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AsiaMonday, October 30

Online Opportunities in Mumbai

The gap between rich and poor in India, the world's second-most populous country, is very wide. But the internet is creating opportunities in the slums of Mumbai.

About a million people are packed into India's biggest slum -- the Dharavi locality in Mumbai. The area is tiny and filled with narrow lanes. Sprinkled amongst the alleyways are thousands of skilled craftsmen. About 10,000 make a living off leather products, pottery and other things. But despite their high-quality work, the craftsmen earn very little. They rely on brokers to sell their products to shops, which cuts down on their profits.

Megha Gupta has been trying to change that. She's a social entrepreneur -- someone who tries to solve social problems through business. She started her business 3 years ago. It's an online market where craftsmen can sell their products directly to customers.

One of those craftsmen is Mohammad Gufran Sheikh. Fifteen years ago, he set up shop in the slum to make bags, living much of the time away from his family. Once he started doing business with Gupta, things started to change. "Now I'm doing business mainly with foreign customers. I'm making more money because I can do business directly with customers, without middlemen," he says.

On Gupta's website, there are more than 1,000 items for sale, including bags, leather jackets and pottery. About 300 craftsmen are associated with Gupta and many have their names and photos featured with their products. "I've seen their work, which I think is of very good standard. Just because they are living in slums, they don't have access to the market. If I give them a platform online, everybody can buy their product," says Gupta.

That platform is paying off for her business partners. Sheikh has nearly doubled his income. The extra money meant he could afford to relocate his family to be with him. "Now, I can live with my family and my children can get a good education," he says.

For Gupta, it's a story she wants to reproduce as many times as she can.