Awards 1999 The Crown Agents Foundation Award for Small Businesses

The Crown Agents Foundation Award for Small Businesses

The Winner: Teddy Exports

Instead of an assignment for Voluntary Services Overseas, Amanda Murphy travelled in 1989 to Tirumangalam in Tamil Nadu near the southern tip of India. She fell in love with the place, set up home in a hut with no power supply and determined to change India. Then she narrowed her ambition to changing Tamil Nadu. "Now I'm really very happy if I can do something useful for the community who work for us," she says.

The Body Shop gave her the idea of helping people through commerce. Having worked in a Body Shop in Stratford on Avon she knew the firm had been looking for massage rollers for its customer's tired feet after a long day at the office. She also knew that the Tirumangalam workshops, which turned out rollers for chappatis, were skilled at turning wood on lathes. So she went to Body Shop headquarters in Littlehampton, demanding an order for footsie rollers. Gordon Roddick, the chairman recalls, "Here was this young Irishwoman determined not to go away until I said Yes. She prevailed on me to give her an order for 2,000 footsie rollers a month for a whole year."

Amanda Murphy farmed out the order between local workshops. She thought they could use the new profit to improve their equipment and working conditions. One man did so. Others bought TV sets or a moped. So she set up her own model factory and firm, Teddy Exports, named after her son. It started making massage rollers from the wood of a local common acacia tree, normally used for firewood.

She pays wages sufficient for people to have a good home, educate their children and save for the future. They get a subsidized lunch and can go to a free medical clinic, also open to other local people. There is even a pension scheme and a system of housing loans.

To improve the children's education Amanda Murphy tried to help local schools. That didn't work, so she built he own, modelled on a village school, near her home town of Carrickfergus, County Antrim. The headmistress visited the Antrim school, which in turn through her learned about life in India.

The Teddy Primary School now educates 250 needy pupils, some of them from nearby villages. It has a centre for disabled children with special needs. The teachers also run non-formal education for children who work in local match factories and hotels. And they visit boys locked up in the nearby detention centre in the city of Madurai.

Teddy Exports is an outstanding business success. It employs about 300 people, some of whom have become its mangers. "They have all got together in running an export company which can compete with the best in the world." says Amanda Murphy.

Teddy Exports turns over 1.5 million a year, sellng products made from wood, sisal or dazzlingly coloured cloth. They include gift bags and other bags (nearly three million a year) hairbands, hairgrips, furniture, shirts, saris, lampstands, massage rollers. To keep uo to date, Teddy Exports has its own product development team in which Gaynor Stockdale, a student from a London college, is working for a year with the local staff. Teddy Exports has set up its own sawmill and computerised its accounting.

Day to day running is now overseen by the general manager, G.Renganathan. Amanda concentrates on Teddy Trust work while Fozzy, the local man she married (his real name Thangasamy was always too much of a mouthful), looks after the product development team.

Up to half Teddy Export's profit, some 800,000 to date, has gone to the Teddy Trust which employs 80 people in community work ranging from a villagers' veterinary service to the school. Thirty of the workers at Teddy Exports come from disadvantaged backgrounds, including physical and mental handicap and HIV infection.

Amanda Murphy became concerned about the Aids virus HIV, on a hospital visit. At the hospital she met Nila, a 22-year-old homeless widow who was HIV-positive. She decided to give her a job. HIV is commonly spread by long distance lorry drivers. Amanda set up an information booth for them on a majoy lorry route passing through Tirumangalam. She worked there at night while running the factory by day. She also recruited sex workers to educate their colleagues.

She has striven to inform local people and students about HIV and Aids, using puppetry and an elephant to attract attention. This led to her meeting Dr. N.M.Samuel, of Madras' medical university, and to a joint project with him to set up another truckers' information booth at an oil refinery. At Teddy Exports' clinic Dr. Samuel has also set up a test of the use of drugs to hinder the progress of HIV infections.

Teddy Exports Tenkasi Road, Alampatti P.O., Tirumangalam,
Madurai Dt, Tamil Nadu, 625706, South India
Tel: (91) 4549 20178, 22278 Fax: (92-21) 5684551