The word ‘Shreni’ comes from ancient Indian trade guilds that were formed for occupations. These guilds were inextricably intertwined with the economy - from the supply chain to the markets, these guilds were woven throughout the socio-economic fabric of India. Our philosophy comes from these very groups, prominent in the Buddhist Era, and our aim is to revive these Shrenis. We are working towards rekindling the same essence of autonomy, economic structure, and community sentiment that existed in ancient India.
Such occupational communities are still alive in India. Many of these are interwoven with traditional artistry, production systems, and technique that are an invaluable part of India’s rich and diverse history. At Shrenis, we believe that bridging the gap between them and the formal, structured economy is essential to their sustenance and survival.
Our work is a response to the harsh realities of the informal sector. Communities in this sector lack access to information regarding livelihood opportunities and empowerment structures that act as professional safety nets and capacity builders. To combat this, our work developed a ground-up approach. The idea is to build the same system of information and opportunity access that exists in the formal sector while inculcating a sense of community amongst our occupational networks.
Our end goal is to establish communities that are self-sustaining and independent. Along with these, we aim to help construct frameworks with degrees of standards and accountability, along with socio-economic benefits for the groups.
The idea started as a digital rendering of knowledge transfer. I wanted to do something that had impact and meaning in the lives of people. In my conversations with workers and artisans, I found that most people had learnt their trade from a family member, or a member of the same community. The sharing of knowledge had been from within social structures. Being a history buff, I connected these ideas to the Ancient Indian concept of a ‘Shreni’ - a trade guild. Moving forward, I saw that the social structure of traditional occupations that we work with still harks back to medieval times.
Occupation is intertwined with an identity even today - so what you do becomes who you are. When an identity forms your community, it manifests not just ease in sharing knowledge, but also a circle of trust. In India, traditional occupations are built on these community models - who do you reach out to for your first job, or for a primer in some skills? - your social circle. The Indian model of social organization is not congruent with the top-down Western model that assumes individual agency over the community. And so, at Shrenis, we centre our efforts around a peer-led, sustainable, and community-led network.
From my experience in the construction industry, I arrived at the conclusion that the larger “informal” sector saw dips in the number of freshers joining in. Conversations with workers on the ground revealed that it was because the sector does not offer the kind of career graph or stability that the formal sector might - an opinion that I, too, had. The informal sector is not structured to have social status or a professional career path. In it, there was a need felt by the workers and artisans for respect, dignity and recognition. To build these, we launched occupational networks on WhatsApp. Each group consisted of professionals in one occupation - we have groups with handloom weavers, wood inlay artisans, woodcarvers, carpenters, beauticians, and so on. Slowly, we saw that these groups crystallized into proper networks where people discussed updates, supply, reselling, retailing, designs, and so on.
What started with an 8-foot whiteboard filled with assumptions. When we actually set out in the field to talk to the people we work with, we realized that most of our learning would be coming from them. And so, even as we move forward with multiple programs and initiatives for the betterment of their lives, we always remember that all our learning comes from them, and thus, must be used for their good. Shrinking the gap between the source of the craft and the customer is not just a goal at Shrenis, it’s our driving force - along with building communities that work with respect, pride, and are appreciated by all for the legacy and traditions that they carry.
To support culturally congruent and sustainable livelihoods, and provide access to information, knowledge, and opportunities through peer-led networks.
Creating livelihoods with fair return on labour.
Supporting fair trade practices across communities and occupations.
Working on sustainable and agile market practices with our members.
Building capacities through contextual interventions and developing our communities