It may seem a bit strange: a 23-year-old who works full-time in London and endures a four hour round trip commute, volunteering to do Social Media for a tea company. In fact, put it that way and the question of time seems to arise. How on earth does she fit this work in? you may ask, and Why?
It's simple enough really, how I make it all work. It's because I want to.
But volunteering for Tea People isn't about the fantastic opportunities I get to try different teas, or the fact that I'm able to follow along with the day-to-day growth of this small but mighty Social Enterprise. What makes me find the time (and it is only a few hours a week, truth be told), is the vital work that Tea People do in Darjeeling. The schools that every cuppa helps to build are the reason I asked to be a part of the organisation, and the reason I continue to make time for this work. Every child deserves an equal opportunity to succeed and I share the Tea People belief that this is only possible through equal access to quality education. We raise our mugs, together, to achieve this goal.
By Maria Amelia Randall
Creating an illustration for Tea People’s packaging was a true pleasure. The task of feeling out a mood, message, and brand and trying to create something that will communicate effectively to customers as well as catch the eye and add delight and beauty to a space is exciting and stimulating. It brings together many of my interests and was particularly satisfying because of who Tea People are and how much they care about their cause and the quality of their tea.
They are people who are passionate about their work and are using profit to invest in the education of children in tea-growing regions. That’s a message that was genuinely exciting to try to communicate through branding design.
I had already had the pleasure of tasting many of tea people’s excellent teas before becoming a part of the design project, and so once Gillian educated me a bit about what Tea People’s values are, we began to brainstorm images.
For the last few months we have been working on an exciting new project - our retail packaging! When we designed our first packaging a couple of years back, our priority was to come up with something that had low initial cost, kept the tea fresh and was easy to send by post. We hence decided to go for foil-lined kraft paper bags with zip-lock. They were readily available and all we had to do was design some labels.
This worked well and our brightly coloured labels attracted a lot of attention at the various events that we went to. At the same time, the kraft paper bag communicated the artisan element of the business. However, as we went to more events and bigger trade shows, we started to receive a lot of interest from shops and retailers who were keen stock our teas. Based on all the feedback we got, we decided it was now time for us to move to new packaging - one that would gain us that prized place on the retail shelves.
Tea People, the company was started to address the issue of educational development in the beautiful tea growing region of Darjeeling. As we began working with the schools there and started to speak with the teachers, the students and also some of their family members, we realized that these children, most of whom were in one way or another connected to the tea gardens nearby, had stories that needed to be told.
We also realized that a lot has already been documented and told about the history and journey of tea and also about some of the tea planters who own or manage the immensely valuable estates. However, not much is known about the tea garden workers who so meticulously pluck the two leaves and the bud that go into our cups creating that golden liquor which we all cherish so much. Their stories are not just stories of their daily struggles, but also of hopes, dreams and aspirations. We felt that telling their stories to the world will not just help generate more support for their cause but also help tea lovers from all over the world establish a direct connection with these real tea people.
According to a recent World Bank report, 1.2bn people are living in extreme poverty across the world, i.e. they earn less than $1.25 per day. Of these a staggering one-third or 400 million are in India. But at the same time India also is home to 55 USD billionaires[i], 16 million classified as rich and around 160 million considered middle class[ii]. The income inequality is huge and is the root cause behind many social ills.
So, whose problem is it? Those like me, who have grown up in India or lived there for a very long time tend to become immune to the poverty and deprivation all around us. We put the onus entirely on to the government, blame the system and relieve ourselves entirely of any responsibility whatsoever. But given the magnitude of the problem, there’s only so much that the government can do. And if we add to that mix, the inefficiency and corruption that is so rampant in India, there’s not much one can expect from even the very well meaning government initiatives.
Enter corporate India - with all its might, resources and most importantly the huge pool of talent and passion, and we can only imagine the impact it can make. There are around 1.6 million registered companies and another 26 million unregistered businesses in India[iii]. What if every one of them, big or small, transformed themselves into social businesses and addressed the various social issues in their own way? Well, it’s a bit far-fetched, but just imagine, even if 10% of these, i.e. 2.8 million companies turned into true crusaders and touched 100 lives each, they alone could change the world for 280 million Indians.
Well, coming back to reality, India’s Rajya Sabha (the Upper House) recently passed a new Companies Bill that would make it mandatory for all companies with over $200m turnover or a net profit of a minimum of $1m to spend at least 2% of their net profit on CSR. This is absolutely laudable and according to analysts, will increase CSR spending of just the top 100 companies alone from $265m currently to $850m and increase the overall CSR spend of corporate India to anything between $3bn to $5bn.
However, rather than just being driven by a legal mandate, the need of the hour is for every corporate, big or small to take up a social responsibility and have social objectives woven into the very DNA of their existence taking the cue from the emerging breed of social entrepreneurs.