Kaisa Mattson runs KappAhl’s Indian production offices together with 18 local co-workers in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, the capital of India. Parallel with its own operations, KappAhl is also involved in developing entrepreneurial skills among the poor in rural India by providing support for the Hunger Project.
Originally from Helsinki in Finland, Kaisa Mattson has been working in India for several years. Previously she was responsible for IKEA’s environmental and social operations in Southern Asia and was then also based in Gurgaon just a stone’s throw from her current workplace. Kaisa joined KappAhl in April 2009.
“When you work here, you soon learn that there are different ways of solving problems. You begin to realise that the European approach is not the only one,” Kaisa explains in her crystal-clear Finland Swedish accent.
As her husband and children also live in Gurgaon, she experiences all aspects of private and professional everyday life in India. The culture and business climate are very different from those in Europe. Traffic is chaotic. In April and May temperatures top 40˚C. And power cuts are a regular occurrence.
Good team at the offices
Kaisa leads Indian operations from the office in Gurgaon, some 30 km from New Delhi but still part of India’s capital city region. Most multinational companies are based in Gurgaon these days. Good premises in the capital have become expensive and hard to find. KappAhl also has a smaller office in Tirupur in the state of Tamil-Nadu, in southern India. Kaisa’s co-workers at the offices maintain contacts with KappAhl’s 25 suppliers in India, ensuring that production and delivery processes run smoothly from start to finish. The buyers at KappAhl’s head office in Sweden decide what to purchase and from where. In reply to their enquiries, the production offices send details of prices and samples. In Gurgaon the emphasis is on woven garments and accessories. Most Tirupur orders are for jersey knits.
“My co-workers are knowledgeable, experienced and fun to work with. We’re a good team,” Kaisa says.
More women in village councils
India’s economy is expanding rapidly. Textiles dominate the country’s exports, but other areas, such as software and electronics, are gaining ground. Despite a growing middle class, India remains one of the world’s 40 poorest countries. Poverty is mainly concentrated in rural areas, which are home to around two in three of India’s one billion plus inhabitants.
To help boost development in India, KappAhl supports the Hunger Project. This is run by a global foundation and adopts a grassroots approach to helping poor people to start their own businesses. In India the focus is on educating and empowering women so that they can sit on village councils, which are the foundation for local democracy. By law 50% of village councilors must be women, but few women have the courage or confidence to take that step.
“The Hunger Project helps to involve women in decision-making processes. The tangible results of this are new schools and roads in the villages, improved water supplies and the right conditions for small enterprises to develop,” Kaisa explains. The women receive training and support throughout their five-year mandate period. A lot can be achieved in that time.
“It’s useful to set a good example locally and supporting the Hunger Project chimes in well with KappAhl’s values,” says Kaisa.