At SocialBusiness.org, we love talking to entrepreneurs on their vision and mission and Katherine Neumann was no exception. And even more so because of our interest in individuals who change their path after a fulfilling career and then jump into social entrepreneurship.
Four Questions with Katherine Neumann
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
After having made the decision over a few years that I wanted to setup a social business around textiles, and that India was the best place for me to start this business (extreme poverty, inequality of women and need for sustainable livelihoods paired with incredible textiles and embroidery skills), it was the logical decision to work on a model that outsourced the handwork to NGOs and cooperatives who were already established and working with marginalised women. There are myriad such groups in India - the country has a very vibrant civil society - and it was a matter of identifying the right groups and then continuously working with them to increase the quality of their work. This allows me to keep the House of Wandering Silk team small and costs down while supporting local organisations.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
I worked for 10 years as a Humanitarian Aid Worker across Asia, Middle East and Africa. Like many of my colleagues, I was very idealistic and set out to change the world! But after years in this sector I started to understand that much of the work is led by the needs and requirements of the donors; not of the people in the village who are suffering unimaginable destitution. Plus, there was next to no sustainability. A project would run for one, two, or maybe three years; after that, in many cases, the situation would return to how it was before we came in. A business model makes much more sense as I am now working with those same people from the village as business partners, building something lasting together, with equal stakes in the enterprise.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
Once you've seen for yourself the abysmal conditions in which so many people live and realize the great luck you were born with to be a healthy, educated and free woman, you don't need inspiration to do this kind of work; there is simply no other option than doing something that addresses - on however small a scale and in whichever way - the inequalities around us. I've chosen a path which allows me to combine my passion for textiles with this social aspect.
On the creative side, the textiles of India and the nimble fingers of her artisans continue to inspire me!
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
My ritual is tea drinking! Tea-making is somehow a very comforting and relaxing ritual and I am at my best when I have a steaming cup of chai next to me on the desk.