007). than producer-oriented BoP interventions. have the objective of collaborating with BoP communities to create new goods or services or to help existing BoP producers overcome their production and marketing challenges in non-local markets (London.those that aim to sell products and services to low-income sections of the population specified as BoP communities. ultimately. thereby. 2007. at Moga (India). The Nestle Milk District. Indeed. Consumer-oriented BoP interventions have received far greater attention. Viswanathan and Rosa. cited earlier. For example. 2008). The scheme allowed the urban poor to add one room to a house at a time and. consider ‘Patrimonio Hoy’. enhance productivity and. enabled them to optimally use their low and irregular income for securing proper housing (Letelier. BoP contexts have been recognized as hotbeds of entrepreneurship that are propelled by the compulsion of BoP communities to find creative ways of supplementing their incomes (Banerjee and Duflo. working under the guidance of Nestle personnel. secure a better standard of living (Porter and Kramer. 2006). Nestle has entered into a partnership with local BoP communities to develop a steady supply of milk – a critical input for Nestle’s operations. 2003). is an example of such an intervention. consumption-based understanding of local needs and aspirations” (Simanis and Hart. Recently. Flores and Spinosa. we have witnessed growing criticism of the “narrow. As an illustration. 2008: 2) and of the “romanticization” of the poor as “value conscious consumers” (Karnani. BoP producers were able to acquire know-how. on the other hand. from scholars and practitioners. however. Karnani (2007) argues that the best way towards market-driven poverty alleviation is through producer-oriented BoP interventions that can enhance the income-generating capabilities of the poor rather than merely accessing their untapped purchasing power. In the Nestle Milk District. In a wide-ranging critique of consumer-oriented BoP interventions. 2007). Producer-Oriented BoP Interventions Producer-oriented BoP interventions.
Traditionally. Therefore. Outcomes for BoP Producers De Soto (2000) observes that poverty denies the poor access to the institutions of capitalism (e.As greater attention is paid to producer-oriented BoP interventions. They find it difficult to freely access factor markets due to their debilitating resource constraints and lack of sizable. and access to ecosystem. formal economic systems have been viewed as comprising two interacting elements: markets and organizations (cf. Factor markets. 2010). Any BoP intervention that reduces the effective distance 7 . researchers have moved to examine specific constraints faced by BoP producers and how these challenges are being overcome by the firms that partner with them (London et al. property rights) and dents. the ability of the BoP producers to access and benefit from the formal economy. Correspondingly. Product markets are markets where finished goods and services are bought and sold.e.g. their ability to use their meager assets in a fair and effective manner. 1991). those that have significant poverty-alleviation consequences) for BoP producers into access to market. we classify substantive outcomes (i. as a third element of economic systems (Iansiti and Levien.. are bought and sold. Simon. on some dimension.e. networks of markets and organizations. are markets where factors of production. thereby. i. on the other hand.. in this paper. the resources and raw materials required for the production of goods and services. i.. Complementarily.e. BoP producers face substantial hurdles in accessing both product markets and factor markets. 2004). scholars have proposed ‘ecosystems’. any substantive outcome from a BoP intervention must enhance. recognized assets (London et al. Access to Market Economists agree that there are two kinds of markets – product markets and factor markets.. access to organization. 2010). More recently. we present a three-fold classification of the substantive (poverty-alleviating) outcomes that may emerge for BoP producers as they engage with firms in an attempt to overcome their challenges in the production of goods and services for non-local markets.
e.between BoP producers and the factor markets by creating resource channels into the BoP or by lowering their burden of credentials will help enhance their access to factor markets. therefore. represent their collective interests and voices in non-local markets and. BoP producers also face significant barriers in selling their goods and services in the product market. sensitive to the peculiarities of the context in which BoP communities produce goods and services and the constraints they face in production (cf. They may not be. on the other. 2004). capability development requires the establishment of value-adding relationships between firms and BoP producers where the relationship is characterised not by purely market transactions but by a degree of internalization of the interests of BoP producers into the firm organization. typically. capabilities for competing in factor and product markets In other words. In order to capture higher value for their products in the non-local markets that they access. 2007). on one hand. leverage scale to invest in capability development (cf. They are often handicapped by poor last mile infrastructure (e. BoP producers need access to organization in order to acquire and develop. Viswanathan and Rosa. In using the term ‘structural mechanisms’. transportation facilities. Firms can help BoP producers gain access to product markets by investing in procurement and transportation and by collating customer requirements and communicating these specifications to the producers. BoP producers need access to organization.. 2004). Hart and Sharma. 2007. 2009). access to structural mechanisms that can. access to points of sale.) and a lack of awareness of trends in customer requirements and specifications (Hart. 8 . constituted according to the needs and preferences of top-of-the-pyramid consumers (London and Hart. 2010). we refer to the adaptation of the firm’s organizational structure and processes in order to meet the representational and collective needs of BoP producers (cf. etc. Access to Organization Markets in the formal economy are. on an ongoing basis. i.g. London et al.. Olsen and Boxenbaum.
1996). neither. providing a common vision to the ecosystem’s members and possessing “a stable and predictable set of common assets” (Iansiti and Levien. London and Hart. ecosystems are resilient in the face of the failure of individual members or the derailment of particular relationships (Iansiti and Levien. 2004: 73). better collective representation and a higher potential for knowledge spillovers. The notion of the ecosystem is very useful in the study of BoP innovations and represents a more complex substantive outcome than either access to market or access to organization for two reasons. First. Seelos and Mair. 2004). 9 . 2007. in the literature.Access to Ecosystem Ecosystems possess characteristics of markets as well as organizations and are. These ‘assets’ often refer to specialized knowledge of or unique access to the innovation (or set of innovations) that provides a junction for the various interests of the different members of the said ecosystem. Technological innovation may be defined as “an iterative process initiated by the perception of a new market and/or new service opportunity for a technologybased invention” (Garcia and Calantone. Innovative Management Practices Over the last few years. collaborators. 2002. 2004). Central to the notion of the ecosystem is the idea of a keystone organization or a leader-firm. 2007). 2002. yet. access to ecosystem can enhance the quality of access to market and to organization because it can enable access to a broader set of markets. resource-providers and resource-seekers (Arnould and Mohr. Discussions. 2002). buyers and suppliers. on BoP innovations have related primarily to innovations in product and process technologies (Anderson and Markides. 2005. They are networks of complex interdependencies and mutual responsiveness between competitors. scholars have called upon firms to initiate unconventional innovation trajectories oriented towards serving newer opportunities in the BoP (Hart and Christensen. Moore. 2004. Second. such as Microsoft or eBay. Iansiti and Levien. Hart and Christensen.
