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From Ashoka University to Naya Bharat Sunehra Amrit Kaal

Ashoka alumna Subrata Pandey (YIF '14) recently appeared on the show Naya Bharat Sunehra Amrit Kaal for her business Punarnawa: Soul of Artistry

Subrata Pandey is the founder of Punarnawa: Soul of Artistry, a social brand that serves as a representative platform for indigenous communities across India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Subrata has over 11 years of experience in the craft sector. Her vision is to create livelihoods for marginalised and indigenous communities from East and Northeast India using traditional skill-based practices.

She completed her undergraduate studies in crafts product design from the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design and then pursued the Young India Fellowship from Ashoka University. In this interview Subrata Pandey, a Young India Fellow from the Ashoka University’s batch of 2014 talks about her business Punarnawa: Soul of Artistry.

What was your motivation for starting this business?

I embarked on this journey right after completing my undergraduate degree. Fresh out of design school and at the age of 21, I had two dream job offers lined up, one of which I had already accepted. Little did I know that everything was about to change when I crossed paths with an extraordinary indigenous woman from the villages surrounding Rourkela, in the tribal district of Sundergarh.

These women worked as daily wage labourers, farmers, and housewives, yet their eyes were filled with a burning desire for something more. It was on January 26th, 2011, that our organization, Punarnawa Soul Of Artistry, was born. From that moment, there was no turning back.

What is Punarnawa: Soul of Artistry? What sets Punarnawa apart from other businesses?

Punarnawa: Soul Of Artistry is a distinguished social brand that serves as a representative platform for indigenous identities from India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, with a particular focus on Odisha and Northeast India. What makes us stand out is our fully indigenous collective, comprising 30 tribes and over 10 traditional communities, with women making up 85% of our members.

We began by providing skill training to these indigenous tribes, and what followed was an incredible journey that transformed into a movement. These women, despite lacking formal education, have not only acquired valuable skills but have also emerged as successful entrepreneurs and beacons of inspiration for their communities.

Our team of experienced senior women artisans act as master trainers, offering free skills training and support to any women who wish to join our organization in Sundergarh district around a few blocks. They are akin to the dedicated Aganwadi Didis who visit households, identifying individuals interested in working from home. Once trained by our skilled artisans, these women collect their kits from a central location in the village, complete their work, and deliver the finished products to the same point. They are then paid monthly.

What prompted you to apply to Naya Bharat Sunehra Amrit Kaal? What was the process like—from the first step to the last?

To our great surprise, we received an unexpected call and were subsequently interviewed and shortlisted. When inquired about the selection process, we were informed that their diligent research team had scoured India to uncover remarkable stories worthy of being showcased, to inspire the youth of the country.

What are some of the next steps that you are looking at?

The biggest challenge in the livelihood sector has always been funding. What we managed to achieve in these 13 years, we could have achieved in 5 years had we had the proper support and investment. Going forward we are looking forward to expanding our studio into an innovation hub and artist residency with boosting of both, tea, wildlife, river, art, culture, textile & crafts tourism. We have just launched our e-commerce store www.punarnawa.com where we aim to bring the work of the various indigenous tribes and create their identity in the global platform.

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka