Tikau’s sustainable heart


Finnish entrepreneur Taina Snellman founded Tikau (which means “sustainable” or “long-lasting” in Hindi) to provide productive employment and a means of livelihood to poor communities in various Indian states.

Taina Snellman’s shop in Helsinki, Finland, is an outlet for the stylish bamboo lampshades, banana palm-fibre baskets, intricately embroidered mats and cushion covers and other items produced by artisans in various Indian villages. These items are also available through the Finnair PlusShop.

The villages work in tandem with the Finnish-registered Tikau Share NGO, described by Snellman as “the foundation on which we can start working, our infrastructure”, while the Finnish-based Tikau business concentrates on design, product development and retail. The operation also helps to encourage and maintain handicraft skills and traditions that might die out otherwise.

Sustainability is at the heart of the Tikau approach, and this is most effectively achieved here in the context of the village, still a strong communal entity in spite of the mushrooming of India’s “metros”. Working in the village means working close to one’s own space, close to home and family, and making use of local raw materials, such as bamboo or wool.

“We are different from other similar set-ups because I believe in employing people,” says Snellman, whose background is in design and who was inspired to start the business when researching working conditions in the Indian textile industry. “For the handicrafts, training is important to ensure product quality. The idea is to lift the communities up, but their livelihood can come from different sources – they don’t have to be artisans.”

Wide variety of Tikau projects

Snellman wanted to visit the Dalit village in Orissa, proposed to her as a project site by the Rural Bank of India as an especially deprived location needing support. Other Tikau projects are up and running at Anegundi in Karnataka in the south and in the Kutch area of Gujarat, close to the Pakistan border, for example. Training is nearing completion at the Orissa village after a monsoon season break, and the moment of truth is approaching where full scale production should begin.

The village artisans are to produce lampshades made from fast-growing, easily replaceable and durable bamboo - according to the blueprints of top Finnish designer Ilkka Suppanen.

“The pressure is high on me at this point,” Snellman confesses. “If we can’t put the designs into production, I have not been successful. We really need to make sure there is a sustainable base in place and it’s a big responsibility. It took me about a year to work out how to do it here, but this is still phase one. We started with humanitarian work, with a health camp for doctor visits, for example. We had two people turn up the first time, then 10 people, then 20, and so on. Then we needed to find out which products sell.

“I didn’t start this just to make money – it’s from my heart, I really do want to help people. But we want to give people employment, not just charity. This thing needs to stand on its own two feet if it is to be truly sustainable.”

Visit Tikau´s webpage here.

Text and photos by Tim Bird

A version of this article was previously published in Finnair´s Blue Wings magazine (April 2012).

Published March 20, 2012

Category: Corporate Responsibility