“SIPA – 32 years since 1986” – Keep moving forward:  SIPA, the Federation of South India Producer Associations, one of the early Fair Trade networking organization, with a focus on sustainable Livelihood and relief to the Poor through fair trade was established in 1986 with a focus on facilitating, supporting  &  networking  ‘Sustainable  Livelihood efforts of the Marginalized through Fair trade concepts’*. 

Background of SIPA:  SIPA, a registered not-for-profit Service Society, is impacting the lives of nearly 10,000 artisan families by means of facilitating & supporting ‘Made in Dignity’ and ‘fair trade for a fairer world’ with their (Social) enterprises through several NGOs, Producer Cooperatives, SHG networks, in all the Southern States of India.

SIPA is actively involved in promoting, facilitating, strengthening and advocating ‘fair trade’* – towards ‘fairness for all‘.  SIPA’s objective is to facilitate and enhance “Sustainable livelihood initiatives by the Marginalized, with Dignity” through facilitating Market access & Market promotion for various products (crafts, food & textiles), Capacity-building – in terms of motivation & confidence building, skill-upgrading and enhancing management skills, Networking & Advocacy – for a collective identity and mutual support, with a common goal and advocacy for people-centered policies.

Since inception, SIPA has been facilitating Consortium-exports of a wide range of Crafts & Textiles, to various European countries, USA, Australia, Newzealand, Japan etc., both to Fair Trade & Mainstream Buyers; and organized more than 250 programmes so far, impacting the lives of over 10,000 marginalized families through the support of more than 100 NGOs, in South India.

Partnering with Govt Depts: with Dev. Commissioner of Handicrafts, Ministry of Textiles, has been partnering in various schemes & took an active role in formulation & implementation of Ambedkar Hastshilp Vikas Yojana (AHVY) scheme since 1999, focusing cluster approach for the Marginalized artisans towards overall development & sustainability.

With CAPART, SIPA was represented in the Standing Committee of Market & Media for 2 years (during 1998 – 1999) and introduced RIIMA (Rural Industrialization, Income generation & Market Access) during 2005 in Chennai.

With State Rural Development Dept and with Tamilnadu Corporation for Development of Women (WDC), SIPA had served in the Expert Committees and organized several training on Rural Entrepreneurship Management Progs (REMP) and SIPA has undertaken overall coordination of two Exhibitions, one in October 2007 and other one during Dec 2011 – focussing system building, better presentation & sales.

With the support of NABARD, SIPA was part of DRIP Project training in one district and implemented a pilot project onDesign & Product Development (DPD) Mission’ during 2005 for the benefit of 15 NGOs and several SHG networks involved in Crafts & Textiles.

With the support from International donors such as HEKS / Switzerland, OXFAM / UK, GTZ – Self Help Fund / Germany and CORDAID / Netherlands, Tradeaid / Newzealand – SIPA had organized several Awareness & Capacity-building programs, workshops and special training programs on EDP, Rural Enterprise Management Programmes (REMPs), Finance, Business Management, Orientation programs on Fair Trade concepts & standards.

SIPA could establish a  full -fledged  HRED  Training  Centre during 1996, at Sirumathur / Padappai, 15 kms from Tambaram / Chennai and this Training Centre was built with nearly 9000 sq. ft self contained centre, in a quiet rural atmosphere insider the 4 acre farm land.

Retailing & Reaching-out to Ethical Consumers @ Chennai:  SIPA had taken the initiative of retail marketing through SIPA’s CRAFTLINK, from the year Feb 2000.  Craftlink Showroom was on ‘Lonely Planet’ attracting foreign tourists looking for fairly traded products.  However, since SIPA did not have expertise, inspite of spacious location and vast display space, this initiative was not quite profitable and has to vacate the place by May 2008.

Being part of National & Global Networks:  Since 1991, SIPA has been one of the early members of IFAT (International Fair Trade Association) now known as WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization).  Between 1991 to 1997, SIPA took a lead role in evolving Code of Ethics in fair trade that got refined as ‘Fair Trade Standards’ and which has been universally adopted and adhered to, by the Members.  SIPA’s founder Dr.K.Panchaksharam (Panchu) served as Vice-chair of IFAT (the global body) for a two year term, between 1995 – 1997.   SIPA had hosted the IVth International Biennial Conference of IFAT  in  Ooty  in  April  1997.

SIPA took a lead role in promoting the national network of NGOs and social enterprises focusing support to sustainable livelihood efforts called Fair Trade Forum – India (FTF-India), in the year 2000.  This network now has over 120 enterprises as members with a reach-out of nearly 250,000 grass root stakeholders.  And, also with select other Members from Asian region, SIPA took active role in promoting the Asian network for stakeholders, now known as WFTO-Asia and also served as Vice-chair, for 4 years between 2004 – 2008.

SIPA continue to be an active member of VANI (Voluntary Action Network India), the National network of NGOs from the beginning in 1992 and served in the Board of VANI for 2 terms.

Stakeholders of SIPA:  SIPA has been closely working with more than 30 Producer and NGOs partners in the southern states and thousands of families are being impacted through SIPA’s networking, capacity-building & marketing support with a wide range of products in Crafts, Handloom & Textiles, Non-violent silk and, food products.

