Posted by: pgprm08 | November 5, 2009

Profile Of Social Entrepreneurs – Prashant Lingam, Aruna Kappagantula and Ela Ramesh Bhatt :By – Ritesh pandey and Saurabh Singh

Prashant Lingam and Aruna Kappagantula

Bamboo House India was started in Hyderabad in 2007 by Aruna Kappagantula and her husband Prashant Lingam with the aim of promoting bamboo as an eco-friendly substitute to wood, steel, iron and plastic and also utilising bamboo as an economic driver for providing sustainable livelihood opportunities to rural and tribal population in the country, through market linkages.

The business model focuses on triple bottom lines i.e environmental, social & financial aspects .Criteria is to provide market for artisan products and make Bamboo available to the customers and try to solve the major problem of the Bamboo industry i.e poor market linkages. Bamboo House India works through a hybrid model, a ‘for-profit’ component and a ‘non-profit’ component.

Bamboo House India is operating on a business model of creating a chain of bamboo showrooms across the country that promote and market all bamboo based products under one roof. But the couple had to face some hurdles, during the initial stages. “Initially, our family members were reluctant and sceptical about the success rate of an unexplored initiative like ours.

Today, many organisations like the National Mission on Bamboo Application (NMBA), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Andhra Pradesh Bamboo Mission (APBM), etc. support the activities of Bamboo House India. They are happy about the fact that their initiative is gaining wider acceptance and several consumers are now going for bamboo products than the conventional timber or plastic ones.

They went into this business accidently when they could not find suitable bamboo products. The search led them to read about Katlamara, a non-descript village in Tripura, adjoining the Indo-Bangladesh border. Katlamara was home to a tribal, Bengali-speaking community that produced the best bamboo species in the world—Thrystostachys Oleverii, or Kanakais, as the locals calls it—and did the most wonderful things with it. Oleverii offers range (a diameter of 15-55 mm at the base), height (60-80 feet), growth (it hits full height in five years) and flexibility. It is ideal to make bamboo handicrafts, furniture, even composite structures for rural houses. Yet, both the species and its artisans were dying, due to the fallout of a government law.

The Indian Forest Act of 1927 classifies bamboo as a tree, not grass. That ruling places several restrictions on its harvest, transit and trade. In north-eastern states, for instance, only tribals can harvest bamboo. This bottled up supply. As a result, even demand did not flourish.

They went after the supply side first. Bamboo was on the concurrent list, which meant that states, not the Centre, had the final say on it. Tripura not only allowed tribals to harvest bamboo, it also allowed private cultivation. The duo felt they could handle the cultivation and marketing sides. They needed the Katlamara artisans to take care of the creative and craft aspects.

The duo began making regular visits to insurgency-prone Katlamara—a two-hour journey from Agartala, a military convoy in tow—to convince artisans to return to their roots. Kappagantula’s Bangla broke the ice with the artisans. As did the financial package and creative freedom they offered. The duo said they would pay Rs 20,000-30,000 a month to the seven main artisans, for six months, with no delivery commitments. Further, they promised to buy whatever the artisans produced and at their price. The community formed an NGO, Bamboo Enterprise United, and Bamboo House started dealing with them.

In the beginning, they had to get rid of Rs 25,000 worth of furniture because it had developed cracks, but they didn’t harry the artisans. Even when sales weren’t happening, they paid salaries—Rs 350 per day to daily wagers and Rs 8,000 per month to permanent employees. It further cemented the relationship.

Simultaneously, they started working on the demand side. They held exhibitions. They researched design sensibilities of Indians. They scaled down pricing. They launched a website that gave information on bamboo applications and displayed artefacts ( “The idea was to provide information rather than generate sales,’’ says 31-year-old Kappagantula, who traded her plans to do research in zoology to engage with bamboo. The public interest exceeded their expectations. “About 180 people wanted to open a showroom in their cities right away,’’ says Lingam.

In January 2008, they opened the first showroom of Bamboo House—in their house in Hyderabad. It is, today, a storehouse of bamboo artefacts, handicrafts and building material, displayed aesthetically. The second showroom opened recently in Banjara Hills in Hyderabad.