As an example of management innovation. processes. 2008). Olsen and Boxenbaum. we use the term ‘innovative management practices’ to refer to a management innovation where the practice is new to the organization (but not necessarily to the state of the art) and emerges from the specific context of the management challenge faced by the organization. 2007. Furthermore. management practices or functional routines that facilitate the initiation and renewal of a relationship between firms and BoP constituents (Milstein. 2009). The origins of management innovation lie in an initiative aimed at furthering organizational goals and leading to “a difference in the form. consider the spaghetti organization of Oticon Inc... (2008) emphasize that management innovation would. not on product and process technologies aimed at creating new markets for products and services. quality. Hamel and Mol. Hart and London. typically correspond to management practices that are not only new to the organization. (2008: 826). but on the organizational structures. We build on this latter perspective on BoP innovation by orienting our study towards management innovation . where the change is a novel or unprecedented departure from the past” Birkinshaw et al.“a relatively under-researched form of innovation” (Birkinshaw. 10 .However. 2008: 825). which was aimed at increasing employee entrepreneurial behavior and bypassing the negative influences of hierarchy (Birkinshaw et al. and organizational structures (at an operational level) (Birkinshaw et al. The units of management innovation are management ideas (at an abstract level) and practices. 2008). The term relates not to new management practices adopted off the shelf by organizations but to those that emanate from within the focal organization as a consequence of its high level of adaptation to the specific context of the management challenge. but also new to the ‘state of the art’ in management models. or state over time of the management activities in an organization. techniques. In this paper. Birkinshaw et al. a few scholars have also drawn attention to innovations that focus.
contextual textures of the phenomenon under study (Viswanathan and Rosa. We believe this was an appropriate choice for two reasons. Indian handlooms were ‘virtually clothing the world. Each BoP intervention is deeply embedded in its own unique social. Furthermore. 1985). Handloom weavers have an ancient lineage in India. 3 billion (~ USD 59 million) (as of March 2009). Mukund (1992: 2058) observes. We were intrigued by Fabindia’s sustained growth in a stagnant traditional industry as well as its apparent success in making traditional handloom garments fashionable in urban India. 2005). 2007). In the early years of the eighteenth century.g. important that the research design be able to manage the rich. Ricart and Rodriguez. Business Week. therefore. economic and cultural context (Sanchez. 2009). coupled with Fabindia’s fifty-year-old history as a retailer of handloom products in India. Fabindia was founded in 1960 as an export house and has evolved today into a full-fledged retailer with design capabilities with an annual turnover of Rs. First.. suggested that it presented an appropriate site for an examination of the dynamic of long-lasting engagements between firms and BoP producers. a leading retailer of handicraft products in India with a strong focus on handloom fabrics and garments.Research Setting. Second. Business Today. It is. This. 2008. Research Setting Our field research was conducted at Fabindia. the BoP context itself introduces opacity. 1999). we came across several articles in the business press where Fabindia was commended for its unconventional business model of engagement with BoP producers (e. and the role of innovative management practices in renewing such engagements.’ 11 . the thrust of our inquiry was on the location and comprehension of innovative management practices that helped sustain the engagement over time. Data and Methods We use a qualitative mode of inquiry that emphasizes inductive reasoning to gain insights into the studied process (Lincoln and Guba. Case studies and inductive logic are appropriate for the study of historical processes with entangled causal forces (Lee.
However. 2003. Some of the problems handloom weavers face today can be traced to their household-based subsistence-oriented production. and bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption (Liebl and Roy. We also interviewed the head of the All India Artisan and Craft Workers Welfare Association and the head of a Supplier Region Company set up by Fabindia and the local artisans. Niranjana. Fourteen of our interviewees were Fabindia managers and directors. including the Managing Director (CEO) (interviewed twice). but with indifferent success. poor educational levels. absence of skill development. 12 . embroiderers. Separately. Marx (1977 : 558) wrote: “The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. 2001). 2007). Practitioners of traditional handloom techniques continue to subsist in conditions of deep poverty (Business Today. the colonization of India and the rising imports of machine-made fabrics into India from the nineteenth century onwards led to the collapse of local handloom ecosystems consisting of yarn makers. dyers. Fabindia presently coordinates a network of over 35000 independent artisans who contribute to a portfolio of nearly 57000 stock keeping units that it retails through its growing network of 107 retail stores across India and two stores abroad. lack of access to market information. For selecting interviewees inside Fabindia. we interviewed four master-weavers based in Amroha. Data Sources Our primary sources of data were semi-structured interviews. This drove the majority of weavers into alternate occupations or into starvation. the Government of India attempted to revive this traditional Indian industry through a variety of policy measures. In an evocative passage in Das Kapital on the plight of the Indian weavers. master-artisans and their patrons. We interviewed twenty informants in all. The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India.” Following independence. described as ‘doomed to decline’ (Niranjana. competition from powerlooms (small weaving factories that generally utilize mechanized or semi-mechanized means of production). weavers. 2001). we employed snowball sampling. a town in north India. poor demand for their products. In such a sector.
These were: 1. During 2008. the challenges faced and how. These interviews were then transcribed into English. In 2009. we asked our initial set of interviewees to suggest others who. the business model developed by Fabindia for the said purpose. in their opinion. Our supplementary data came from a variety of archival sources. a common dialect of Hindi in which the interviewing author and his associate were fluent. status reports from the Government of India and from non-governmental organizations on the Indian handloom sector.. if at all. were recorded with the consent of the interviewees. Contact summary sheets were prepared. we secured access to Fabindia and conducted interviews during 2007-08. All interviews were conducted by one of the authors along with an associate. All other interviews were conducted in English. 2. might help address our research concerns. This gave us a sense of the history and operations of Fabindia. we collected supplementary data on Fabindia from public sources (as mentioned above). Further.i. those challenges were overcome. we collected additional secondary data from public sources as well as from inside Fabindia. for all interviews in order to capture key ideas discussed during the interviews as well as immediate impressions. 3. Data Collection and Analysis Between 2006 and 2007. Interviews with the master-weavers were conducted at their homes in Hindustani. all interviews were between one and a half to two hours in length. we 13 . The interviews focused on the nature and objectives of the Fabindia’s involvement with artisans. as suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994). internal documents from Fabindia (as were made available to us). Subsequently. all newspaper and magazine articles on Fabindia retrievable from India Business Insight Database.e. two had been associated with Fabindia for over 20 years and two for less than 5 years. and were subsequently transcribed. Interviews with the master-weavers were directed towards gauging their own interpretation of their ongoing relationship with Fabindia. Of the four master-weavers.
rather than to explore. we refined our understanding of the case. our supplementary data helped us triangulate informant claims (cf. In the case narrative below. As the “narrative embodies sequence and time. Our primary intent was to verify. Overall. This helped provide a cohesive narrative of events by explicating links between events. Jick. innovative management practices. 1995). Throughout this process. and converged on the process model reported later in this paper. and the respective substantive outcome (market/organization/ecosystem). As we analyzed the data and drew inferences. we sought to rearrange the data in order to understand the underlying processes that explained shifts in the engagement between the BoP producers and Fabindia over time. Data reduction was initially conducted with reference to the classification of substantive outcomes discussed earlier. we sought to verify the emerging dynamics and probe unanticipated themes latent in the data collected in the first round. First. following the first phase of interviews. This is in conformity with Miles and Huberman’s (1994) ‘basic analytic cycle’ of moving from inductive to deductive as interpretations firm up. Third.conducted a second set of interviews with Fabindia executives as well as with artisans associated with Fabindia. 1979) and flesh out the narrative. at this stage. having developed a thick chronological account. during the second phase of interviews. 1999: 717). We carried out detailed data analysis. in three steps using guidelines provided by Miles and Huberman (1994). 1985) and meet the criteria for validation of naturalistic generalization (Stake. we sought to ensure that data were ‘triangulated’ and ‘member checks’ were secured. Second. we have tried to infuse ‘thick descriptions’ of the data by using appropriately contextualized quotes from the interviews. we sought data reduction by condensing the data and arranging it into a chronological account. Over several iterations between the data and the emergent process model. it is naturally suited to the development of process theories and explanations” (Pentland. 14 . tightened the linkages between events and substantive outcomes. we sought to enhance the trustworthiness of the inferences (Lincoln and Guba.
