International Day of Cooperatives falls on the first Saturday of every July and this year the Day was celebrated on 4th July. The timing couldn't have been better to fulfil one of my longest held ambitions - creating a cooperative style organisation for the empowerment of artisans run by artisans.
The idea first came up 14 years ago at the start of my gap year as I was sketching out my ideas for a startup. Back then - well before the idea of vegan handbags came up - the idea was to work with cinnamon peelers to produce high quality artisanal cinnamon oil. I wanted to structure the supply chain in a way that the peelers and producers can organise themselves into cooperatives, thereby empowering members to advance their economic, social and cultural wellbeing.
Unfortunately, fresh out of school and hardly with much experience I couldn't get the plans off the ground. But the passion to create an enterprise that will empower marginalised communities remained. Through Kantala, I have now finally realised that passion.
Lighting the traditional oil lamp (left to right: Dr Welamedage, Ms Chandrawathi, Mr Dharmadasa, Ms Somawathi).
Kantala was born out of our passion to create an enterprise that is compassionate and respectful to the environment and communities we work with. Creating an independent organisation for the artisan groups working with Kantala was therefore central to our mission of economically, socially and culturally empowering communities.
We worked with our chief artisan, Mr Dharmadasa, to draw up the draft cooperative style structure and objectives. We were greatly supported by Lanka Social Ventures who provided technical assistance and drafted the constitution.
The objective of the association is to secure, promote and develop the traditional craft of Dumbara hana mat weaving by organising artisans into a cohesive group for the creation of new commercial opportunities, introduction of new techniques and advancing the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of the members.
Inaugural meeting in progress at the village community centre.
On 4th July the inaugural meeting of the "Sri Lanka Dumbara Hana Weavers Association" was held with the participation of 20 traditional artisans. Dr Lalith Welamedage, CEO of Lanka Social Ventures, fellow traditional craft enthusiast Charith Wickrema and myself attended as observers.
At the meeting, the full constitution was presented, discussed and adopted by the artisans in attendance. In particular the objects of the association, membership, election of office bearers, income generation and utilisation were discussed in detail.
The first officials of the association were elected at the same meeting. 4 of the 5 office bearers elected were female artisans, including the President and Treasurer. We were delighted with the interest shown by our female artisans to take up leadership roles and the wider support from the membership for their successful election.
Left to right: Ms Vajeesha (President), Mr Dharmadasa (Secretary), Ms Somawathi (Treasurer).
Both Kantala and Lanka Social Ventures will assist the leadership and members with capacity building programmes and connect the Association with external opportunities. Kantala made a commitment to pay 60% of the first year membership fee on behalf of all the inaugural members and expenses incurred for capacity building programmes throughout the first year.
The handwoven Dumbara hana mats are the central piece of every vegan handbag we make and our traditional artisans will always remain an integral part of Kantala. We have some big plans in the pipeline for our artisans and the Association will be central to its implementation. All of us at Kantala wish the inaugural office bearers and members all the very best for a bright and happy future.