What lengths would you go to in order to inspire change and spark innovation in your community? Deciding how, when and what you're willing to sacrifice to make your mark is no easy undertaking. Yet, for some, the distance and path of the journey become quite clear.

Vishal Chordia makes time to make a difference. He took months away from managing his business and drove 15,534 miles (25,000 km) to help cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship and inspire tangible, sustainable socio-economic change in rural communities throughout his home state. Vishal is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Pune, India, the 2018 EO Global Citizen of the Year, and founder and leader of Suhana, a spice export company. Here's his story:

The Man.

A devoted family man and dedicated business leader, Vishal has led his thriving, multimillion-dollar food business in India's spice sector for 18 years where he has fostered a culture of stewardship and trust among employees. This allows him to focus on the company's big picture and pursue what he considers his life's work: Helping others awaken their inner entrepreneur.

"As someone privileged to discover the magic of entrepreneurship early, it is now my responsibility to enable more and more around me to uncover their potential," Vishal shared. "I wake up every morning with this crazy zest for life because as more people realize their potential, we will all enjoy a better world."

The Journey.

In November 2016, Vishal became chairman of the Maharashtra State Khadi and Village Industries Board (MSKVIB)―a state government board designed to promote socio-economic growth and well-being for the state and its residents. Vishal quickly realized that an overhaul of the board's culture and approach to work would be key to tangible, sustainable change.

"One of the reasons that I accepted this responsibility was because, as a government department, we had the opportunity to turn matters around for rural residents," he recalled.

So, he took a road trip―a carefully planned journey designed to figure out how he could mobilize the MSKVIB to revive long-standing, traditional industries in Maharashtra's most far-flung areas. Over three months he drove across the state and met with over 8,000 village entrepreneurs and craftspeople. At every stop he discussed ways that he and the board could assist the residents, developing a plan to re-ignite the entrepreneurial spark in the state's poorest communities.

"I felt that some kind of live movement through the entire state―which is the de facto market―would galvanize all aspects of the crafts ecology. I genuinely believed that we needed to shake the indifference and the diffidence off," he said.

Thus was born the Mahakhadi Yatra (which translates to "march" or "long journey"), affectionately known as "The Great Khadi Pilgrimage" by state residents: A well-coordinated, vibrant moving market of craftspeople and vendors gleefully reintroduced themselves and their products to waiting crowds of potential buyers in Maharashtra's rural communities. The band of craftspeople―led by spirited MSKVIB members―traveled to more than 20 state districts over 75 days. In that time, over 50,000 people supported the 750 craftspeople involved by making purchases to the tune of $100,000.

"We woke up everyone; from the somnolent government machinery to craftspeople―by directly interacting with thousands of crafts lovers and potential consumers―who had never quite seen anything like it," Vishal said. "The Yatra made money, friends and sense."

The Outcome.

"Historically, entrepreneurship has been the lifeblood of the rural economy," Vishal explained. "Rekindling that sacred flame of enterprise does wonders."

The Yatra set off a series of calculated steps to strengthen and build the state's rural market economy. As chairman, much of the initiative was guided by Vishal's overarching vision for growth in rural communities.

To honor the state's traditions, Vishal and his team focused on reinvigorating two sects of artisan entrepreneurship―leather footwear and local honey production.

By tackling these two distinct areas, thousands of craftspeople―including a large proportion of women―would be back at work with energy, pride and confidence in local crafts, and people and villages could partake of the burgeoning market.

To support growth, the board provided thousands of dollars' worth of new technology and machinery to help local producers adopt modern production methods. Then the MSKVIB created ways for craftspeople to sell their newly minted goods via pop-up shops, branded retail lines and a new state-of-the-art tourist attraction―a honey park. All of this development was enacted in less than two years and will be the basis of continued growth and development for years to come.

The Long-term Impact.

In working to empower compatriots to build up industry in their communities, the MSKVIB team also started addressing several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

"We wanted the benefits of our work to be multi-pronged. In my opinion, crafts and village industries have an incredible ability to affect rural ecosystems. They tackle biggies like rural poverty, gender equality and sustainability of communities head-on," Vishal stated.

"Intrinsically, handcrafted products ensure responsible production and consumption, care for all life forms and reduced social and economic inequalities. Additionally, we saw that if we married current skills with modern technology, amazing collaborative products could flow from the same landscape."

Vishal was humbled by the experience and remains committed to continuing this work: "I continue to learn about the infinitely intricate and remarkably rich world of Indian village crafts and see the tremendous role they could play in an effective rural renaissance throughout the country. My contribution is a small effort toward a noble cause."

The Lesson.

Vishal was specific in his vision for cultivating a culture of entrepreneurship in his home state. In his view, a similar approach to addressing communal woes can be taken wherever there is a passionate entrepreneur willing to put in the time and work.

"Local communities are entrepreneurial by nature. Their existence depends on their innate creativity. In a world expanding outwards, the sustainable self-reliance of local communities can ensure that the fruits of development reach every corner of the planet," Vishal said. "Working with them has provided clarity about how some of the seemingly insurmountable issues facing us today could be dealt with effectively."

"I strongly urge entrepreneurs of the world to work with local communities to both learn from them and teach them in a collaborative mode that will enable enrichment for us all."

Published on: May 18, 2018