who came to India on the invitation of the All India Handicrafts Board to examine market opportunities for traditional handicraft artisans in India. Bissell stayed back and set up Fabindia in New Delhi. The store stocked items from Fabindia’s export catalogue but was intended primarily as an exhibition hall for handloom and other handicraft products. our aims are constant development of new hand-woven products. and the maintenance of quality on which our reputation rests. The solution. -----. and helpful relationship with our producers.Case Analysis In this section. Fabindia opened a retail store in an up-market neighbourhood in New Delhi. a fair. equitable.Table 1 about here -----Enabling Access to Market (1960 – 1992) Fabindia was founded in 1960 by John Bissell. John Bissell was reportedly amazed at the paradoxical simultaneity of the rich variety of handloom fabrics and craftsmanship styles in India and the deep poverty of the handloom artisans. the retail store proved 15 . as Bissell saw it. Fabindia’s objectives were inscribed into its credo. a buyer at the American departmental store Macy’s. allows for ease of presentation and corresponds to a close approximation of the complex nature of the evolving engagement between Fabindia and the handloom artisans. Then. After his contract ended. This narrative is organized along the successive emergence of each of the three substantive outcomes discussed in a previous section (see Table 1 for illustrations). which Bissell wrote at that time: “In addition to making profits. To the surprise of the Fabindia staff who had not expected any significant domestic demand.” Fabindia began by sourcing handloom home furnishings from local artisans and then selling them to several overseas retailers. in 1976. we present a chronological narrative of the evolution of Fabindia’s engagement with handloom artisans. lay in leveraging the traditional skills of artisan communities while helping them secure a better standard of living. The organization of data with reference to the relative salience of different substantive outcomes in a particular period of time.
to be rather successful and sales grew steadily year after year. and designs. a very high likelihood given the craft mode of handloom production. In spite of these successes. it initiated an engagement with small groups of artisans by providing them access to (non-local) markets on a sustained basis.e. An innovative management practice initiated in Fabindia’s experimental retail store during this period related to the format in which garments were sold. As this initiative proved hugely successful in the retail store in New Delhi.. from 1960 to 1992. Second. it emerged that Fabindia’s practice of selling them individually had three advantages. started selling them individually which allowed its customers to mix and match the trouser and the shirt across a wide range of prints. who had acquired a fondness for wearing kurtas (loose traditional Indian shirt). Traditional Indian attire of salwarkameez and pyjama-kurta (trouser and shirt for women and men respectively) are typically sold in pre-matched sets. The Fabindia staff noted that customers at the retail store in those days were. it eased the pressure on the customer’s wallet as the customer did not need to buy a pair of garments. Third. to focus on the stable export market. i. instead. artists. however. decided to introduce a line of men’s handloom kurtas at the firm’s sole retail store. a standard practice among garment retailers. Fabindia’s experimental retail initiatives also helped expand access to market for 16 . it reduced the number of items rejected on quality criteria as the company did not need to reject a pair (of upper and lower garments) when only one of them contained a flaw. John Bissell. This was an important factor given the profile of Fabindia’s customers at that time. Fabindia did not open any new retail stores between 1976 and 1994 and chose. Over time. and journalists who strongly identified with the Gandhian ideology of self-reliance through khadi (coarse home spun cloth). Fabindia. During this first phase in Fabindia’s evolution. thrifty intellectuals. colours. John Bissell was convinced that it was necessary to intervene in the lives of the handloom artisans and provide them opportunities for regular employment while utilizing their traditional skills. typically. First. it helped Fabindia avoid the problem of having to mark-down prices. the firm started a line of ready-to-wear ethnic garments for women.
Enabling Access to Organization (1992 – 2003) While this business model kept Fabindia profitable and helped provide a context-sensitive. Habitat – a UK-based interior design firm that accounted for the bulk of Fabindia’s exports – abruptly stopped buying from it. a newly prosperous consumption class emerged with a taste for the aesthetic appeal of handloom garments. For these consumers.” Over the next few years. The company opened its second store in Delhi in 1994. Overall. to explore the domestic market. It then struck me that for the last thirty years we had been selling under somebody else’s label. skill-based livelihood to artisans. though rather narrow in scope at this time and limited to procurement of handloom products and payment of fair returns. William Bissell recalled. Fabindia tried to reduce its dependence upon exports and moved. cautiously at first. John Bissell’s son. On the firm’s outlook at that time. the venture was vulnerable since Fabindia relied entirely upon demand from the overseas retailers. Following the liberalization of the economy and rapid economic growth. was crucial to the provision of access to market for a large number of BoP producers. took over the management of the company. It followed it up with three more stores in other Indian cities between 1994 and 1998. “Those years were tough. Fabindia suddenly found itself unable to maintain its ongoing commitment to the artisans.handloom artisans in India. William Bissell. Following its acquisition in 1992 by a Swedish group. He realized that Fabindia’s objective of profitable partnership with artisan communities was unsustainable unless Fabindia secured its own direct channels to the market. A crisis in 1992 exposed its vulnerability on this count. The retail store in New Delhi not only provided a small window for Fabindia’s artisans into the urban domestic market in India but also acted as a laboratory where Fabindia’s innovative mix-and-match retail format was first tested. The rug had been pulled from under our feet. Fabindia’s retail expansion coincided with significant shifts in urban consumption patterns in India. Fabindia 17 . Fabindia’s engagement with handloom artisans. Around this time.
Handloom by definition means glorious uncertainty when it comes to uniformity. we came across a poster that said: “Let’s not think of an irregular weave or print as a defect. to produce large quantities of a particular design or product without variations in quality or colour. This forced Fabindia to confront one of the fundamentals paradoxes of handloom production. unlike the earlier set of customers who were satisfied with the ideological value of wearing handloom products. This policy continues till today. For example. Fabindia sought to educate the customers.” On the production side. Likewise. Posters in retail stores informed customers that subtle variations in colour. Fabindia initiated a policy of providing cash advances to their handloom producers in order to help them tide over their inability to obtain working capital and 18 .was one of the few retailers of authentic handlooms. if not impossible. lack of consistency of quality and colour is intrinsic to the craft mode of handloom production which made it difficult. On the retail side. To a substantial extent. cases of colour fastness were traced to lack of adequate washing of fabric in the dyeing phase in the case of artisans from drought-prone areas of Rajasthan in Western India. However. Realising that washing facilities in that region were exorbitantly priced due to scarcity of water. Fabindia undertook a two-pronged approach to address this problem. Fabindia’s new class of customers demanded consistency of quality and colour in handloom garments. By frequently reviewing the design offerings and ensuring authenticity. For example. and indeed shaped the attractiveness and uniqueness of handloom products. and finish were unavoidable. some were traceable to the poor infrastructural support available to handloom artisans. Fabindia grew beyond a handful of loyal customers whose purchases were grounded in Gandhian ideology to a wider group of regular customers spanning age groups and income levels. when we visited a store in Bangalore in 2008. Fabindia directly negotiated with washing units in those locations and made them accessible to the artisans. texture. Fabindia discovered that not all causes of inconsistency lay in the fundamental characteristics of craft production.