Today, Bamboo House is a scalable business that can produce 150 pieces of furniture a day. And it enjoys the confidence of the Katlamara community. Even though it puts a mark up of 30% on sales to dealers and 50% on retail sales, break even is years away.

Ela Ramesh Bhatt

Ela Ramesh Bhatt was born on September 7, 1933 in Ahmedabad, India. Her father was a Lawer by practice and mother was also an active participant of Women’s Movement.

Her schooling was from the Sarwajanik Girls High School, Surat from 1940 to 1948, and then M.T.B. College, Surat, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English in the year 1952.

After graduation she received her Law degree with a gold medal on her work related to the Hindu Law from Sir L.A. Shah Law College, affiliated with Gujarat University, in Ahmedabad in 1954. Her professional carrier started with teaching at Shrimati Nathibai Damodardas Thackersey Women’s University in Mumbai, but teaching was not a profession which she found satisfying. As a result she joined the legal department of the Textile Labour Association (TLA) in Ahmedabad at the invitation of two of the organization’s founders, Anasuyaben Surabhaiand Shankarlal Banker. She majorly worked on the document development of rthe senior counsel and then started to appear in the labour court as well.

In 1956 she was married to Ramesh Bhatt. In 1961 she took up a position in the Labour ministry of Gujarat and worked there for quite some time. She also served at positions for the vocational training and guidance of the candidate in addition to Job Placement. When, in 1968, she was asked by the Textile Labour Association (TLA) to become head of its Women’s Wing she rejoined the union, and took intense interest in the women for whom she had worked in the ministry. She was aware that thousands of wives and daughters of textile workers, as well as other women, toiled as self-employed junk-smiths, garment makers, vegetable vendors and hawkers to supplement the family income. ‘Profiles of Self-Employed Women’ (1975) written by her summarizes many of the findings about a study conducted by her on the condition of women in the job fields of vegetable vendor, garment maker, used garment vendor, junk-smith and milkmaid. The results were grim and then with support from Arvind Buch, president TLA she started Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in 1972. One of the several problems faced by her was related to the registration of SEWA with the government. The government reluctantly agreed and the union was registered in 1972 under the Trade Union Act of 1926.

Today there are around 10667 members in the city. One of the concerns for them was to stop the exploitation of the members. For this they started with financing the members as it was the major source for exploitation. With SEWA she also established the Shri Mahila SEWA Sahakari Bank Limited (the Mahila SEWA Cooperative Bank, Ltd.). SEWA has also got a literacy problem for her members.

Presently she is the Managing Director of the SEWA Bank and Vice President of the Gujarat Agriculture Workers’ Union, the Self-Employed Workers’ Organization and the Construction Workers’ Union, and has found time to serve on the advisory boards of the Gujarat State Adult Education Committee and the International SOS Villages.

Comparative Analysis:

  1. In case of Ela Bhatt the movement towards the welfare of women of the Textile workers was well planned and understood. She had devoted a lot of time studying them and then she took up the initiative for the establishment of the SEWA, where as in case of Bamboo House it was more of an accidental initiative.
  2. SEWA is an example of double bottom line while Bamboo house is a case of Triple Bottom Line.
  3. One thing common in both the cases is the inclusion of poor and marginalised people as the one being taken care of.
  4. Both the initiative caters to two different segment of the society. SEWA focuses on the Women of textile industry labourers where as Bamboo House focuses on the Bamboo craftsmen of the village.
  5. There is a stark difference in the origin of the entrepreneurial activities. SEWA evolved over a period as a result of gradual study and inclination of Ela Bhatt’s job towards the women force of TLA. But in case of Bamboo House the initiative was more to fulfil the needs of Aruna Kappagantula and Prashant Lingam who were more interested for bamboo furniture for their new home.

By – Ritesh pandey and Saurabh Singh

Reference for Aruna Kappagantula and Prashant Lingam (Bamboo House)


Reference for Ela Bhatt



  1. Excelant every thing this was also our dream. Prof. Dabholkarjee has done some basic work on Bamboo plantation.

    You have given the new vision and new hope for Bamboo grower.

    It will be pleasure to meet and share more.

    With love

    Dipak Suchade

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