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SHIVINA KUMARI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PRINCESS DIYA KUMARI FOUNDATION

— JASMEEN DUGAL

The Princess Diya Kumari Foundation — a philanthropic social outreach initiative of Princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur — is actively providing face masks to frontline workers, delivering care packages to the needy and so much more. In conversation with Shivina Kumari, Executive Director, Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, Badal Mahal, City Palace, Jaipur on her personal journey, vision and grassroot activities of the foundation and tackling coronavirus.

 

In this fast-paced era, few people are committed to service with such enthusiasm, steadfast resolve, clarity of purpose and dedication to their people. Do share your story with us. What drives you?

 

My journey has been a global one as my childhood was spent in Switzerland, Indonesia, Nigeria, the UK and the USA. My father was with World Bank, and he worked across fifty-two countries, developing programs for agriculture, water, nutrition and food security. I grew up in an environment of International development and was inspired by my father and his service to humanity and by my mother for her elegance and creative style. My career over the last nineteen years has been in the areas of business development and communications. It began in the field of design, working with brands such as Hermes, and then I worked with International public health companies developing projects for clients such as World Bank, Global Fund, UNAIDS and DFID. I also founded a consulting company, Invictus, which specializes in business strategy and curating luxury events. After moving to Jaipur, I felt the compelling need to give back and support underprivileged women in Rajasthan. As a woman from this State, I am aware of the social and cultural challenges women face and wanted to use my International experience and local understanding to make a difference. I was delighted to join the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation [PDKF], which is the perfect platform to help underprivileged women. Princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur started this Foundation in 2013 as a non-profit organisation to support disadvantaged women and girls in Rajasthan and I truly admire her sincere dedication to the cause.

 

You are an integral part of PDKF. How do you feel it has evolved in terms of the vision- the magnitude of the initiative- the awareness? What are some of the main areas that the Foundation focuses on? Please do share the initiatives you are closely involved with.

 

PDKF has evolved from a local organisation to one with a global vision. We are constantly keeping abreast with global issues and programs and seeing how we can adapt and apply them locally. Our Foundation's head office is in Badal Mahal i.e. Palace of the Clouds, which was built in 1727 as part of City Palace, Jaipur. We have four PDKF centers in villages in Rajasthan. The program areas are women's empowerment, skill building, livelihood and girl's education. On a daily basis, I am actively involved in the strategy, partnerships, development and scaling of our programs. We are constantly evolving and trying out new ideas and when we see the impact, it is very rewarding. As the head for creative design at PDKF, I have a passion for experimenting with color palettes, using old motifs and handcraft techniques. We are very fortunate to have so much design inspiration from the Textile Museum and motifs around City Palace. At PDKF we design products, garments and also make products for clients. We aspire to maintain quality that is comparable with luxury products. Every product we sell has a social cause, as it has been made by an underprivileged woman trying to provide for her family. in fact, we have had some interesting collaborations such as with Chatelles, a luxury shoe brand in Paris; we developed and made the first Baby Chatelles in our signature cloud print of Badal Mahal. We have also developed and made reusable inflight travel bags for Safar in Vienna. We developed a handblock print logo for Airbnb and passport holders for gifting to journalists from over thirty countries.  We have also been invited to participate in fashion shows such as Bombay Times Fashion Week 2019, Rajasthan Heritage Week 2018 and recently, Liva Miss Diva 2020 regional event as main designer. I am so proud of the accomplishments of our PDKF women who have come from such difficult lives of hardships and poverty and their ability to create garments and products that are appreciated by clients in India and Europe. You can see the confidence and happiness on their faces when they speak about their work at the Foundation. Last year we launched 'Shiksha Diya', a girl's education project across five government schools, which provides scholarships, uniforms, stationary, school bags and English, mathematics and science tuitions and digital literacy.  We also launched 'Project Pragati' in two villages in Rajasthan, in collaboration with FBB Colors Femina Miss India World 201 that was presented as 'Beauty with a Purpose Project' at Miss World 2019 in London. 'Project Pragati' was ranked among the top ten projects as it provided a model for women's empowerment in villages.

 

PDKF has a vision to empower disadvantaged women by teaching them stitching, embroidery and handicrafts and selling it in the palace store as a means of their employment and financial independence. Please take us through this journey and how it has transformed lives.

 

PDKF empowers disadvantaged women by skill building and creating sustainable livelihoods. We teach them stitching, embroidery and handicrafts. We provide the whole value chain, by providing infrastructure, materials, machines, training, design, supervision and connect to the market through our stores in City Palace and a few online portals. Most of the women who come to our centers have faced financial hardship, emotional trauma and have no hope. We help them open bank accounts, teach them a certain skill, pay them through money wires, educate them on health, hygiene and financial empowerment. We see a visible transformation in them and the Foundation becomes a haven for them to spend their day with other women in a happy atmosphere. We conducted a study that showed an increase of over 42 per dent in their annual household income after joining the PDKF skill building and livelihood programs. We feel our programs can be a solution for rural development by providing work in villages and selling the products nationally.  At a time, such as the one we are facing with the pandemic and migrant workers moving back to villages, we hope other organisations will also look at sustainable solutions for employment in villages that can be simple cottage industries or working with a cluster of artisans. We also hope that people support buying handcrafted and locally made products to provide livelihoods to people in villages.

 

Since social distancing, sanitisation and working from home are the new normal how are you preparing these disadvantaged women for it?