Further. Fabindia gradually opened 19 . to improve the marketability of the products. rugs and upholstery).e. urban customers came to see the classic yet contemporary ‘Fabindia look’ coupled with the freedom to mix-and-match the garments as an opportunity to express their individual creativity and to make their individualized style statement. The reasonable prices of Fabindia’s garments and the distinctiveness of the designs and fabrics.” During this period. Bissell summed up Fabindia’s dual-pronged approach: “We are still going to tell the customer that what might seem as defects are inherent to the hand-woven fabrics. i. a series of adjustments were introduced into Fabindia’s organization in the early years of the 2000s. and the demands of the customers on the other. Central warehousing was set up in New Delhi to meet country-wide retail store requirements. ladies’ garments. for each product category (men’s garments. This reduced the burden on artisans of planning production and delivering merchandise to different outlets across the country and also ensured better control by Fabindia over supplies. Left stranded by the acquisition of Habitat. yet we want to ensure that the artisans are doing their very best to ensure quality. there was a substantial enhancement in the access to market that Fabindia was able to provide the artisans. Accordingly. led to the recognition of Fabindia as an affordable fashion brand. Fabindia recruited designers to work closely with the artisans during the design and production stage. Also.. and liaise with designers to develop new products while leveraging the varying ethnic traditions in different parts of India. The responsibilities of the buyer were to collate country-wide requirements. there was a growing realization within Fabindia that their organizational structure and processes needed to be better attuned to the constraints of the producers on one hand. we found. from 1992 to 2003.ensuring that they were able to buy yarn and other raw materials without taking recourse to usurious local moneylenders. a separate buyer was appointed. distribute orders among artisans. Over these years. During this second phase in Fabindia’s evolving engagement with handloom artisans.
London and Hart. Fabindia was able to attract a new generation of customers who were unconcerned about the ideological implications of wearing khadi garments.stores in all the major cities in India. I was promptly told by the Head Office: Look. Bissell and his colleagues realized that exploiting the potential for handloom sales in the domestic market required a closer organizational engagement with artisans in order to understand their constraints and identify specific solutions. As Fabindia expanded its retail presence in India. By assigning teams of designers and buyers to work with the artisans.” 20 . Fabindia was able to leverage its growing retail chain in order to represent the artisans’ unique abilities as well as their difficulties to a new generation of customers unfamiliar with the intrinsic inconsistency of handloom production. Fabindia sought to develop the contemporary character as well as the production quality of the artisans’ output. the poor man has spent 4 weeks weaving 50 meters of fabric. 2004) in the handloom artisans’ context helped them intervene more meaningfully in handloom production systems leading to the provision of access to organization for handloom artisans. As the Fabindia team discerned the emerging consumer preferences in India. Their gradual acquisition of a ‘native capability’ (cf. Fabindia’s Head of Marketing recalled how she had experienced Fabindia’s concern for the interests of the artisans in her early days in the company: “When I first came here. In imbuing handloom garments with connotations of ethnic fashion. Fabindia also adapted its organizational structures in order to acquire a greater sensitivity to the constraints faced by artisans as well as their capability limitations and to better address these constraints. I was then gently told: The producer is important as well. they also interpreted and communicated these preferences to the artisans so that these insights could be incorporated into the design and production cycle. I refused to accept one shipment of upholstery fabric because the sample was 2 shades darker. Why should I sell something that is not the best to our customers. Are you really sure you wouldn’t be able to sell it? I was horrified.
It was no longer a hand woven craft. Around this time Bissell and his colleagues decided to address a problem faced by all handicraft retailers – the absence of recognition of handicrafts as distinctive. Such an initiative required the cooperation of a large number of stakeholders in the handloom industry.was a reminder of our failure to create value for our products. the first was to sell for about 5 USD.) By 2003. Both T-shirts cost about 0. whose value lay in the craft! It was not just about Fabindia.” Bissell and his colleagues realized that handloom products needed a distinctive identity in the market to distinguish them from machine-made garments and imbue handloom products with connotations of higher value and specialized human skill. while the second one with the logo was to retail at 40 USD. Retailers of handmade products could now seek certification of their handmade processes and use the licensed ‘Craftmark’ logo to denote their product as a genuine Indian handloom product. Having worked in the crafts sector for the past fifteen years in India. Established in 2003 with the objective of expanding the domestic market for traditional craft products and improving the living conditions of artisans. the second for a well-known brand with the appropriate logo embroidered on the left hand side of the chest. I remember a cartoon. value added products. The first set of T-shirts was bound for a famous US discount retailer. The power of the brand to convince the potential buyer to spend a large amount of money ….Enabling Access to Ecosystem (2003.000 artisans. Fabindia worked with an assorted group of craft retailers and activists to set up the All India Artisans and Craft Workers Welfare Association (AIACA). Fabindia had reached a turnover of Rs. AIACA drove the Craftmark Initiative. but about the precarious position of our crafts in the market. Bissell said. 473 million (~ USD 10 million) while partnering with almost 11. 21 . I was struck by the point that the cartoonist was making. “What was a revelation to me was that we had reduced our product to a commodity. which showed a T-shirt factory in China.85 USD to make.
were not able to anticipate these problems. Bissell reasoned: 22 . a Product Selection Committee was instituted with powers to supervise the work of designers and domain specialists. 42 retailers of handicraft products were using the Craftmark label. regional idiosyncrasies. such as the functionality of the design. “We are not certifying quality at the moment. were largely unaware of the peculiarities of the fabrics and the production methods used by the handloom artisans of a particular region and. To ensure consistency in the process. Bandhej and Fabindia are licensed users of Craftmark. Fabindia’s designers. They tag the logo onto their merchandise. Often. AIACA. The growing popularity of the Fabindia brand – declared the Retail Brand of the Year in 2004 by one of India’s leading business newspapers – prompted the firm to extend the range of products retailed in its stores and seek to interpret for their customers the symbolism and ideology behind Fabindia products. fabric thickness. To address this challenge.By 2009. Fabindia continued to work on upgrading the capabilities and skill sets of their handloom artisans. While the designer would be responsible for the ‘look’ of the product. Fabindia created a cadre of ‘domain specialists’ who would work alongside designers in each of the firm’s product lines. who were trained at the country’s mainstream design and fashion institutes. informed us. grading.” While seeking wider recognition for and appreciation of handloom products through the Craftmark initiative. For example. they found that the combination of a buyer to estimate and specify demand requirements and a designer to develop contemporary designs in keeping with those requirements was not working effectively. and so on. therefore. We are only certifying that handmade processes have been followed in the production process. giving them a common identity and a sense of community. designs could not be easily translated into products because of production constraints peculiar to the handloom industry. The Executive Director. Today all prominent craft retailers such as Anokhi. the domain specialist would be responsible for technical aspects of production.
in expanding its scope to cover organic foods as well as furniture.” This ambitious plan. environment-friendly furniture made by traditional artisans. handcrafted furniture. With their ventures into organic foods. uninterrupted growth for Fabindia itself. then you will end up being a Fabindia customer. Bissell and his colleagues believed that the enlargement of the scope of handicraft products retailed by Fabindia would enable them to partner with a larger group of artisans. Fabindia started retailing organic foods and a range of handcrafted. and develop a wider customer base while retaining fidelity to their ideological beliefs. “Handloom and hand crafted products in retail at such a scale did not exist before. However.“We believe that the way we consume shapes the world we live in. attune the larger group to contemporary market sensibilities.000 local employment opportunities for artisans. SRCs were designed as community-owned enterprises set up in collaboration 23 . Drawing up fresh plans for expansion. was inextricably tied to the self-sufficiency and financial independence of the artisan community.” Consequently. Bissell and his colleagues came around to the view that the viability of the handicrafts sector. Fabindia moved to engage not only with handloom weavers in these communities. and indeed. Fabindia’s Head of Systems explained the challenging task that this objective posed. but also with farmers and woodwork artisans. however. and later. confronted the inability of the artisan communities to scale up their operations to match Fabindia’s plans. We were operating in an uncharted territory and setting benchmarks. bodycare products. If you live what you believe and you believe in the basic principles of rural employment. Fabindia began to see itself as a lifestyle retailer with a country-wide presence. Fabindia planned to set up 150 new retail outlets and to generate an additional 100. Bissell and his colleagues then conceived of what has come to be known as ‘Supplier Region Companies’ (SRCs). The new range of products retailed by Fabindia was sourced from the same communities with whom Fabindia had built up deep relationships over the past few decades.
