Prateek Kaul – On Starting Giftabled And Using E-Commerce To Build A More Inclusive Society

Prateek Kaul
Prateek and Prarthana Kaul (Photo credit: Citizen Matters)

It’s rare that the co-founder of a business, however socially conscious it is, speaks longingly of a time when it will become redundant. But for Prateek Kaul, the IIS fellow who co-founded Giftabled, it’s the fulfilment of a dream.

As former corporate sector success stories who have always had a passion for volunteering, Prateek and his wife Prarthana wanted to move into the development field to make a real social impact.

Prateek says, “My wife and I were looking out for certain specific areas wherein we could create an impact. Disability was one area which was, to a large extent, still a secondary cause. There were other issues that were a higher priority.” Though Prateek says he doesn’t judge others for prioritising other causes, he and Prarthana were drawn to the disability sector because of this attitude. He says, “We are focusing on specific areas where we see that there is a gap in the ecosystem. We are not replicating anything that a lot of other folks are already doing.”

Building An Inclusive Network

On their quest to find a unique niche, they stumbled upon the idea of inclusive product procurement and merchandising.

Prateek explains, “At Giftabled, one area where we are focusing a lot on is inclusive procurement and supplier diversity. We realised that corporate gifting or B2B gifting can generate sustainable livelihoods for persons with disability. They can work from semi-urban or rural areas also, not just from cities. They can stay in their own sheltered environment and things can still be worked out.” He adds, “We realised that within that area there can be multiple focus areas and verticals like supply chain, marketing, product design, technology. So, we are building those expert services.”

Prateek’s visions of making an impact are slowly becoming reality. He says, “We are talking about more than 10 crore people with disability. There’s a lot of room for us to do impactful things in this sector.”

Where It All Began

Prateek kaul
Prateek and his team at Giftabled

If you’re a Bangalore resident, the chances are that you have already visited the Giftabled website. An e-commerce business with a difference – Giftabled is a non-profit that sells products that are handmade by persons with disabilities. In addition, it is also one of the few online portals that sell products that cater to persons with disabilities. Prateek and Prarthana also run the Giftabled Foundation, a social enterprise that works towards creating opportunities for persons with disabilities.

They discovered that there was a requirement for gift products for persons with disability at an event they were conducting. Faced with the task of finding gifts for some visually impaired kids, they found themselves at a loss. There was simply no mainstream way to buy gifts for the differently abled. That crisis situation spawned a beautiful idea – a site dedicated to inclusive gifting.

Prateek muses, “We wanted to have products that were made in India. A couple of organisations are doing that – great work! A few of them are a part of the IIS/ TIF family. That’s a good thing. Because the market is huge, the demand is huge. Persons with disability should be gainfully engaged and meaningfully employed. But if you want that, you have to provide a platform for it. We also need to understand that the disability is not in the person but in the environment. If we fix the environment, everyone is as good as anyone else. Then there is no differentiation. My interactions with the visually impaired or those who were deaf and blind gave me those insights.”

How Does It Work?

The Giftabled team works with approximately 40 different partner organisations to create products for the site. Prateek elaborates, “Most of them are organisations that are working in the space of disability. Few of them are also in women empowerment, working with acid attack victims. These organisations are across the country. Then there are also a few artisans with disability who are directly associated with us.”

There is a process in place to optimise the partnership. He explains, “We have team members within the organisation who reach out to them. Sometimes, they are doing good work but their products can be further enhanced by better design. We also give them options to increase their portfolio – in the same line of work more or less. If they are good at wooden handicrafts, for instance, we will suggest some ideas for utility products which are used by corporates. So, we give them some ideas and ensure that those ideas actually materialise. We also work on the supply chain – reducing the raw material cost and asking if we can aggregate the demands. Getting the materials – for not just one organisation but for 10 together – that brings down the cost.”

Creating More Diverse Spaces

Prateek and his team are working hard to spread awareness about the importance of inclusivity and diversity in the workforce. The crux of their argument is simple – diversity can only improve your business.

He says, “What we are saying is that you have to make the DNA of your organisation inclusive. There can be multiple angles to that and one of them is how your employees can interact with a person with disability. That person can be a potential candidate, a potential customer or it could be someone who is a stranger outside of your office. What you’re bringing in is a culture change. And if you do that then you will be creating brand ambassadors who will tell your story. And that matters a lot, especially in today’s world. Millennials are way more socially conscious than the previous generation. So building that kind of story around you not only brings inherent advantages but also helps you in your business.”

Creating The Demand For Inclusive Products

More and more companies are beginning to understand and appreciate their perspective. He says, “There are certain organisations that are ahead of the curve and forward-looking which makes this relatively easy. They reach out to us. But there are a lot of organisations that don’t know about inclusive procurement and supplier diversity and how it creates an impact at a ground level. That’s where we have to reach out and create more awareness. For example, the procurement guys at most Indian companies will not understand what inclusive procurement is. They are always trying to reduce the cost of the product without realising that the product or the merchandise that we are offering is very unique, handmade, and high-quality.”

He adds, “Keeping that in mind, they should realise that each and every product cannot be differentiated only on the basis of cost or pricing. They also need to understand that buying these products creates a sustainable ecosystem in the country. If you buy something, you’re providing someone with the means to buy your product. That’s a circle. If that circle is broken at some level for too long, then you are not just impacting the country’s economy. In a way, you’re also impacting your business. That understanding has to sink in. What goes around comes around.”

Cornering the market in inclusive gifting doesn’t mean that they are complacent. The team is well aware that they have to compete with mainstream companies who mass produce cheaper products. Prateek says that they aim to be better than the mainstream vendors. “Every quarter we will showcase one or two new products. That gives us a definite edge. The way we think is – our competition is with mainstream organisations. Any non-profit organisation in this space is our partner. We collaborate with them. We try to bring them at par with what is expected according to global standards.”

The End Goal

Despite their growing success, Prateek is ready to call it quits. Not because he doesn’t enjoy his work, but because he’s ready for redundancy in the truest sense.

He explains, “The long-term goal is that the need for Giftabled should reduce. If we can fix the environment and if we know that the disability is no longer a hindrance or a constraint. If everybody has the tools and products they require, creating that sustainable ecosystem – then we can ensure that 20 years down the line Giftabled is no longer required. That is our goal. If Giftabled is no longer required in the disability space, we can move on to something else – some other sector that has a requirement where we can make an impact.”

Well said, Prateek! We’re definitely rooting for Team Giftabled and a more inclusive world!

Takeaway – Habits That Help!

Prateek was kind enough to share some of his tips for success with us. (KYS) interviewed Prateek Kaul as part of India Inclusion Summit(IIS). IIS is a platform that brings awareness and drives the inclusion of specially-abled people at corporates, schools, policymakers and NGOs. Yes, KYS is the official blogging partner for IIS, and backs the event whole-heartedly so that we can build a more Inclusive India.

Liked reading this? Then you might also like to read Dhruv Agrawal – Medical Student Turned Engineering Startup Founder Of Aether.

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