Richa Ghansiyal


Over the last 17 years, Richa Ghansiyal has worked on crafts and livelihood development based projects in various capacities. Her interest in the field of design for development began in 2000 at the National Institute of Design Ahmedabad when as a fresh graduate she was inducted to work on projects in North Eastern India. Between 2004-06, she also worked as part of the core team setting up the Uttarakhand Bamboo and Fiber Development Board to work on bamboo and natural fiber based rural livelihood development in the newly formed mountain state of Uttarakhand.
Richa holds a Masters degree in Rural Development from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom and a certification in Microfinance and Microinsurance from the Tata Dhan Academy, Madurai India. Prior to that she graduated in Industrial Design with specialization in Furniture Design from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India.She was a recipient of the Ford Foundation International Fellowship in 2006.Her interests include non formal education, sustainable livelihoods and development finance.

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You have worked extensively in craft and livelihood projects across India.What are the initiatives that you have taken in Uttarakhand?

Along with my partner Joshua Hishey, I run a design enterprise called ‘Alaya Design Studio’ based out of Rajpur, Dehradun. We are a for-profit entity; where we design, manufacture and market a range of Furniture and Contemporary crafts in natural and renewable materials.
We have a strong bond with Uttarakhand, since we have spent several formative years here as students. Around 2008, having worked and traveled across the country and the world, we both returned to Uttarakhand and set up Alaya Design Studio to share our interests and academic training in Sustainable Design.Our aim has been to anchor ourselves within the local community and help in the development of a local ecosystem of artisans, informal skill based producers, raw material providers, local customers, entrepreneurs and community based organizations.
We are driven by the philosophy that the work we do is always an outcome of its environment whether natural, socio economic, cultural or political. In other words, our work is influenced by the local resources, skills and customers in this part of the world. In terms of Furniture and Crafts, we celebrate what is natural, local in origin and can be made locally- and try to adapt these to contemporary markets. For instance, we work with a lot of regenerative, sustainable natural materials such as Bamboo, Natural fibers, non- endangered Timber, recycled materials- each piece we make we try to bring out its natural character, in the process making it custom designed, making it unique. Even imperfections add character to a product- whether it it is the handcrafted lines etched on copper bowls or the natural knots and grains in local indigenous wood planks crafted into tables.
We only work with artisans, informal sector skill based workers based in Uttarakhand- right from indigenous resource producers, traditional communities located in often remote and less accessible parts of the mountain state, to skill based informal sector workers settled in the peri-urban settlements of mountain cities. Over the years we have established partnerships with craftspersons and community based organizations spread across the state for design and production. We also work actively on encouraging local entrepreneurship in the craft based sector in our region by sharing links, marketing contacts, etc.

What is your opinion on the severe problem of migration that Uttarakhand is suffering from?

The study of Migration has been of continuing interest to me, especially in the context of Uttarakhand. In fact, as part of a Masters in Rural Development at the University of Sussex, UK, I did my thesis on Exploring financial life worlds of Migrants from the Hill areas of Uttarakhand. In my view, migration is a significant livelihood diversification strategy adopted by the rural poor in particular.
However since it is considered a negative phenomena in government practice, it further exacerbates the social exclusion and exploitation faced by migrants in destination areas. Several scholars have argued that apart from the positive impact of Remittances on the rural economy, migration also leads to gain in social networks, skills development and exposure to new ideas; which in turn all add to expanding the ability of an individual to cope with livelihood stress.In such a scenario, it may be feasible to also look at developing adequate migrant support strategies that reduce the costs and enhance the gains in the migrants struggle to earn, such as the work being done by Ajeevika Bureau in Rajasthan (reducing social exclusion of migrants in destination areas) as well as targeted skill development in source areas (such as being done in countries like China and Phillipines, which encourage people to skill up in source areas for potential employment in destination hubs).

What do you feel about the reading scenario in the country?

I feel that as a nation or collective, Indians are always very distinctly interested in social, political, cultural issues and cues. I would like to believe that reading for us has always been a social engagement (where we share what we have read with others), or a political act (where we argue and form opinions) or a cultural journey which we love to pursue (such as our choices in literary fiction). Now there are so many avenues for reading, including digital, print, etc. that it definitely will continue to shape our collective consciousness for generations to come.

What are you looking forward to at the Valley of Words festival in Dehradun?

I look forward to an opportunity to listen to some very inspiring voices, thought provoking ideas and wish the organizers all success in their unique endeavor. The Valley of Words festival will definitely become a sought after feature of Dehradun in the years to come.

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