organic foods. As the idea was rather radical. weavers and craft workers in a particular geography (typically seven to eight districts with similar handicraft traditions) and involve them as shareholders in the enterprise. body products. We wanted to emphasise that greater margins come from value addition. implement standard systems for production and delivery. This gave the artisans significant freedom to decide how to manage their production and distribution. The Head of Fabindia’s investment subsidiary (which was set up to manage Fabindia’s equity stakes in the SRCs) recalled: “We made detailed presentations [to with artisan communities across the country] about the entire value chain. The SRCs would provide access to common facilities. We wanted them to understand that instead of supplying fabric. in short. train artisans. They would.with artisan communities which would coordinate the operations of artisans. garments. and consolidate supplies from the regional cluster that they covered. if they could turn out finished garments. manage all the upstream operations of the value chain leaving Fabindia free to focus on the downstream operations. Their response was overwhelming. the Fabindia management team wanted to make sure that the artisans understood how their relationship with Fabindia would undergo a change. Each regional SRC would specialize in the handloom and handicrafts traditions characteristic of that region.” As the SRC initiative started rolling out. While Fabindia committed to buy up a substantial portion of each SRC’s production. they could appropriate a larger proportion of the value. and furniture – from a particular region would be sourced through the regional SRC. Supplies for all of Fabindia’s product categories – textiles. We also wanted them to understand the costs associated with retailing of the product and the significant investment we are making towards it. Each SRC had a Board of Directors that 24 . the SRCs were free to sell their production to any retailer. Fabindia planned on involving local artisan communities in setting up 100 SRCs across the country.
or technique. they were devised as a hybrid of community-managed cooperatives and shareholder-owned corporations. design. were vulnerable to obstructionist tactics. designed specifically with a view to creating liquid assets for their members.included representatives from Fabindia as well as local artisans from the region. On receiving an order from Fabindia. but that such forms of organization discouraged entrepreneurial behaviour.” The establishment of SRCs across the country was expected to encourage Fabindia’s artisan partners to actively engage in entrepreneurial activity and seek profits. While the concept of the SRCs had much in common with cooperative forms of organization. depending upon the region specificity of the requisite fabric. For each order. help them find their feet and then gradually pull out .not to treat them as subsidiaries. Fabindia will not increase its stake beyond 49%. Fabindia’s Product Selection Committee centrally determined monthly requirements and. little impact with regard to poverty alleviation. By mid 2009. The SRCs were. SRC members competed over individual chunks of orders and collaborated across the entire scope of the order. The Memorandum of Association of the SRCs explicitly stipulates this. liquid assets for the poor. more than a dozen SRCs were in operation. support them. Bissell argued that co-operatives were commendable for their community participation aspect. During our interviews. Explaining Fabindia’s longer term objectives. on the other hand. Our intention is to consolidate the artisan community. “The ultimate goal is to have them [SRCs] operate as 100% community owned companies. 25 . therefore. the then Head of the investment subsidiary said. They had. and did not create new. the SRCs would distribute the order among their members through a transparent bidding process. As each SRC took off. Fabindia took a 26%-49% equity stake while local artisans held at least 26% stake and the rest was held by employees of the SRC and external investors. allocated orders to the appropriate SRC.
To impart liquidity to the shares – the SRCs were. the Craftmark initiative by Fabindia convened competitors. During this period. during this period. Fabindia enlarged the scope of its products to include handcrafted woodwork. and organic body products. When we asked a master-weaver if he hoped that his business would benefit through his membership of the regional SRC. that is why we invested in the shares of the SRC. although they acknowledged that they did not yet fully understand the working of the SRC. he said: “Hope keeps the world spinning! We hoped. i. The artisans themselves seemed optimistic about the long term gains that they expected from the SRC model. We have faith in Fabindia. not listed in any stock exchange – trading among the members of the local artisan communities was arranged twice a year and. Fabindia enhanced the quality of access to market and access to organization accessible to handloom artisans. the share price for the Amroha SRC rose from Indian Rupees 100 in 2007 to Indian Rupees 250 in 2009. For example.” During this current phase in Fabindia’s evolution.e. These diversification initiatives helped Fabindia deepen its linkages in the communities it worked with by linking up woodwork artisans and farmers to non-local markets. organic food items..The primary distinction between the SRCs as for-profit entities and cooperatives was that the SRC members were shareholders who could realise the value of their stock by means of a share valuation and trading mechanism. Fabindia sought to refine the quality of access to organization that it gave to the artisans by instituting more context-sensitive organizational structure and processes to interpret market demand while reconciling it with producer constraints. as yet. from 2003 onwards. Many of the SRCs had already declared dividends thereby sharing the wealth generated with the communities in which they were embedded. The prices of shares in the SRCs had increased significantly. Concurrently. We have complete trust in them and they have always done right by us. members could buy or sell shares. collaborators and non-governmental agencies in the Indian handloom sector to agree on a trademark of 26 .
from large retailers by simply adopting the Craftmark label – a growing brand and a valuable public good for the handloom industry. the creation of SRCs led to the coownership of the business model by Fabindia and the artisan communities and afforded the artisan communities a greater share in the value created through the sale of handicraft products in non-local markets. Likewise. The element of trust. five decades of experience in the handloom industry. a variety of non-governmental organizations. independent artisan groupings with linkages to individual SRCs. thereby developing a common differentiating label for handloom products in the retail market. if they so desired. a nation-wide retail chain. The constituents of this ecosystem included the various regional SRCs across the country. and higher market prices for handloom products. greater competition. which is crucial for the effectiveness of any keystone organization. was consolidated by the participation of Fabindia in the creation of Craftmark as a ‘public good’ brand that may compete with the Fabindia brand in the handloom retail sector.authenticity. By helping to magnify the scale and scope of Fabindia’s retail operations and decentralizing collective representation and capability development. By encouraging fresh entrepreneurship. the SRC initiative represented the enhancement of access to market and access to organization 27 . and Fabindia itself as a keystone organization holding together the valued assets of the ecosystem. small handloom producers could now enjoy a greater degree of independence. small as well as large artisan entrepreneurs. and the trust of the diverse constituents mentioned earlier. the Craftmark initiative encouraged more BoP producers to take entrepreneurial risk. The valued assets that enabled Fabindia to play the role of a keystone organization were its brand reputation. Moreover. the SRC network and the Craftmark initiative facilitated the inception of a robust ecosystem consisting of interdependent producers of a variety of goods. It was also strengthened by the independence granted to the SRCs from Fabindia whereby the former could sell their output to any other retailer (as long as there was no infringement of Fabindia designs) while Fabindia itself provided them a guarantee of merchandise purchase. AIACA. Together.
