UAE-based Indian businessman Fakih N P does not drop coins in the bowls of the needy. Instead, he brings jobs to widows and handicapped artisans in many countries, employs them to make useful products using cheaply available raw materials, thus helping them to look after themselves financially.
Fakih, who started with small gift shop in Karama, Dubai, has been helping hundreds of jobless widows, deaf and dumb and handicapped people in many countries by giving them employment in his growing network of handicraft factories, showrooms, sales kiosks and other outlets.
Fakih N P, managing director, Fakih Collections of Handicrafts and Antique Products, said he employs about 3,850 women artisans, mainly widows, handicapped or otherwise marginalised women from his home country India and other developing countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma, and some African countries.
The Fakih group, which has a 72,000 square feet handicraft showroom in Dubai’s Al Quoz area, is now opening a new 12,000 sq ft handicraft and antique shop in the Tourist Club area of Abu Dhabi. It has a network of 26 handicraft showrooms and exhibition centres and manufacturing units in 12 countries.
Says Fakih: “I started business in the UAE with a small shop that sold gift items, souvenirs, handicrafts etc to tourists. Now my company employs 3,850 women artisans that includes hundreds of widows, handicapped and aged women. I started employing rural elderly women and widows, because in villages, they are marginalised and find it difficult to get a job.
“I lost my father when I was just three and half years old. As a widow, my mother struggled a lot to maintain the family. When the bread winner of the family dies, a woman loses her balance. We had a small income of 150 rupees per month and my mother used to keep small coins of two, five and 10 paise coins in a small box. She used to give these coins to poor people and I learned the glory of charity from my widowed mother who is 62 now,” said Fakih, a self-made businessman, who had a sales turnover of Dh312 million last year.
Apart from charity, the low wages in these countries and easy availability of cheap raw materials are factors that he considers in preferring rural woman artisans.
“Older people have little access to care, and their families have to take care of them. By empowering old women to work, we are helping their mental well-being and allowing them to lead a healthy life in their old age. Customers who buy Fakih products are indirectly helping poor people in several developing countries,” says Fakih.
In India, the group produces 60 per cent of its handicraft items –carpets, hand floorings like mats and durries made of bamboo, jute, coir and grass, pottery, wooden furniture, wood carvings, glass works, cushions and beds. More than 1,000 Indian craftsmen are employed in 23 locations ranging from Srinagar in Kashmir to Meerut, Agra, Vadodara, Indore, Hyderabad and Kochi.
In Indonesia and Thailand, nearly 900 artisans make stone and wood items, bags and clothing. In Africa 162 workers make traditional masks and soft stone items. In Vietnam, 315 village artisans make ceramic and porcelain items, and in Burma they make hanging carpets and puppets. He says many of his old female employees love him because he gave their family a livelihood.
“In Kandy province of Sri Lanka, which was affected by a protracted war, about 14,000 families have widows. We employ some of these widows to collect shells from the sea shore, waste newspaper, coconut palm leaves and other raw materials that they can convert into useful handicrafts. A small scale unit can employ four people in the village,” he said, adding that his company has invested $4.2 million in various rural cottage projects.
“Waste newspaper from Colombo is collected for Sri Lankan Rupees 17 per kilo, and we give them SL Rs420 per month as salary. About 625 women are employed to pick up waste newspaper in Indonesia too. We make eco- friendly newspaper pencils by recycling waste newspaper,” he added.
The Fakih group plans to expand its business to other parts of the UAE and other Gulf countries. The focus is on manufacturing and marketing eco-friendly handicrafts and souvenir items, world flags collection, photo frames, oil-based perfumes and perfume bottles, greeting cards etc.
Fakih said he gets new product designs and ideas during his regular trips to developing countries, especially their villages far away from the main urban centres.
“Doing charity is not just giving away old clothes and things that people really don’t want. I do charity by giving jobs to village women who often find it difficult to get a job. While a village man finds it quite easy to find a job, women remain idle, leaving their families in poverty. We provide training to village women and handicapped people to make some of our products through cottage units.
“I have two widows aged over 90 working in Thailand. I have a group of aged women in Africa who have lost their memory and cannot lead a normal life. In Nepal too, I have employed nearly 70 widows, and deaf and dumb people make handicrafts like handmade paper and printed silk gift wraps and pashmina shawls,” Fakih told Emirates 24|7.
The proposed 12,000 square feet showroom located in the Tourist Club area of Abu Dhabi will display and sell handicrafts sourced from around the world through the group’s network. It will have the largest collection of handicrafts and antique products in the UAE, he added.