In a time where reading the news has become a heart-breaking activity, social entrepreneurs like Lakshmi Menon, transform every crisis into an opportunity. An opportunity to bring people together through innovative design and simple do-it-yourself kind of change-making. Stuck at home in the midst of a pandemic and growing climate emergency, the thought of wanting to do something, change something crosses all of our minds, and then we wonder, how?
With these small and big questions around what it takes to create scalable impact, we reached out to Lakshmi Menon.
Lakshmi Menon is the founder and designer of many projects that have had far-reaching social impact. All her projects come out of a crisis situation that demands immediate action: the Chekutty Dolls were a symbol of hope for more than 600 weavers affected by the Kerala floods, the seed pens and paper can be planted back to grow trees, the Shayya is an upcycled mattress that gives numerous marginalized communities work and is then distributed to the homeless across India and most recently ‘Samman’ which is a line of upcycled clothing for babies in war-torn countries.
Talking about her process, she answered the most fundamental questions about social change and accessibility: What do you need to spark change? How is it that these simple projects have been able to impact the lives and livelihoods of many?
Simple Do-it-Yourself Designs
Keeping the design, or framework of change simple and accessible is what allows it to reach a large number of people. It has to be an activity that anyone can do. Using such simple designs, Lakshmi has been able to involve numerous marginalized communities in production.
For instance, anyone who learns how to braid can make the Shayya, which has helped keep more than 2000kg of PPE waste from ending up in landfills. These mattresses have been distributed to homeless people across the country. Student entrepreneurs in the Enactus networks have taken up the project and continue to produce and distribute Shayyas in different parts of India.
Constant Innovation and Agile Adaptability
In face of adversity, it is necessary to constantly think about what your capabilities are and how you can help a situation. Catching the right thought at the right time, being aware of what is happening around you leads you to how best you can apply your skills to make a difference.
From one project to another, Lakshmi has been able to create work for many marginalized groups and utilize materials that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. She has also trained groups online to carry out the work in other parts of the country. Rethinking everyday items, the seed pens are one of her most widespread inventions. The seed pens can be planted back into the earth after use and will grow into beautiful trees. It is a simple thing, and it addresses multiple issues: allows people an opportunity to live a greener life, supports the marginalized community that produces it, and has become a symbol of hope for a greener future.
Co-Ownership of Change
These projects are all volunteer-driven, designs are all open source, free for anyone who wants to recreate them as she believes collaboration is the true driving force for social change. She offers training to groups all over the country who can then take the work further and scale it to reach a larger section of people. The process of production is designed in a way that value is added to the product by maximizing social resources. The steps of the process are broken down in a way that people with different skillsets can all work together to create something remarkable.
In the harsh second wave of Covid in India, to mobilize the unsold stock of fabric with weavers and to provide some livelihood opportunity to them, Lakshmi has been working on a new project called ‘Sammaan’. This waste fabric has been used to produce kits of clothes for newborn babies in war-torn countries like Yemen and Syria. Kit of baby fabrics contains wraparounds, napkins, nappies, bedsheets, and with the help of a journalist network as well as support from the UN, these would be distributed. A clothing line that is conceptualized as a solution that involves multiple people and solves numerous problems: generates livelihoods for weavers, stops the waste fabric from adding to the landfills and provides clothing for newborn babies in war-torn areas.
It is ideas like this that make up what Lakshmi called the ‘Quilt India movement’: ‘We are not here to quit we are here to quilt’. Creating a wave of change using the social fabric of collective consciousness of India, quilting from fabric that comes from all over, to not quit in face of adversity, redistributing fabric from where there is excess to extreme deprivation.
To read more about Lakshmi Menon’s projects and see how you can be involved with them, head on to thepureliving.in