Mela Artisans co-founder, Sonali Mehta-Rao, shares her thoughts on Mela Artisans’ social mission and  a recent program to promote vision tests in our artisan communities.

My favorite part of working with Mela Artisans has always been the time I’ve spent in the artisan communities, understanding the people, the culture, the challenges, and the pride behind each one of our products.



Sonali Mehta-Rao and Navroze Mehta visit artisans in Kashmir.

I’m especially excited to have now embarked on a journey to design and implement truly impactful, need-based social programs so that we can invest 1% of our revenue directly back into the communities and families with whom we have been working for the last 4 years.




Left: A artisan family in Saharanpur.   Right: Sonali and Ayaz with his daughter, in Sambhal.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often seen by big companies as a marketing gimmick, PR opportunity, or an unwanted requirement to get out of the way. At Mela Artisans, we see our CSR strategy differently. These programs are core to our social mission, and in turn they are core to our business.

Therefore our social programs must be just as well-designed and executed as our luxury products, with the end-user’s preferences and needs a top priority.


Left: Sonali shows an artisan our look book. Right: An artisan working in a wood shop.

We started the social impact design process last year, with hundreds of in-person surveys, household visits, and showcase events in our artisans’ communities. By introducing different ideas and interventions directly to our artisans, we were able to get their direct feedback, and understand their biggest pain-points. We’ve also worked on defining an innovating CSR strategy with Dalberg Global Development Advisors, one of the leading social strategy-consulting firms in the world.

The first clear winner in terms of scalable social programs has been our vision and eye-care program, in partnership with VisionSpring. I met Dr. Jordan Kassalow, VisionSpring’s Founder, last year. He shared some shocking statistics that I had never thought about. Did you know that uncorrected vision results in a $202 billion loss to global GDP and that 90% of the problem lies in the developing world? I also learned through working with VisionSpring that most adults over the age of 40 need reading glasses!


Left: Artisans waiting to participate in a VisionSpring screening in Sambhal. Right: A gentleman having his eyes tested in Serai Tareen.

Let’s bring all of those big numbers into the context of Mela’s work. Every one of our artisans needs to be able to see clearly in order to create. Much of our work is detailed, and cannot be done efficiently or effectively without perfect vision. If a 40-year old wood-carver, for example, loses his/her ability to see up-close and does not have affordable access to an eye-doctor and glasses (most of our communities don’t), then they will likely have to discontinue their work prematurely, and their family will suffer a loss of 20-30 years of income.So vision is as critical for our business as it is for our artisans. For Mela, better vision for our artisans = better quality and faster production. For our artisans, better vision = a better life. By providing an eye test and a simple pair of glasses, people can work, read, and earn for longer.  


Artisans wearing new glasses after Mela vision camps in Kashmir and Tamil Nadu.

Since we started the program late last year, we’ve screened nearly 500 individuals in 4 locations, and provided more than 200 sets of eyeglasses to people in need, so that they can continue to study, to work, and to lead productive lives. In some areas, the need for prescription glasses has been over 60% of the population!


Left: Two women happily wearing their new glasses. Right: Screening artisans in Kashmir.

Our goal is to provide at least one eye-screening camp for all of our partner groups by the end of this year. We are also evaluating options to bring other primary healthcare services to our partner groups later this year. As always with Mela Artisans, there is always more to come…

Sonali Mehta-Rao

Co-Founder & Director, Social Impact

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