Had been celebrating World Fair Trade Day regularly on 2nd Saturday of May, every year since 1997 with Member organizations, had a Conference on Fair Trade at Puducherry in 2005; during 2007, 2008 & 2009, series of Awareness programs and Rallies were organized; during 2009, Drawing & Painting Competition on “Environment” Puducherry on the theme for “Protect the Environment – for the survival of the Universe” and similar programs every year.

Following  Tsunami  during  Dec 2004, as a Resource & support organization, SIPA undertook a survey  on  Livelihood  Restoration  Support  Services  (LRSS)  among the affected communities in  the  coastal districts  of  Tamilnadu & Puducherry between March & July 2005 and gave a detailed report with as many as 25 recommendations for consideration of the Government, Donors and select NGOs involved in Livelihood restoration activities & worked with interested Donors & NGOs in the field.

Campaign for Liberal Cooperative Law (CLCL) in Tamilnadu:  SIPA took the initiative with clear understanding of the lacunas in the Cooperative Sector in Tamilnadu and at the National level – started speaking out on needed reforms – both on policy and on administrative aspects – in order to ensure ‘Cooperatives are for the members, by the Members and of the Members’.

A Concept Note that “Self help groups – the most effective People’s Co-operatives” brought in lots of support for campaigning for liberal cooperative law in Tamilnadu and at all India level.

During early 2000, Dr.C. Subramanian released Handbook on the Self Reliant Cooperative Act and subsequently a Campaign Committee was formally launched and as part of the campaign, series of articles were written by Mr.Pothi Reddi (President of SIPA) and over 120 Awareness programmes were organized across the State.

With Government of India, finally bringing in the 97th Constitution amendment on autonomy of Cooperatives during 2011, on the request of National Cooperative Union, New Delhi Dr.Pothi Reddi drafted the Model of State Cooperative Act for circulation to various State governments for making needed amendments in the State Acts, since ‘Cooperation’ is the state subject.

SIPA’s 20th year celebrations in 2006:  During July 2006, SIPA had its 20th year celebrations with Shri. Surjeet Singh Barnala, H.E., the Governor of Tamilnadu as Chief Guest and the programme was organized at Durbar Hall, Raj Bhavan Chennai on 8th July 2006 in a grand manner distributing awards and recognizing outstanding artisans & NGO leaders.

And, coinciding with this event, a Conference on “Building Quality Standards for Market promotion”  was organized with the august participation of Thiru.M.V.Rajasekar. Union Minister of State for Planning and the CGM of NABARD, Thiru.B.V.Raghavalu and experts from the fields of Design and Product Development, Handicrafts, Finance, Networking, Market promotion and E.commerce.

Carving out SIPA Fair Deal Trust :  With the changes in Income Tax Act during FY 2008-09, it has become necessary to create a separate structure to continue marketing assistance and as such, during Feb 2009, SIPA Fair Deal Trust was carved out from the Federation and with effect from April 2009, all marketing related activities were taken care by the Trust while capacity building, networking & advocacy related programmes are continued by the Society, maintaining charitable status.

CSR support from HP on Micro Enterprise Development (MED) Project:  With due reference, Hewlett Packard (HP), globally known IT Company, as part of their CSR support, has chosen SIPA to be one of their partners in implementing “Micro Enterprise Development (MED) project”.   And,  SIPA has chosen 17 NGO partners, provided training and gave them Laptops / Desktop computers for building-up their efficiency level, using Information technology, offered training to SMEs of Chennai Leather Cluster & members organizations.

Silver Jubilee of SIPA / 1986 – 2011:   On 27th Jan 2011, SIPA celebrated the Silver Jubilee with H.E the Lt. Governor of Puducherry, Shri. Iqbal Singh inaugurating the workshop and the display of select crafts from several artisan groups and distributing awards for Product Excellence to select Producer groups in Puducherry region.

Promoting Kodagu Tribes Producer Company:   At SIPA, focus on the need for reach-out to Tribal communities, guide and support them in building their livelihood efforts was discussed and thus took interest in and facilitating the Tribal marginal farmers in Coorg area (Karnataka – who are having leased land rights) and who are involved in growing Coffee, Pepper and Minor forest produce (MFPs).

Along with local NGO working with them on land & livelihood rights for over 25 years, SIPA got involved in motivation, training & facilitating interested farmers in promoting a Producer Company for their collective benefit.  After 3 years of motivation & support, they are able to form ‘Kodagu Tribes Producer Company’ in 2016, and now SIPA is pushing them, stage by stage, on improving the quality of harvest and going in for organic way of cultivation etc, for processing & possible wider & export market.

Owning SIPA Gardens in 2015:   With much of efforts, SIPA Board was able to locate and buy a well equipped building at Anakaputhur (7 km from the Chennai International Airport) during Sept 2015.  This building has all the required facilities with a Training Hall & Guest rooms besides adequate space for office & stock keeping and for get-togethers in the open space inside the campus.

SIPA Fair Trade (Trust) with FTGS (Fair Trade Guarantee System), SIPA Fair Trade was able to get the FT certificate & following external audit process between May & Oct 2016.  SIPA Fair Trade has got the Guarantee Certificate with effect from Jan 2017, with Products from 12 groups to begin with.

Our journey for strengthening Livelihood pursuits of the marginalized continues …..