 

The covid19 pandemic has proven once again, 'the world is flat' — a line borrowed from Thomas Friedman. We are all facing the same challenges, have to work together and collaborate to deal with the issues. When the pandemic started, we immediately educated all our women across our five centers on prevention, hand washing, social distancing and hygiene based on WHO guidelines. We closed down our PDKF centers before the national lockdown as we were aware of how rapidly it was spreading globally. We have started working from home in all five locations and follow strict protocols on sanitation and social distancing when the women come to the centers to collect patterns, fabrics and materials for the face masks that we are currently producing.

 

PDKF has been on the frontline of on-ground education on safeguards against the pandemic; distributing essentials to migrants and locals; making fabric masks for doctors and frontline workers. Please take us through the process and share the experience with us.

 

PDKF immediately got into action the moment the pandemic started and in view of the shortage of protective gear we started making face masks. We have been donating face masks, sanitizers, gloves and infrared thermometers to doctors and frontline medical teams treating covid19 patients at a hospital in Jaipur. Princess Diya has been personally distributing essentials to migrant workers and patients in eight isolation centers across Jaipur. PDKF has also been donating face masks to the police and health services in Jaipur and other cities in Rajasthan. We have been in touch the doctors who are treating patients and are so grateful for their tireless efforts working eighteen-hour days every day. We are continuing to support them through donations of supplies.

 

PDKF's MoU with Airbnb enables travellers to live at PDKF members' homes, learn about the region's crafts and try their hand at it... with proceeds going to digital literacy and empowering disadvantaged women. However, do you feel heritage tourism will take a severe hit in the aftermath of the pandemic?

 

PDKF's MoU with Airbnb is an interesting collaboration for social impact experiences. The current pandemic has affected the tourism industry globally as people are scared to travel unless absolutely necessary. Heritage tourism will always be there due to the fact that it is showcasing history and culture that are timeless, but in the interim it will be difficult. This is also a time to look at new formats and use technology platforms to promote museum tours and curated experiences, till things normalise again. At PDKF we are very active on our social media and share stories and are also redoing our website. One has to look at the positive in everything and use this time to ideate, create and learn how to use technology to promote and connect.

 

This is a generation that values experiential luxury and travellers expect to experience the region's history, culture and royal traditions. So it was perfect when the city palace opened its doors to travellers. How are you strategising to make it an enriching experience once the world is a safer place?

 

Travel has evolved into experiential traveling and visitors want to immerse themselves in the culture, royal traditions and history that Jaipur has to offer. Princess Diya has been instrumental in leading efforts to promote, preserve and showcase the City Palace.

 

Shivina, how important is it for youngsters to develop consciousness of their role as heritage guardians? 

 

India is a country that is unique and among the richest in culture, cuisines, festivals and history tracing back to thousands of years. I feel it is important for us to teach our children our traditions and encourage them to value our heritage. It is important for the next generation to continue celebrating festivals in the traditional way, wear garments that were passed down to us by our grandparents, cook traditional dishes from recipes that were closely guarded in our families and to promote our history and culture to friends all over the world.

 

Inter-generational relationships are vital to ensure intangible cultural heritage is alive. How do you perceive we can get young people today- in the time of social media and gadgets- to engage with intangible cultural heritage? How are you working towards this in Jaipur?

 

There is much to be learnt about culture and traditions from elders and grandparents and it is important for young people to listen and absorb from their stories and experiences. I feel in order to get young people to engaged in cultural heritage there has to be a social, experiential aspect. The Royal Family of Jaipur has played a major role in preserving cultural heritage by celebrating festivals in a traditional manner at the City Palace.

 

Lastly, what does the future hold for you and for PDKF?

 

PDKF has a vision of making lives more productive, healthier and happier for disadvantaged women in Rajasthan. We will continue to evolve as the needs change. Sustainability and scalability are very important and all our programs are developed with those goals. We need to continue to find ways to help provide livelihoods for women who are dependent on our Foundation. We have adapted our products to meet the current needs of the pandemic and are now making face masks for sale. We are planning on selling online. We are also collaborating with organisations and designers who are ordering  face masks from us. On a personal level, I am happy to continue to serve and help vulnerable women empower themselves. My grandmother used to always tell me about the importance of 'sewa' and contributing in some way for the poor and needy. At this point of my life, I feel my work at PDKF is my 'sewa' and it gives me the greatest joy.
 

Princess Diya Kumari Foundation
Shivina Kumari, Executive Director, Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, Badal Mahal, City Palace, Jaipur
 
Princess Diya Kumari Foundation
Princess Diya Kumari and Shivina Kumari with the PDKF ladies. Pic Credit: Lodovico Colli di Felizzano
 
Princess Diya Kumari Foundation
Princess Diya Kumari Foundation empowers the disadvantaged women of Rajasthan. Pic Credit: Lodovico Colli di Felizzano
 
Princess Diya Kumari Foundation
Garments made by PDKF ladies, retailed at City Palace, Jaipur. Pic Credit: Lodovico Colli di Felizzano
 
Princess Diya Kumari Foundation
rincess Diya Kumari Foundation empowers the disadvantaged women of Rajasthan. Pic Credit: Lodovico Colli di Felizzano
 
Princess Diya Kumari Foundation
Baby-Chatelles in Badal Mahal, City Palace, Jaipur
 
24-MAY-2020
 
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