Over time. Fabindia enabled access to market for handloom artisans by linking them up with buyers in foreign countries. during this phase as a keystone organization holding together a nascent. changing environments. Discussion In examining the evolution of Fabindia and its engagement with BoP artisan communities over five decades. Thus. interestingly. as a nationally recognized brand for handloom products. Fabindia emerged. recreating an artisan ecosystem and benefiting from rising income levels. Fabindia continued to provide access to market (with a domestic focus) but also enabled access to organization for handloom artisans by facilitating capability development and interpreting handloom work for non-local customers.through the provision of access to ecosystem. as buyers and suppliers to each other. My 28 . In recent years (2003. my brother and I would go to school and make beedis [an indigenous cigarette in which tobacco in rolled in dried leaves] later in the day. As a handloom retail chain during 1992-2003. we found evidence that as Fabindia adapted to external crises. serendipitous opportunities. The shift towards a better life is captured in the words of a master-weaver we met in Amroha: “When we were young. Fabindia facilitated access to ecosystem for thousands of handloom and other handicraft artisans through two specific initiatives: Craftmark and the SRC network. these artisans emerged as collaborators and competitors. it enabled substantive outcomes for the BoP producer communities it worked in and. and new organizational goals. Still others sought out disappearing traditions of handloom in their families and approached Fabindia with demonstrations of these dying skills. diverse community-based ecosystem centred on BoP producers spread across the country. Our discussions with artisans revealed how Fabindia’s continued engagement with local communities not only enhanced income levels for existing artisans but also attracted others earning subsistence incomes who were then trained in handloom work. reconceptualized the role played by the BoP producers it engaged with. As an export house during 1960-1992.).
That is. I would also do my own delivery to Fabindia. In the ongoing third phase. I set up my own unit. you can’t tell the difference between the rich kids and the kids of weavers…we are able to give our children a better life. He was not able to complete the order. Fabindia held low entrepreneurial expectations from its BoP producers. In thirty years. however. We would deliver our goods and get paid by the evening! Bissell saab would say. He informed Fabindia and transferred the order to us.’…. In other words. We did dyeing and bleaching on the cloth and started from there…. is a nuance that is missing in the BoP literature and the terms ‘producer’ and ‘entrepreneur’ have often been used interchangeably. Introducing the mechanism of the firm’s 29 . We depend upon them. inventory risk. Fabindia’s management has relatively high entrepreneurial expectations from its producers. … Pay them quickly so that they can go back to work…. firms conceptualize BoP constituents as either of two – consumer or producer. After a while.) specific to the business model but sought to exercise substantive control over the output of the BoP producer. a lot has changed. Fabindia did not expect the BoP producer to share the risk (e. Our area is a lot more developed. based upon the entrepreneurial expectations that the firm has of them. ‘Don’t keep them waiting. the BoP producers have taken over the responsibility for a large part of the upstream risk (capital risk and inventory risk) while also regaining control over their output (as decision-making is decentralized onto the SRC). capital risk. etc.Uncle then got an order from Fabindia. BoP producers emerged as more entrepreneurial in the ongoing third phase of their engagement with Fabindia. The distinction between producers. He told my father that I can’t do this work – please take it under your name. The Fabindia case suggests that the label ‘BoP producer’ encompasses finergrained conceptualizations that can.g. Through the device of the SRC. During the first two phases of its evolution. It was very nice.” Going by the BoP literature. Now if you look at the children here. potentially be held by firms intervening in the BoP context.We worked with our father.
to be sporadic and very small scale (Banerjee and Duflo. The persistence of the engagement is essential for the emergence of substantive outcomes for BoP producers from the relationship and provides a context for BoP-centric management innovation. thereby enhancing the ability of BoP communities to control their lives (Xavier. We illustrate the model with reference to the emergence of SRCs. managing the Fabindia brand. they will choose to invest in low-risk. The SRC initiative was critical to providing Fabindia’s BoP producers the means to cope with entrepreneurial risk. low-return activity rather than high-risk high return activity. Entrepreneurial development enables economic and social empowerment. -----. therefore. Bissell and his colleagues embarked upon a plan to accelerate Fabindia’s retail store growth by setting up more stores in more cities and in different store formats.entrepreneurial expectations allows us to focus on the level of business model risk assumed by the BoP producer. in turn.e.. 2007. the shift can be traced back to a disruption of the engagement. and its retail front-end operations. Kotler. As Fabindia sought to expand on massive scale. Based upon our case analysis of the evolution of the engagement between Fabindia and handloom artisans over five decades. Accordingly. 2007). as perceived by the firm. Sridharan and Viswanathan. i. we propose a process model (See Figure 1) that seeks to explain the persistence of the engagement between a firm and BoP producers even as the contours of the engagement keep evolving. Around 2003. indicates the degree of BoP entrepreneurship fostered by the said business model.Figure 1 about here -----In our model. it found its weavers unable to meet the demands being placed upon them by the expansion plan. While entrepreneurship – in the sense of deploying capital and possessing full residual claims over the earnings – is widely prevalent among the poor. Fabindia also found that it needed to focus its energies on the downstream activities. 2008). Roberto and Leisner (2006) argue that unless the poor are provided the means to cope with entrepreneurial risk. This. Raja and Nandhini. Fabindia engaged in an interpretation of the challenge posed by the opportunity 30 . it is actually intimately tied to their consumption needs and tends.
In order to bring about reconciliation between the opportunities presented by the industry context and the constraints embedded in the BoP context. gave a central role in the organization’s objectives to the maintenance of “a fair. 31 . 2004. the BoP context specified constraints. These twin aspects are.perceived by them and the crisis engendered by the inability of the artisan communities to scale up their production in order to keep pace with Fabindia’s expansion. The BoP context refers to the peculiarities of the environment in which the BoP producers subsist. written up in the early days of the organization by its founder John Bissell. However. In interpreting the environmental stimulus. 2007). Viswanathan. The industry context refers to the industry domain in which the firm operates in the non-local market(s). in terms of their distinctive needs. and constraints (London and Hart. the firm’s management needs to consider and appraise two definitive aspects of their engagement with BoP producers. skills. the firm in our model is mindful of both the industry context as well as the BoP context of its relationship with BoP producers. impelling Fabindia to expand both the scale and the scope of their retail operations. the degree of ideological centrality of the engagement to the firm’s ethos and the degree of economic symbiosis between the firm and the BoP producers. The firm’s management would need to ask themselves: How central is the BoP engagement to our conceptualization of ourselves as an organization? Does it define who we are? Fabindia’s credo. there was an attractive opportunity since handloom products were being increasingly regarded by Indian customers as lifestyle products. In the industry context. Ideological centrality is the self-referential appraisal by the firm’s management of the importance to the firm of engaging meaningfully in the economic lives of BoP producers. These constraints restricted Fabindia’s ability to attend to the opportunity presented in the industry context and rendered the current form of Fabindia’s engagement with its BoP producers untenable. such as the producer’s lack of growth capital and an inability to rapidly upgrade production capabilities.
