Nugu Handmade – Sonali Sharma

When the entire world is steering towards building a more resilient, sustainable, and reliable ecosystem, we are realizing the significance of localization in helping us achieve this goal. With a similar goal in mind, Sonali Sharma – a social entrepreneur, built ‘Nugu Handmade’ with her partner, Sumanth Sampath – a ceramic artist.

Sonali spent the first 12 years of her career in the education sector where she had the opportunity of working with all major stakeholders in education, i.e. children, teachers, parents, and school leaders. As a learning coach, she created experiential learning interventions for teachers and school leaders in various international as well as local schools across India. During a project with an education NGO in India, Sonali worked closely with schools in indigenous communities and realized that one of the main reasons for poverty in these areas is the lack of consistent employment. She continued her exploration within indigenous communities to understand their ways of sustainable living and to learn how we could collaborate and co-develop. HD Kote taluk in Karnataka is a home for various native communities that live in extremely backward rural areas. Apart from farming being the main source of income, these communities especially the Kurubas, are craftsmen and potters that thrive the most when they cohabitate within their communities amidst nature. However, due to lack of work opportunities in their areas they are forced to migrate to the cities and perform low paying daily wage construction jobs. This is a common problem across India. Even though rural India is abundant in resources, lack of focus towards developing the rural ecosystem has led to major problems like over-populated cities, slums in cities and underdeveloped villages. For building a sustainable and equitable future, it is imperative to build small-scale, local businesses within rural India that empower the rural ecosystem and provide dignified jobs, a career as well as entrepreneurship opportunities to people from rural India.

Nugu’s vision is to build a sustainable artisan business in rural India that holistically empower the indigenous ecosystem while building a conscious handmade brand. With this vision in mind, Sonali and Sumanth built their first rural business in a small village in Karnataka called Mullur. This ‘Designed for Environment’ production unit based out of a permaculture farm, makes exquisite, handcrafted, and eco-safe ceramic dining and décor products for the hospitality and retail markets. As a social enterprise, Nugu has thus far provided skill development and dignified job opportunities to over100 craftsmen from indigenous communities in rural India and has raised impact funding from a US-based NGO – Upaya Social Ventures. Featured in top Indian media like – The Times of India, Elle Décor and Homegrown, for its Social Business Model, Designed for Environment Production Space and Trendy Designs, Nugu’s bespoke dinnerware has delighted millions of people dining at India’s best restaurants.

Sonali has an MBA degree from the University of Roehampton, London, a certificate in Design Thinking from MIT and a certificate in Social Enterprise Strategy from the University of Penn. She won the ‘Times She UnLtd Entrepreneur’ award in 2020 for her role in establishing Nugu as a promising and sustainable social brand. She intends to continue her journey as a thought leader by helping young entrepreneurs build enduring organizations that value impact-focus and human-centred innovation to achieve sustained profitability. “Sustainability is at the core of Nugu’s mission. We develop local artisans, using natural and locally sourced raw materials, and follow sustainable production practices like recycling, and carbon sequestration to minimize our carbon footprint. We have thus far planted 7000 trees in the past three years and intend to create a food forest for our community in near future. Nugu’s bespoke eco-safe creations made by local artisans and admired by people across the world are a great example of how rural, local and sustainable businesses have the power to change and positively impact the ecosystem.” handmade handmade

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