We had lofty dreams when we started ArtyPlantz. One of the ideas Dr. Vandana Krishnamurthy, a social entrepreneur amongst us had was to fill all urban homes with native plants. She was valiant in dreaming it as she was in rolling up her sleeves and getting down to doing it as well. Everything should have turned out rosy and nice, right? Well, it did not.
We found that consumers found it difficult to link to the basic reason of why we did what we did. While they would probably vote for conservation in any kind of survey, they could not relate to having to do it in their backyard and worse still being told what was good for them by a bunch of passionate literates! Some of our clients assumed that they had to pay only for the plants and pots…nothing at all for our efforts…weren’t we just doing “social service” anyway? As we painstakingly moved ahead, we discovered that there were more brickbats than accolades. The moment we stepped into a home, the lady of the house, invariably treated Dr. Vandana like a clerk appointed to check out her requirements for the garden and the man of house would look at her with such misgivings each time she tried to collect her fee. The more Dr. Vandana tried to break this apparent ring of “little trust” the more she discovered that people were extremely close-minded. It came to a point one day, where another colleague of Dr. Vandana got treated rather badly and was told not to step into the balcony to inspect the plants there, unless she was given permission to do so, as the lady of the house suspected that she might steal!
The root cause for all this drama, we realised was in the way our fee was being perceived by consumers. In the place of having malis set up their gardens, here were a group of “literate” professionals who charged more than what a mali would in coming up with a garden! We were perplexed. It seemed like we could never justify our costs. The last straw was the incident of distrust. We wondered if we should shelve this initiative. We decided however to re-look at the pain points of consumers and check if our business was built on correct assumptions.
As we discussed, it became clear that people had the following pain points:
1. Most all people like to have a garden in their homes
2. They would love it more, if it did not require high maintenance
3. It had to make them look noble and sometimes make them look like connoisseurs
4. Most were happy to have some veggies and herbs to heal small health issues
5. BUT it should not cost the high heavens!
6. The man of the house either wanted the lady to handle it by herself without draining the family’s money box, or wanted something he could cultivate as his personal hobby to show off to his friends
7. The woman wanted to have it to grow her children with, if she had small children or have a hobby of her own to decorate her abode of living.
NONE of them were ready to part with more money than what was enough to cost the plants, materials and labour. Very few actually understood about Conservation and the need to have gardens with native plants!
Then we turned around and asked ourselves a hard question:
If we did not do this, would gardens cease to exist?
Answer was no. Gardens did get done.
We then examined how these gardens were getting made today if we assumed that we were not needed to solve the pain point of establishing a garden for urban folks. We zeroed down on the Unassuming, Ubiquitous, Urban Mali! It hit us then that our answer lay in empowering this key person more than actually doing the gardens ourselves. Here was the Mali, the most readily welcomed, into every home. Since his charges were within the affordable range of an urban family, he was not looked upon with distrust.
The only issue was with the fact that the Urban Mali did not necessarily resort to planting using native plants and seeds. While he knew some traditional plants from having lived in a village, he was not aware of why one needed to promote native plants from an environmental point of view. He was also trigger-happy when it came to using pesticides, most often with no care for his own personal safety!
It dawned on us then, that we simply had to empower the mali and then everything else would follow! We realised that we spread the impact far more when we enabled another doer, rather than when we got down to doing ourselves. This we discovered is the foundation for Social Entrepreneurship…
So we taught our Urban Mali everything we knew about conservation in cities and the need for it. We armed him with a set of beautiful catalogue and checklists. We performed role play with him to make him understand expectations of consumer and how he could deal with them such that nothing right was compromised. We delighted in watching him wonder as he transformed from, “No, I cannot actually tell off a consumer, to – yes I can help a consumer become a conservationist.” We reduced our fee completely and restricted it to just the effort and overheads needed to hand hold the process where the Mali took over with his own stamp of naturalness now combined with urban enterprise skill sets. We waited with bated breath to see how our new program would be received by consumers. It became a massive hit! :).
When we introduced the Urban Mali Program to consumers we further learnt to our joy, that we delighted consumers with it, as we now had made them look noble as they joined us in empowering a Mali into becoming an entrepreneur! Now instead of looking at us with distrust, folks actually wished to participate with us! Are we as a society bored with commerce? Should every business become a social enterprise, for after all, a business serves needs of a society. Has “Commerce” made us forget, that it started out as a methodology to “serve a society?” Questions, which we are looking into deeply at ArtyPlantz and IdeinLab…
Today, Dr. Vandana’s phone is busy as she keeps getting requests for registration with the Urban Mali Program! She is very happy doing what she is doing. Do look up http://artyplantz.org/the-urban-mali-initiative/ if you wish to register yourself. Happy Gardening!
Do you have a Mali in your region whom you would like us to empower? Do have a chat with Dr. Vandana at 9535025938 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Living! 🙂