Goodwill and charity come with expiry dates. And NGOs recognize this more than anybody else in their quest to be self-sustainable. Non-profits increasingly have started to think about depending lesser and lesser on the traditional donation model, through offering products and services that can bring in some revenue.
An important need in this journey is to build stable channels that can bring NGO products to the mainstream market. And this is where Shop For A Cause comes in.
Shop for a Cause, a retail and online store, offers a wide range of products sourced from NGOs working in areas as diverse as child rights, education, women empowerment, health, disaster relief, animal rights, art, heritage, conservation, ecology, livelihoods and environment.
Having worked with the financial sheets of NGOs like CRY, ActionAid, Akshaya Patra, Save the Children and many more, Chartered Account and founder Jayashree Rangarajan got a good peek into the challenges faced by small NGOs and artisans. “We are a platform bringing products from all NGOs, SHGs and every one connected to a social cause under a single roof. At the same we enable people to support the organisations working for the community by means of socially conscious purchasing,” she says.
Shop For A Cause registered the organisation as a for-profit in 2011 to bridge the gap between charity and the market. The team of three including Jayashree, Uma and Sriram efficiently manages vendor sourcing, finance, day-to-day store operations and strategy planning.
Making “good” accessible
SFAC carries products across the categories of home, kitchen and garden, bags/accessories, organic food, children’s products, gifts/stationery. On the backend, the organisation works with craft groups in different states across India (Tripura, Assam, Manipur, WB, Orissa TN, Karnataka etc), as well as locally to source handcrafted products.
“Jayasimha, our store staff, for example, makes exquisite dolls (locally called pattada gombe) on custom order,” says Rangarajan.”There are stores that focus on either eco-friendly products or organic food or perhaps traditional crafts. But none that have all under the same roof plus products from mainstream NGOs thrown in,” she says.
The store tries to practise what they preach – all store fittings are either bamboo or cardboard honeycomb. They stock products that they personally would like to use. “We want customers to buy at our store because of quality – not charity,” says Rangarajan.
At the same time, they are very willing to work with partners to improve the quality/finish of the products and in upcoming years they are looking at conducting capacity building workshops as well.
The sustainability model
Started by investing money on their own and some close relatives, SFAC gets support from Canara Bank. However, the team has decided to scale up only from organic infusion of funds or capital investment at least for the next 3 years.
They were one of the 75 finalists from 15500 applicants at the Economic Times- Dept of Science and Technology-IIMA Power of Ideas in 2012. And one of the 20 grant winners.
“About 90% of customers who come to our store either make a repeat purchase or bring along their friends/relatives. Children are their greatest supporters (and therefore our greatest inspiration). We had a group of 10th and 9th Standard students from a neighbouring school. They had pooled in money to buy teacher’s day gifts for their teachers. But they wanted something unique and preferably eco-friendly. They had a modest budget and on that budget we told them that we would get plain terracotta pots and get them hand-painted. We worked with a local artist to do just that. When the kids came in and saw the array of colourful painted pots, they to the surprise of all of us, clapped,” Rangarajan shares.
Lessons learned and un-learned
Funding at one level has been one of the challenges faced by SFAC. “As a startup, you are always working under severe resource constraints – money, people. But the biggest challenge is to achieve a strategy for consistently breaking even before your cash runs out,” says Rangarajan.
SFAC has learnt from every client and partner they have worked with. “Whether it is the story of a Bastar artisan from Chattisgarh valiantly trying to carry on a 1000 year old tradition or the jute bags made by children with special needs in Bangalore or a product from WWF made by communities affected by the man-animal conflict – for me and for all of us, it reinforces our belief in the basic goodness of human nature,” she says.
What the future holds
Shop for a Cause, in the course of the 2-3 years, has become a popular part of the Bangalore South neighbourhood and owes its survival to community support. They hope to replicate the same model in other neighbourhoods in Bangalore to start with and then to move on to other centres.
Shop For A Cause aims to help more people adopt a more sustainable lifestyle along with the increased awareness of various organisations and causes. They focus on creating an awareness that there are viable alternatives to products that you currently use which at the same time has a more direct impact on community.
The Shop for a Cause retail store is located at 924, 22nd Main, J.P.Nagar 2nd Phase, Bangalore. Tel:080-2658 4924
You can also order their products on their website
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