To us, true empowerment lies in mutual collaboration, which is why we’re proud to work in tandem with indigenous craftspeople and their communities to build sustainable business models and growth opportunities. By providing training, jobs, and entrepreneurial development to the living communities around our micro-factories, we provide craftspeople with the income stability, career development, and job satisfaction they risked losing otherwise. This is at the heart of everything we do, and was the inspiration for Nugu itself.
As custodians of nature, indigenous people have unparalleled handcrafting, artisanal, and sustainable living skills, and our business and processes are deeply inspired and driven by their knowledge of the natural world. They are also one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people across the world and suffer from problems as displacement, unemployment, and protection of their rights.
Our micro-factories in rural Karnataka (South India) are located amongst some of the most skilled indigenous communities in India. At the same time, these communities are brimming with craftspeople who are eager to learn from experts and improve their craft. Nugu works closely with craftspeople of all skill levels to offer on-the-job development programs that help build the skills they need to be successful working at Nugu, and gain confidence in themselves and their craft — all while being paid a good monthly stipend so they can support themselves and their communities while learning. We are proud to have had over 150 participants progress through our skill development programs since 2017.
Prior to joining our team, many of our craftspeople earned low, inconsistent incomes working as migrant workers in unrelated industries. At Nugu, we create opportunities for all employees to earn higher salaries, learn new skills, and live amongst their families, communities, and land. All employees earn monthly salaries that average 50-100% higher than their previous incomes, and are offered development opportunities for promotions to positions on our leadership team—which is currently comprised of many employees who joined our team 4 years ago as craftspeople. Our dedication to offering dignified jobs allows our employees to support their communities while doing a job they love.
As a local business supporting local businesses, we support entrepreneurial development from both within our own company and the communities around us, with the goal of creating and supporting sustainable manufacturing ecosystems. Internally, we build local entrepreneurship by promoting employees from within Nugu’s team to leadership positions at each micro-factory. We are also dedicated to supporting other local entrepreneurial ventures — we source clay from nearby community suppliers, and use local groups for our fuel, logistics, and packaging needs. We also promote entrepreneurship as a part of our regenerative agro-forestry initiative, a key element of our sustainability goals at Nugu.
Upaya Social Ventures creates dignified jobs by partnering with early-stage entrepreneurs to scale their businesses, employing more people in their communities. The businesses we work with are often too large for micro-loans, but their business models are not yet suitable for investments from local banks or venture capitalists due to the risk involved and support needed.
Since the industrial revolution, humankind has relied heavily on mass production factories that compete to sell at the lowest price—usually, at a massive disadvantage to already-vulnerable local ecosystems and the global environment as a whole. We strongly believe the most future-friendly way forward involves challenging these damaging models, and instead promoting more micro-level, sustainable, and ethical production models.
Our key environmental goal is to achieve a net-positive impact on the ecosystems around us. This goal is two-fold: not only do we need to achieve net-zero in the carbon emissions we produce, but we also must create an ecosystem that benefits the soil, water, and air around our micro-factories. This is what makes our impact truly net-positive — we are leaving the ecosystems we operate in better than they were before.
Since 2017, Nugu has planted over 30,000 trees in our efforts to build regenerative agroforests around our micro-factories. Building regenerative agroforests means we are not only replenishing and repairing local forests, but also actively improving the soil, water, and biodiversity of these forests while providing food security and economic empowerment for our artisans’ communities. By employing permaculture principals such as no-till farming, mulching, natural fertilizer/pesticide use, and companion planning, we are able to cause carbon sequestration at every level while generating benefits for nature and people at the same time, in the same space.
Large-scale ceramics companies are notorious for a wasteful manufacturing process—without consideration, each stage in ceramics manufacturing can consume considerable amounts of energy and emit hazardous materials via waste from clays, glazes, and machinery. At Nugu, we have carefully designed our micro-factories and entire production process with sustainability at its core:
Local, natural raw materials: unlike large ceramics factories who import materials from many international suppliers, we use clay and raw materials sourced from local mines. Taking this one step further, we also extract clay from mine-waste with high Kaolin contents to up-cycle waste that would otherwise cause soil and water pollution.
Recycling water and reusing clay: we recycle and reuse all water and clay used in our various production stages and ensure absolutely nothing is wasted.
Fuel-efficient batch kilns: we use batch kilns to fire our products instead of continuous tunnel kilns, which are commonly used in large factories. Tunnel kilns can exponentially increase a factory’s production capacity as they allow products to be fired 24/7, but require massive fuel consumption and create large amounts of environmentally damaging ceramic waste. Alternatively, batch kilns are only used when needed (so no fuel is wasted) and produce no ceramics waste.
Zero waste: due to our limited product scale and conscious recycling and reusing processes, we are proud to ensure we are a zero-waste production micro-factory.
All Nugu production facilities, as well as living spaces for our employees, are built using repurposed shipping containers that offer a sustainable, cost-effective way to build the spaces we need. Buildings made using shipping containers are easily set up and taken down, meaning we’ll be able to adjust the size, layout, and location of our facilities as we grow—without using up any new resources, since all shipping containers will be recycled and repurposed from their previous life. In addition, shipping containers are build to withstand the harsh conditions at sea and are incredibly durable and weather-resistant. As such, we can ensure our employees will always be safe and comfortable while at work.