Spotlight on Social Entrepreneurs: India's Bamboo House

by Reeti Roy Aug 27, 2009

One of Bamboo House’s artisans. Photos courtesy of Bamboo House.

Many years ago, Johnny Paycheck sang the song, “Take This Job And Shove It.” Who knew the lyrics would describe the attitude of young professionals in India more than 30 years later?

Today, the lyrics of Paycheck’s song hold true for many young, enterprising professionals from India who are steering clear of cushy jobs that would perhaps give them the money and luxury they want, but not the satisfaction.

Prashant and Aruna are one such couple. Based in Hyderabad, India, Prashant and Aruna strive to both combat global warming and ensure that poor people in India have a way to earn a livelihood.

It all happened quite by chance. Prashant and Aruna were out shopping one evening, looking for an eco-friendly sofa set. To their dismay, they found nothing. “The market was inundated with routine wood, steel, iron, and plastic furniture,” they said. Not to be daunted, Aruna and Prashant resorted to what we all do when we’re looking for information- Google!

Google searches revealed that eco-friendly products were being made from bamboo. Bamboo harvesting was happening all over the world, but not in India. Upon further research, the young couple discovered that the market potential of bamboo based products in India was the equivalent of more than $5 billion U.S dollars.

Setting up a bamboo based enterprise would enable them to help more than 5 million people in India. It would also realised help reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and generate up to 35% more oxygen than an average tree!

Aruna, Co-Founder of Bamboo House

While doing their research, Prashant and Aruna realised there was a need to improve housing in rural India. To do so, they could provide better opportunities for rural and tribal artisans by inviting them to work in the bamboo sector. But there was one pitfall- no one in India had tried it before, so there was no business model to fall back on.

They also realised making bamboo handicrafts was a specialised skill, so they decided to train their artisans at The National University of Design, Ahmedabad. They also decided to collaborate with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), using their bow beam technology to help create rural housing structures.

Established in May 2008, Bamboo House has come a long way. The Andhra Pradesh Technology and Development Centre, The National Mission on Bamboo Application, and The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi are just some of its partner organisations. The government of India has also given its full support.

Bamboo House India believes in giving artisans cash advances so they can concentrate on the quality of their work instead of worrying about whether their children can get food to eat. The capital also allows the artisans to buy raw material they need, a smart strategy because it prevents the common problem of artisans from running up debt by taking huge loans at very high interest rates.

Once the products are made, Bamboo House India markets them. The wages are negotiated in consultation with the artisan. The artisans’ wages are not affected by how their products are doing in the market. They receive payments for the product even before they arrive at the warehouse.

Bamboo House India works towards achieving a “green livelihood”. The concept is slightly Robin Hoodish- their target clientele are people who earn approximately 40,000 rupees in a month, which is about 40 times more than what the average Indian earns.

You can check out this video for more on their work or visit their website.

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