By David Porter, second year Pearson Business School student
What is Once Upon a Doug?
Once Upon a Doug is a social enterprise with a mission to up-skill, empower and financially support women from rural cotton farming communities in the Wardha region of India. The project aims to be sustainable in supporting these impoverished women and their families to regain control of their lives by offering empowerment and financial independence from the crippling debt they face.
The reason that many cotton farmers in the region face such hight levels of debt is because they have taken out loans to buy GM seeds that promised a greater yield. However, the soil in Wardha is incompatible with these seeds and the crops often fail. As a result, debt collectors call for money that isn’t there - unfortunately a high number of farmers choose to take their own lives in order to escape the debt. However, this merely passes the debt burden onto their family and is a real issue in many rural farming regions of India.
Doug was created to address the issues faced by these rural communities. We work with the wives of these farmers, who hand make ‘Doug’ (‘cloud’ in Marathi), from up-cycled cotton. We are partnered with No Nasties (an ethical clothing company based in India) and use offcuts of cotton and fabric from their factory which are then up-cycled. Each Doug raises awareness as a symbol of the campaign, and represents the story of the woman who made him.
The women are paid for each Doug they make, providing them with supplementary income to support them through difficult times. Currently, we ship the Doug to the UK where we are selling them on a gift aid economy (suggested donation £2) at independent shops, with all profits reinvested back into the community.
How was the project started?
Once Upon a Doug was started last year by five Business & Enterprise students at Pearson College London. The project is the key part of our social enterprise module, allowing us to implement what we’re taught whilst developing key skills for the future.
Last years’ students heard of the socio-economic issues faced by communities in rural areas of India so set about researching ways that they could help these communities, and develop relationships with project partners who shared a similar vision for change. They then travelled to India to meet with communities in the Wardha region, local to Chetana Vikas, a charity and project partner that operate there. It was here that Once Upon a Doug was truly born after meeting with the women and communities; hearing their stories; and understanding first-hand the struggles that they face on a daily basis.
This year they handed over the project to us, a team of eight students, who have continued the fantastic work that was started last year. It’s great that the project is passed down each year, as this gives a new set of students the opportunity to learn how to run a social enterprise, whilst putting the project in the unique position of having a fresh perspective and renewed enthusiasm each year (we’re also all encouraged to stay involved as much as possible afterwards!). I’ve learnt so much from the opportunity and have been able to developed a wide range of skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
We all share a big vision for change, and have been working extremely hard this year to make the project a success and sustainable for the future.
What have we been working on this year?
We have had two key objectives this year:
1. Raising awareness of the cause - this has been a key objective of ours and we’ve been busy setting-up and managing social media channels; contacting magazines; seeking out partnerships; talking to corporates and similarly-aligned social enterprises/ethical businesses; and contacting local businesses about selling Doug. In addition, we have held a couple of events and have a number planned after we return from India - a fantastic opportunity to tell people about our experiences and what we achieved whilst in the communities.
2. Selling Doug - we now have Doug being sold in a few independent stores in/around London. This is a great start, which has been supported by fundraising activities. However there is much more work to be done and we are currently exploring several partnership opportunities.
Why are we travelling to India?
We are travelling to India to meet with the women and understand first-hand how Once Upon a Doug is supporting them, and how we can best steer the project to maximise the support it provides them and their communities moving forward.
We will also be spending a week with No Nasties in Goa, where we will be looking at project development opportunities and putting the infrastructure in place for future scalability.
What are our hopes for the future?
We hope that we are able to grow Once Upon a Doug so that it can empower many more women in communities facing similar hardships.
In order to achieve that goal, we hope that Doug will become a recognised symbol, driving a movement for social change and raising awareness of the cause. We also have plans for project development and hope that in the future we can incorporate the cloud symbol into other products.
Follow our trip on social media…
You can keep up to date on our progress over the next two weeks via the Pearson College London social media channels. It would also be brilliant if you could help spread awareness of the cause by sharing the Once Upon a Doug story with your friends and connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our website (onceuponadoug.wordpress.com).
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