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How one woman went from art classes with her kids to coordinating over 100 artisans.

By uniting, these artisans give each other a chance to make a living.

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Facebook #SheMeansBusiness

The first time Hema Balakrishnan started working with clay in a course taken with her kids — she knew it would lead her somewhere.

But where? Making a livelihood as a terra cotta artisan — transforming riverbed clay into colorful jewelry — was next to impossible. Freelance jewelers in her community would sometimes have to wait 40 days to be paid for their products.


All images via Facebook's #SheMeansBusiness campaign, used with permission.

That's more than a month before seeing cash flow.

Hema reached out to other artisans and found they all were experiencing the same problem.

She also knew there had to be a better way. A stronger business solution.

So she did it herself.

On her own, Hema connected with 11 separate terra cotta artisan groups — 200 terra cotta artisans total — and coordinated these groups to make feasible career options for the artisans.

The business is thriving.

As she was starting out, things weren't exactly all cheers and support.

"My in-laws were not in favor of me going to work," she told 99% TV Telugu,"so it was a sort of forced staying at home, which made me interested in pursuing lot of courses. So that's what made me interested in pursuing the clay course with my children."

But she didn't give up. This business was her calling.

As Hema told 99% TV Telugu, "Perhaps they thought this was a hobby or something that I would sit from home and do. This is something beyond a personal gain for me. This is something I want to do from the core of my being. It's an inner calling for me."

Many of the women who do the meticulous work of creating terra cotta jewelry are in the field for the love of the craft but also to support their families. Families don't have 40 days to wait for payment. So Hema got involved in all aspects of production of the jewelry to create a system where a livelihood for women artisans was possible. She knew that by pursuing her business, Color D Earth, she would not just be helping herself grow, she'd be empowering others.

"When this business is giving livelihood to so many terra cotta artisans, it gives me great happiness."

Using Facebook to not just sell products, but to promote the social good of her business, Hema has seen her customer base grow. As she told the Facebook #SheMeansBusiness initiative, "The story mattered, and the best way to communicate that story, aside from just speaking about it, was to use the internet."

And she's not stopping there.

After reflecting on all that she has learned in growing Color D Earth, Hema knew she wanted to pay it forward. Now, in addition to running this business, she offers mentorship workshops and coaching to women looking to start their own enterprises.


From a love of clay, she's created a business infrastructure that gives that love back to her community.

And it all started with her following her instincts, listening to her gut, and sticking to it.

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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