The Ant Grows into an Anthill
Dr Nita Mukherjee 27 April 2017
When we first featured the ant (The Action Northeast Trust), in 2006 (Moneylife, issue dated 7 December), it was a fledgling organisation struggling, as all not-for-profits do, with issues of replicability and sustainability. 
But, having survived the unprecedented ethnic violence at the turn of that decade, when most of its staff and volunteers had to live in relief camps, it decided to redouble its development efforts. Reflecting an unflinching faith in one’s cause, the ant’s annual report of that year said, “The next few years will be critical for the ant as we struggle to remain humane … The trauma was real but so was the learning and healing. We hope we have become better human beings and also stronger as an institution...”
The ant then spun off some of its self-sustaining activities into separate organisations in order to make it self-reliant and less dependent on grants and donations. By 2005, it had set up Aagor Daagra Afad (ADA), a women-weavers’ collective for weaving and marketing of Bodo handlooms. It was an unprecedented success and doubled sales every year for the first six years. ADA then aspired to enter the retail market. Thus was born The Ants Store in Bengaluru, in 2007—a retail initiative to showcase northeast handlooms and crafts and to generate revenue to sustain livelihoods of people from that region. It also works at integrating northeast communities into mainstream India by highlighting their craft and culture.  
The Ants Craft Trust (TACT) evolved from The Ants Store. Smitha Murthy, designer and founder trustee of ADA says, “We could boost artisans’ confidence in their craft only if we could market their goods at a price that earned them fair wages. To create the market was a challenge and we thought Bengaluru had the right mix of population—young IT professionals with high disposable incomes and eclectic tastes.” In 2009, the reins of The Ants Store were taken over by TACT, which is registered as a trust, although not exempt from income-tax.
TACT’s objectives are in line with those of its parent organisation: a) to preserve and promote the social and economic well-being of weavers and crafts persons, especially tribals; b) to promote a positive identity for the entire northeast region, increase livelihoods in rural northeast, accelerate sustainability of the northeast crafts groups and to promote positive stories above its many diverse communities.
TACT had a young design team that worked (now, taken over by The Ants Craft Private Limited) with traditional crafts groups, infusing design innovations into their work. Traditional motifs are woven deftly on simple looms, but cater to urban lifestyles and contemporise their traditions. The designers’ inputs ensure that the craft survives and thrives. 
To a question about why TACT changed to The Ants Craft Pvt Ltd, Smitha says, “We soon found that our charter as a trust came in the way of our getting bank credit for working capital. And our income-generating activities came in the way of our getting a tax-exemption certificate , as a trust.” So, instead of falling between the two stools,  where the vulnerable artisans were the ones who would suffer, we decided to convert the structure of the organisation to an enterprise. Hence, The Ants Craft Pvt Ltd was incorporated on 18 March 2014 with a seven-member board of directors. Dr Sunil Kaul, one of the founder trustees of the ant and of TACT, is the chairperson of the board of directors. The board ensures that TACT’s trustees and employees hold more than 50% of the shares.
TACT is a great case study of an NGO spawning a social enterprise that has remained true to core objectives. As Dr Kaul says, “An ant doesn’t get overawed by any obstruction. It tries to find a way around the obstruction, to reach its destination!” You can support TACT by buying and promoting its products.


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