Connecting the Dots

In our business we often use words like synchronicity and synergy to illustrate the amazing frequency of “right time-right place” meetings and connections. In the summer of 2011 one of the original interns (and creators of this site) came to work with us in Kerala. In search of a project, we introduced him to Diwia Thomas to brainstorm a social entrepreneurship collaboration. That process led to an amazing joint venture paperbag making workshop with the Kerala Forestry Department.

The very first post I wrote on this site was about Diwia Thomas and her company Papertrails. It just so happens it was published exactly 5 years ago. It also just so happened that this morning my Facebook feed included the news that Diwia had been honored with the Unique Times’ Young Women Business Excellence Award 2016. Continue reading

Newspaper Bag Station at Cardamom County

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New member of PaperTrails stationed at Cardamom County

At Cardamom County, we have been working to get the local community involved through the group PaperTrails. PaperTrails helps provide jobs for people who could otherwise not get them. La Paz Group has appreciated the way it involves the locals by providing work and  re-purposing old newspaper. For La Paz Group they make gift bags out of recycled newspaper and sanitary bags from recycled paper. Now, we have a new member of the PaperTrails team stationed at Cardamom County. He is stationed on the second level of the Ayurvedic Center and makes bags for all the La Paz Group properties.. We like this because now guests can engage with the paper bag initiative in a new way. They can see how they are made and learn to make them as well.  Continue reading

Training session at the newspaper bag unit

Our newspaper bag unit is a permanent, exciting work-in-progress. Using upcycled newspapers provides us with an alternative  to plastic bags in our two shops at Cardamom County– the Raxa Collective store and the via kerala shop. It is also a way to work with more people in our community. We have been working at making this unit a sustainable entreprise with many collaborators since the beginnings of Raxa Collective in 2011.

Newspaper bag training unit - Raxa Collective Continue reading

Forest Department Training and LiveBlog

Tomorrow is an exciting day of great import for the social enterprise we’re assisting the Forest Department with. If you haven’t read our previous entries (here’s Michael’s, here’s Amie’s, and here’s Diwia’s), we’re starting a sustainable micro-enterprise here in Thekkady aimed at employing local (mostly) women and making useful bags out of recyclable and recycled material, namely, excess newspaper. This evening, Diwia Thomas, who began a similar enterprise in Cochin, will arrive to provide a weekend training session that begins tomorrow morning at 10. We’re expecting upwards of 40 women to attend, all with the hopes of being part of this business. She will guide them through and teach them how to make quality bags, as well how to maintain and organize the operations of the business. All our meetings and conversations with Forest Department officials and local women should hopefully pay off tomorrow, and the operation should be on it’s feet by the end of the month.

Given how exciting this is for all of us, we will be hosting a live conversation about what is happening in the training session, hopefully deploying photos and videos to help you, our readers, get a sense of the event. This conversation will take place at coveritlive.com, a free liveblogging service. If you’re not familiar with this format, ‘liveblogging’ is often used for streaming important information about sporting and political events. We think it is also worth applying for this event.

So please join us! Tomorrow morning I’ll post a link, which will lead you here: click here.

We’ll be starting at around 9 AM (11:30 PM EST). If you’re in a different time zone, you can at least catch the beginning and maybe the end. It’s easy to post questions and respond on coveritlive, and the format will work much better with added voices.

See you tomorrow!

Newspaper Bags

As I suggested in my last post, I’ve recently spent less time in the Periyar Reserve, i.e. observing and chronicling my encounters with the myriad species of plants and animals there, and more time in and with the local community. Working with resort management and Forestry Dept. officials, I’ve been trying to get off the ground a microbusiness enterprise, operated by residents of Kumily and members of the tribal communities in Periyar East, with the initial goal of producing bags from recycled newspaper. This is related to the bigger goal of eliminating the use of plastic bags.

One such bag, made from recycled newspaper

There are several aspects to this project, and as I delve deeper into them the more complex and intriguing it seems to me. I think the easiest and best way to present the full picture, to identify the difficulties and possibilities inherent to it, is to tell the whole story of my involvement in the project, and in the process to clarify the context of my previous posts.

To set the scene, I offer, in shorthand, a cultural backdrop:

What was only recently a subsistence and agricultural culture and economy, the Cardamom Hills (like all of Kerala) has undergone something of an economic and cultural revolution over the past fifteen to twenty years. Though I’m not an expert in this field, I can say, based on firsthand accounts and observations, that as education levels have risen even among the poorest people in this area (Kerala’s literacy rate is, famously, over 90%), and as the opportunity to pursue non-agricultural employment and consume newfangled products has become commonplace in this area, the demand for disposable income and new ways of attaining it has also increased. Generally, this is true of India as a whole, and as a global phenomenon it really deserves a more nuanced treatment than I’m able to give it (for more information, I suggest you go to your local library or see your neighborhood economist). But, on a microcosmic level, it is perhaps most pronounced, complicated, and—in some ways—easily tackled in the tribal communities of India’s forests. Continue reading

The Kitchen Table Connection: Following the Paper Trail

She wasn’t the creator of the newspaper bag concept, but Diwia Thomas has done her part to merge their production with the world of community development. Based on a deeply rooted desire to help women create a degree of financial independence, this lifelong resident of Cochin has used her business acumen, social network and marketing skills to advantage.

With the limited supply of paper pulp in India, newspaper printers have implemented the innovative practice of a de-inking process for recycled newsprint. Currently about a quarter of the paper the printers use is recycled material, which has both saved on paper pulp imports and driven up the price paid per kilo for old newspapers. India has a well-established history of recycling and these new developments have given more financial incentive to do so.

Diwia knows the system, her clients and her resources well. It only takes a gentle nudge to friends and family to leverage the equivalent of their daily coffee expenditures in the form of a weekly donation of their newspapers—they give them to her instead of selling them to a recycler (who would pay an amount worth a coffee at a local café). Only full, flat sheets of newspaper can be used in bag production, but with the ubiquitous use of newspaper in this culture as wrapping for everything from eggs, to vegetable market goods to crockery, there is plenty to go around for other recycling purposes. Continue reading