for example. “The challenge for Fabindia is to produce world-class textile products without resorting to capital-intensive methods of production as that will leave out the artisans. Ideological centrality without economic symbiosis may lead to transformation of the marketbased intervention into a non-market intervention. Fabindia’s initiatives reveal an attempt to stay true to this ethos. Economic symbiosis without ideological centrality may lead the firm to search for alternate partners more appropriate to the changed non-local market scenario or revised organizational goals.equitable and helpful relationship with our producer. ideological centrality coupled with economic symbiosis propels the firm to look for innovative ways of reorganizing the existing engagement while retaining the partnership. in economic terms. is the engagement between ourselves and the BoP communities we partner with? In the case of Fabindia’s engagement with artisan communities. defeating the very purpose of our existence. in the form of corporate philanthropy. On the other hand. In either case. Our fidelity to our ideology does not constrain us – it brings out the best in us. However. Artisan communities across India are now able to secure better prices for their products and continually upgrade their capabilities and skill sets because of their ties with Fabindia.” 32 . Clearly. The firm’s management would need to ask themselves: How gainful. a disengagement of the relationship between the firm and the BoP producers may be expected. As William Bissell explained. the engagement between Fabindia and artisan communities exhibits a significant level of economic symbiosis. Economic symbiosis refers to the degree to which both parties create value for themselves out of the engagement such that neither could access the said value independent of the engagement.” Through the years. Fabindia itself is able to sustain the authenticity of its alternate lifestyle appeal in the minds of its customers because of its exclusive dealings with makers of handicraft products. the element of economic symbiosis has only become stronger with the passage of time.
This innovative mode of organization seemed capable of easing the pressure on Fabindia of investing in and managing the upstream operations and freeing up Fabindia to focus on the downstream operations. The concept of SRC provides an illustration of an innovative management practice. This calls for a phase of experimentation where the firm seeks out and consider various alternative management practices and examines their effectiveness with regard to the desired objective of retaining the valued relationship. it may. following the rollout of the SRCs across the country. be adopted by other organizations 33 .When the engagement retains high significance in terms of ideological centrality as well as economic symbiosis in spite of the changed circumstances. The SRCs represented a fusion of specific management practices borrowed from the cooperative form of organization as well as from the corporate form of organization. Also. It must be noted that the experimentation and deployment stages for the innovative management practice are iterative as the firm tries out new ideas for managing the engagement and testing them to find the appropriate solution. For example. Fabindia’s terms of engagement with the artisans suggests a reconceptualization of the artisans as producers from whom Fabindia holds higher entrepreneurial expectations than before. when the innovative management practice is new to the ‘state of the art’ in management models. when it appeared that the distribution of orders by the SRC to local artisans may lead to accusations of favouritism. a transparent bidding mechanism was introduced. Thus. The deployment of the innovative management practice is antecedent to the stabilisation of the engagement on new terms. Through a process of experimentation. As the success of this mechanism became evident. Fabindia’s management devised the concept of the SRCs. whereby pilot projects were undertaken in a few districts. As individual elements of the innovative management practice are clarified. the practice undergoes full deployment across all relevant points of interface in the engagement. over time. the firm may seek to reorganize the terms of the engagement through innovative management practices that can help to sustain the engagement in a meaningful manner. it was incorporated into the subsequent rollout of SRCs across the country.
2002). Four points. Fabindia was seeking to imbue its products with symbolism resulting in customer interpretation of the Fabindia brand as ‘affordable fashion. artisan-centric organizations. The move towards creating SRCs as intermediaries between Fabindia and the artisan communities can. the idiosyncrasies of the industry context in the non-local market which the firm links to the BoP producer play an important role in shaping the evolution of the relationship over time. Fabindia was operating in the ‘material’ apparel retail industry. Daviron and Ponte’s (2005) ‘coffee 34 . and its facilitation of personalized style. The SRCs not only helped Fabindia share upstream risk and responsibilities with decentralized. 2000. Lawrence and Phillips (2002: 431) observe that “managing in cultural industries…is not about efficiently producing a product but about creating and maintaining an organization that can produce and sell meaning. earlier in this paper. a closer look suggests that. be viewed as an attempt at resolution of the contradiction inherent in simultaneously infusing symbolism into the downstream marketing and retail activities and efficiency into the upstream craft-based production activities. We have mentioned. This is a point that deserves closer attention and benefits from an analogical reference. Lawrence and Phillips. However. Lant and Shamsie. 2008). its guarantee of authenticity. Birkinshaw et al. emerge from this process model. leading to widespread diffusion of the underlying management innovation (cf. by virtue of its ideological emphasis on protecting traditional arts and the skill-based livelihoods of artisans. but also benefited the artisans by enabling them to access the higher value captured in symbolism-driven downstream business activities. worthy of closer observation.facing similar challenges.’ From this perspective. First. Fabindia can be seen as operating in the realm of cultural industries. At the surface level. thus.” The challenge that firms in cultural industries face is to develop organizational capabilities in managing the symbolic aspects of products in such a way that they are perceived as valuable by customers over an extended period of time (Lampel. This point has been neglected in the BoP literature.
The salience of only one of these two elements in the relationship suggests opportunistic mutual value creation and may lead to the degradation of the relationship under changed circumstances. We suggest here that the reconciliation of the BoP relationship with ongoing environmental changes requires the simultaneity of ideological centrality and economic symbiosis. enabling the latter to entirely capture the value from the retail of coffee drinks. the strategies of the bridging enterprises would be expected to reveal an 35 . Third. The SRC initiative. London. there is little consideration of the dimensions of the engagement between the firm and the BoP communities that influence its persistence and renewal in the face of environmental change.e. bridges the formal and informal economies or local and non-local markets (Arnould and Mohr. Hart. This may be attributed to the dominant focus in the literature on the activities of multinational enterprises and the challenges they face in locating new markets or new sources of supplies (Wheeler et al. 2005). provided an innovative solution that shared the symbolic value captured downstream with upstream producers. bottom-up concept of organization. the concept of the bridging enterprise. We define the bridging enterprise as one that originates at the intersection of the BoP communities that it works with and the non-local markets that it serves. Further. 2007.’ The paradox refers to the dramatic fall in international coffee prices received by developing country producers at a time when coffee has emerged as an expensive and fashionable drink among developed country consumers. on the other hand. while the literature has emphasized the importance of mutual value creation. the extant literature has concerned itself largely with the BoP interventions of firms that already exist in the formal economy and seek to create new engagements with the BoP as consumers or producers. Second. 2008).paradox. They argue that the explanation of the paradox lies in that the output of coffee producers is evaluated on material attributes while the output of speciality coffee retailers in developed countries is evaluated on symbolic attributes. 2005. i. by definition. The Fabindia case allows us to propose an alternate. Such an enterprise.
on the other. Fabindia educated urban Indian customers about the inherent uncertainty and inconsistency of handloom production and. on one hand. educated handloom artisans about customer expectations regarding acceptable levels of quality and consistency. An important facet of such mediation is the education that the bridging enterprise provides BoP producers and non-local consumers about each other3.wherein customer and societal welfare concerns permeate business activities and move to the center of strategic planning” (Viswanathan et al. Moreover.. 36 . Indeed. the bridging enterprise is not the same as a keystone organization. As discussed earlier. A bridging enterprise can act as a 3 We are grateful to an anonymous reviewer for drawing our attention to this point. unlike the typical intervening firm discussed in the literature. while a bridging enterprise inevitably contains social entrepreneurial elements. However. A bridging enterprise – a concept we introduce in this paper – is a firm that originates (in the sense of having no prior history of operation) at the intersection of BoP communities and non-local markets. Since the bridging enterprise straddles – right from its inception – two distinct contexts of production and consumption. importantly. Furthermore. its continued existence.“ingraining [of] product-relevant social good in businesses…. not all social entrepreneurship ventures can be called bridging enterprises because they may well be contained wholly inside the BoP context. the bridging enterprise is founded on a business model that makes mediation between the BoP context and the relevant non-local market critical to its inception and. A keystone organization – a concept that exists in the literature – is a firm that is able to provide leadership to a business ecosystem based on its access to specialized knowledge that provides a common platform for the varied interests of the members of the ecosystem. it is in a unique position to act as an interpreter and innovator for stakeholders across the pyramid. the bridging enterprise does not have a history of operation prior to its engagement with the BoP. 2009: 406).
