IVLP alumna Suruchi Singh helps expand the support system for artisans and women entrepreneurs.
Suruchi Singh’s Charismatic Crayonz helps artisans set up and run sustainable units, and provides them an online platform to sell their products. (Photograph courtesy Suruchi Singh)
When Suruchi Singh was ready to return to work after her maternity break, it was difficult to find a job. “They did not find me suitable as I had taken a one-year break,” she says. A trained journalist with around 10 years’ experience in the corporate sector, Singh was, however, undaunted. “I decided to take things into my control and started my venture to support handicraft artisans,” she says.
Singh launched Charismatic Crayonz, a skilling organization and aggregator of handicraft artisans. It is working with 450 artisans in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Jharkhand, Bihar and Telangana.
Singh also leads the SHE4HER initiative, which helps enhance the entrepreneurial and decision-making skills of women, creating jobs in rural areas and ensuring they have a decent income.
She participated in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on Women and Entrepreneurship in 2021. The IVLP is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program.
In April 2023, Singh participated in another IVLP, on Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development, where the group learned about the impact of U.S. small businesses, and the role of governmental, non-governmental, public-private partnerships, universities, corporations, and grassroots organizations in fostering business creation and growth. “The program facilitated networking and collaboration among participating entrepreneurs, enabling the exchange of ideas, partnerships and potential business opportunities,” says Singh.
Excerpts from an interview.
How did you start your organization, Charismatic Crayonz, and what was your training in the field?
As a craft enthusiast, I’ve always been interested in handicrafts and traveled around the country to meet artisans. In 2014, I came across an artisan in Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, who made glass products. His hands were full of burn marks. Upon asking, I came to know that after sitting inside the blast furnace for hours to make his products, he would earn only Rs. 10 to 20 for his creations. This was not enough to feed his family of six, so he did odd jobs to sustain his family. I decided to help him.
I bought his glass products at the cost he expected to get for them and sold them to my friends and family. I read more about the industry and found ways to help him for a year. The artisan now runs a small unit and employs 25 other community members. At that point, I registered my organization and started my entrepreneurship journey.
What are the main activities of Charismatic Crayonz?
We train artisans on basics of financial literacy, digital literacy and entrepreneurship. We help them set up and run sustainable units, and provide them an online platform to sell their products. All products include the artisan’s story, so buyers get to know the person or people behind their purchase.
What has been the response from customers?
The response is amazing. We sell almost 30 to 40 products per month and more during festival seasons. Our main aim is to make sure the artisans are able to compete with their urban counterparts.
How is SHE4HER creating jobs for rural women and why is this important?
SHE4HER is an ambitious program to support women artisans and “homepreneurs” and enhance their entrepreneurial and decision-making skills. We work to build livelihoods in rural areas, ensuring that women have a decent income and a voice to change their own circumstances.
The program also provides tools to translate skills into sustainable business models and workshops focusing on innovation. We plan to have special sessions with artisans, homepreneurs, agripreneurs, edupreneurs, and women working in the manufacturing sector. They will get access to an international e-commerce website to gain more customers for their businesses.
Can you tell us about your experiences during the recent IVLP?
This program exceeded my expectations, providing knowledge and practical skills, along with a network of like-minded individuals that will undoubtedly shape my entrepreneurship journey.
We started in Washington, D.C. where we saw how the start-up ecosystem is focused on venture capital and mentorship support. We learned how the Small Business Administration is promoting a support system for entrepreneurship, which I strongly feel should be replicated by other countries.
We went on to Kalamazoo, a small city in Michigan, that has a strong emphasis on supporting small businesses and promoting community engagement. I saw the unique way in which they support each other through community-driven initiatives and handholding of new start-ups. In Utah, the program was focused on understanding the entrepreneurial and investment ecosystems, and how universities work in close collaboration with the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Our exchange program ended in San Francisco. We visited Silicon Valley and interacted with many start-ups.
Our speakers were seasoned experts who brought a wealth of practical experience and industry-specific knowledge, making the sessions engaging, dynamic and highly impactful.
In a nutshell, my IVLP experience was transformative, empowering and invaluable.
Megan McDrew is a professor of sociology at University of California, Santa Cruz, and Hartnell College. She is based in Monterey, California.