Solomon Jaya Prakash
Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Solomon Jaya Prakash was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Solomon’s initiatives respond to two elements of the challenges facing the working poor: the struggle to sustain their own enterprises and the need for support in regulating and organizing daily wage labor opportunities. Solomon’s key innovation is his learning-focused approach which enables low-wage laborers and producers to expand their opportunities by accessing new clients and markets within and outside the community. This learning cannot happen in training sessions alone, so Solomon incorporates it into the fundamental fabric of the business environment. Unique among development programs targeted at the working poor, group learning centered on the learner and supported by a facilitator allows participants to draw on each other’s skills. These programs’ structure and facilitation are essential for the sustainability and ongoing competitiveness of the enterprise. This enables “learners” to drive the learning process themselves and take control over their own decisions. The facilitator, together with the learners, define learning outcomes that meet individual and collective learning needs, leading to overall empowerment. Solomon’s approach to poverty alleviation rests on two distinct models which capitalize on market needs and are based on principles of collectivity and organization. MAYA Organic is a network of collective enterprises run by the working poor, which produce competitive, market quality products. It demonstrates that not only can the working poor manage their own enterprises, but by enterprises mutually supporting each other, each business can engage and compete with mainstream markets, negotiating and reaping profits in a way which also benefits the group. Since 2004, MAYA Organic has been active in three sectors: lac-ware, garments, and wood and metal fabrication. More than 400 members work in 20 group enterprises and, through continuous hands-on learning, have reached a level where they independently plan, procure and execute product orders, maintain systems and follow and understand quality processes. The collectives are linked to an umbrella marketing and design organization where the product is sold under the common brand of MAYA Organic, which helps ensure sustainability of the enterprise. Solomon’s second intervention is LaborNet. This is a new program that aims to develop the skill and improve the services to unskilled or informal workers. By systematizing how contractors find employees, Solomon transforms each worker from an anonymous set of hands to a person who can develop different skills I a variety of settings, and therefore become more employable. It also creates an opportunity to work with employers on occupational health and safety, and provides workers access to social services. LabourNet is a workforce development solution, set up as an information exchange platform, which provides information on labor opportunities and facilitates labor transactions between casual workers, contractors, builders, construction companies, the government and project management consultants. This network also works with corporations, citizen organizations and the government towards better safety, management and efficiency in the labor force. This establishes better work systems at job sites, encourages skill development, facilitates access to social security systems, impacts the industry as a whole and influences policy.