ideological beliefs. Fabindia itself sold an equity stake in 2007 to a social venture capital fund. LLC. an idea for a bridging enterprise may die in the absence of financial and strategic support at the inception stage. and entrepreneurial inclination. ideological beliefs. the adoption of the mix-and-match retail format for garments rapidly expanded the number of customers who were willing to buy handicraft products because such a format lent itself to the articulation of individualized style statements by customers. Fourth. 37 . Wolfensohn and Co. the identification of an opportunity that can be addressed by a bridging enterprise is the product of serendipity. In the early years. However. was struck by the paradoxical richness of craft traditions and the economic poverty of the artisans themselves. The SRC initiative combined elements from the cooperative and corporate forms of organization to create liquid assets for producers and provide them entrepreneurial opportunities while leaving Fabindia free to focus its energes on downstream value-adding activities. and entrepreneurial inclination.keystone organization only when it is able to provide access to ecosystem for BoP producers and other ancillary agents. in spite of the happy confluence of serendipity. the constitution of designer-buyer-domain expert teams in each product line enabled Fabindia to simultaneously address customer expectations while retaining sensitivity to producer constraints. Outlook Business. our case study provides evidence that the conceptualization and deployment of innovative management practices was crucial to the persistence of the ongoing relationship between Fabindia and artisan communities. Indeed. a buyer at Macy’s who. in order to fund their retail expansion. An important role can be played here by an emerging breed of ‘social venture capital funds’ that aim to support innovative ideas about economic engagement with the BoP (cf. These elements are amply demonstrated in the establishment of Fabindia by John Bissell. 2010). on a trip to India. Later. An important question that arises from the concept of a bridging enterprise is as follows: how can the emergence of such organizations at the intersection of BoP communities and non-local markets be facilitated? Partly.
for firms. 2004. was towards management innovation (Birkinshaw et al. Recent contributions to BoP innovation have argued for the need for firms to acquire ‘business intimacy’ with their BoP consumers by embedding themselves in the BoP context and co-creating new products and services that deliver relationship-based value to their BoP consumers (London and Hart. Simanis and Hart. 2002. We have sought. However. Our orientation. on innovative management practices complements the dominant focus in the literature on innovation in product and process technologies. Hart and Christensen. 2008).. progress in this regard has been largely restricted to snapshot views of BoP interventions and studies of technological innovations directed towards the development of new products and processes.Our focus. in this paper. Seelos and Mair. Conclusion Recent research on the BoP has led to calls for innovative routes to poverty alleviation through mutually profitable market-based interventions. By shifting the research focus from a snapshot view of an intervention to a dynamic view of the ongoing engagement and from the BoP consumer to the BoP producer. 2004. 2007). of nurturing a BoP-centric mindset in order to engage meaningfully and persistently with BoP producers (cf. in this paper. calls for disruptive innovation involving the BoP have typically emphasized the development and commercialization of radical new products and services that provide high value to the customer at considerably low costs to the producer (Anderson and Markides. however. Each of these practices highlights the importance. we identified the innovative management practices that emerged as Fabindia sought to manage the interplay of ideological centrality and economic symbiosis in its engagement with handloom artisans. London and Hart. Olsen and Boxenbaum. 2007. 2008). our study identifies a critical role for innovative management practices in renewing the engagement and engendering sustained poverty-alleviating outcomes for BoP producers. to draw the attention of researchers towards the dynamic of the ongoing engagement between a firm and BoP producers and the importance of innovative management practices in sustaining these 38 . 2009). In the extant literature. With this orientation.
Future research needs also to look at not only how new opportunities for mutual value creation between firms and BoP communities are identified but also how the value generated from such economic exchanges is shared between the two and perceptions of fair play ensured (cf. Our process model provides a starting point for such research. with regard to the development of innovative management practices that sustain engagements between firms and BoP producers. needs to be studied in greater detail by focusing on how it originates and is subsequently adopted by other organizations with similar objectives. the process model derived from our case study puts the onus of attending to the disruption of the engagement and of initiating the identification and deployment of innovative management practices solely on the firm. relative to other organizational forms such as multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations. It would be also interesting to study how BoP producers tackle the adjustment process as firms reconceptualize the relationship and how their own expectations from the relationship change over time. 2010). Indeed. born at the intersection of BoP communities and non-local 39 . Case studies of engagements where the initiative with regard to such innovation was taken by BoP producers would serve to complement our study and refine the process model on the long-term persistence of BoP engagements. Finally. as a facilitator of substantive poverty alleviation outcomes in the course of sustained BoP engagements. Hernandez and Griffin. Management innovation. The bridging enterprise. We need to know whether the bridging enterprise has any comparative advantage.engagements. The three-fold classification of substantive outcomes for BoP producers – access to market. Toledo. access to organization. and access to ecosystem – can provide a useful basis for future research on the efficacy of BoP interventions with regard to poverty alleviation. We conclude by highlighting a few promising directions for further research. the utility of the bridging enterprise as an organizational form needs to be examined in greater detail. Extensive field studies oriented towards the evolution of the engagement over time can help develop a body of knowledge useful to practitioners complementary to the discussion of entry strategies into the BoP detailed in Simanis and Hart (2008).
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. Access to Organization .g. Illustrations Presented in Case Narrative of Fabindia Initiatives Facilitating Substantive Outcomes for BoP Producers Phase of Evolution of Fabindia's Engagement with BoP Producers 1992 . .Launch of Craftmark to provide a common identity to handloom products in retail market. handcrafted furniture. Access to Ecosystem .Creation of designer-buyer teams for each product line.1992 Access to Market 2003 - .Establishment of experimental retail store for domestic market in New Delhi. . .Accelerated expansion of retail stores in domestic market.Restructuring of the organizational structure of Fabindia. 1960 .Inception of All India Artisans and Craft Workers Association.2003 . and organic body care products. 43 .Initiation of customer education activities focused on dissemination of awareness about the inherent idiosyncrasies of handloom production.Creation of Product Selection Committee. ..Introduction of mix-and-match format for traditional handloom garments. . e.Diversification into organic foods. . . Retail stores set up in all major cities of India. common fabric washing facilities.Conceptualization and roll-out of Supplier Region Companies across the country.Creation of designer-buyer-domain specialist teams for each product line.Development of processes aimed at enhancing production quality by providing handloom artisans infrastructural support.Table 1. .Exports of handloom products to overseas retailers. .
The Evolution of an Ongoing Relationship between a Firm and BoP Producers.Figure 1. 44 . Disruption of Engagement Interpretation Industry Context Base of Pyramid Context Reconciliation Ideological Centrality Economic Symbiosis Disengagement Experimentation Innovative Management Practice Deployment Stabilization of Engagement New to the ‘State of the Art’ Diffusion Management Innovation Note: The outer dotted lines demarcate processes occurring within the ambit of the engagement between the firm and BoP producers from those processes happening outside the said engagement. The inner dotted lines indicate coupled processes.
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