In 2020, AIF quickly pivoted to address the critical situation in India and the United States. In India, AIF leveraged its programs’ infrastructure on health, education, and livelihoods via its wide network to address the needs of the nation with ventilators, PPE, and other interventions in order to save the lives of vulnerable Indians from COVID-19. Read the report here.

In 2021, India recorded the world’s highest daily tally of 314,835 COVID-19 infections on April 22nd, as this second wave sent many more into a fragile health care system, critically short of hospital beds and oxygen. Working with our partners, hospitals, and governments, AIF has launched a three-pronged Phase 2 Emergency Response Strategy to address this crisis. Here is an overview.

The American India Foundation is committed to improving the lives of India’s underprivileged, with a special focus on women, children, and youth. AIF does this through high impact interventions in education, health, and livelihoods, because poverty is multidimensional. AIF’s unique value proposition is its broad engagement between communities, civil society, and expertise, thereby building a lasting bridge between the United States and India. With offices in New York and California, twelve chapters across the U.S., and India operations headquartered in Delhi NCR, AIF has impacted 6.7 million lives across 26 states of India.

How can cultural campuses best engage their visitors?


Khamir’s campus sits on a plot of land in the desert about half an hour outside the town of Bhuj. It consists of a series of graceful, airy buildings that house office space, weaving workshops, pottery and dyeing studios, and spaces for visiting designers to work. There are exhibition halls, a meeting room, and gift shop, stocked with an ever rotating supply of handwoven shawls, Ajrakh block printed fabrics, leatherwork, and lacquered wood sourced from the rich communities of artisans in the region.

Though Khamir often hosts visiting students, artists, and tourists interested in handicrafts, I began to wonder whether there weren’t some missed opportunities to attract and engage visitors who arrive on campus.

To this end, AIF sponsored an exposure trip I took to Tamil Nadu, where I was able to visit three facilities that support local crafts, culture, and livelihoods: Auroville, including the campus outside Pondicherry and their paper factory within Pondi, and the Crocodile Bank and Dakshina Chitra, outside Chennai. I spent time in each location seeking to explore a few questions:

– what is the experience arriving at the organization like for a first time visitor?
– what story does the organization tell about itself, and through what mediums?
– how do the organizations leverage local residents to interface with visitors?
– what sorts of modes of engagement are offered for visitors of different backgrounds and ages?

Each of the three organizations I visited had very different goals and brands, but all host large numbers of visitors, and support local crafts and indigenous livelihoods.



Auroville is a spiritual center that is home to about 2000 residents, and draws thousands more people as visitors each year. The campus includes the studios of many artists (particularly ceramicists), as well as small scale businesses working on agriculture, village development, and community services. Auroville also hosts the Sustainable Livelihoods Institute, which provides business training to local Tamil women.
During my visit, I explored the Auroville campus around the Visitor Center, and met with Nick, Faculty member and Mentor at the Sustainable Livelihoods Institute. I also spent time at the Auroville handmade paper factory, located in Pondicherry.




The Crocodile Bank was founded in 1976 as an effort to conserve India’s crocodile populations. It is home to 8,000 crocodilians of 14 species, some of which are released into the wild restock their natural habitats. The Croc Bank is a leading research center into captive breeding and conservation of reptiles and amphibians, and is also a popular local attraction – the Bank hosts more than half a million visitors each year.

The Bank hosts a program to extract venom from poisonous snakes and provide it to laboratories for preparation of anti- venom for medical research. This program harnesses the traditional knowledge of the Irula tribe, whose livelihoods as snakeskin dealers was in danger. Today, the Irulas are self- employed as snake catchers and handlers, milking the snakes and educating visitors.

I observed visitors at the Bank for several hours, and met with Crocodile Bank co-founder and director, Zai Whitaker




Finally – Dakshina Chitra. Dakshina Chitra is a “living museum” of crafts and lifestyles in southern India. Its campus contains contextual exhibitions, model homes from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, live demonstrations of glass blowing, weaving, and pottery, workshops for adults and children, cultural performances of music and dance, and sale of handicrafts.

After spending time on each of the campuses of these organizations, I noticed several ways in which they did a great job engaging visitors.

Before even getting to Auroville, its presence was everywhere in Pondicherry. It seemed like every other store wanted to be associated with the Auroville brand and its products.



Then once I arrived at Auroville, (and this was true of the other campuses as well), there were a lot of welcoming signage that give you a sense of where you are, what you can do and see, and what the organization stands for. The Crocodile Bank in particular has some wonderfully evocative hand painted signs.



At Dakshina Chitra, visitors can not only observe, they can actively participate and learn. The campus feels like it is bursting with opportunities. Some activities, like learning a bit about pottery for Rs.200, seemed like a simple way for artisans to make a little extra money for their trouble. I wanted to try my hand at Kalamkari painting when I saw it listed, but then realized it was only for kids. Oh well! All over the campus were workshops of artisans actively weaving, hewing wood, throwing pottery. Some exhibition halls had sponsors listed, tying them to local businesses or corporate partners.

The Crocodile Bank hosted members of the Irula tribe, who held animated conversations with local tourists and displayed their amazing talent at handling and milking venomous snakes. Actually seeing, rather than just reading about these indigenous communities at work really hammered home their incredible skill.



Dakshina Chitra and Auroville give visitors a complete view of regional culture, beyond what their own programs covered directly. There is local food and fresh juice, dance programs, libraries of interesting books, and music. Message boards show upcoming events from the community, news from partner organizations, making the campus feel like it is part of a broader network.

I saw that every space on a campus can be an opportunity for visitors to learn while seeing, making – or shopping. Auroville’s paper making factory transformed their gift shop into a quasi museum space. Simple posters displayed background information about culture and craft, so that I could learn about the process of papermaking, and then immediately purchase the things I’d learned to appreciate!
I condensed my experience into a set of actionable recommendations for Khamir:

– Provide a curated introduction to the campus and set up clear signage
– Allow visitors to observe artisans at work, and to participate where appropriate
– Create a message board where community members and partner organizations can post news and updates.
– The gift shop can be a learning experience.
– Appeal to children with activities or exercises specifically intended to interest younger audiences
– Explore the possibility of corporate or government sponsorships for programs or craft demos
– Create a brand with a flexible set of visuals that artisans outside the campus want to be associated with.

Khamir’s new director is making campus activation one of her primary goals when she begins her tenure in April. So our next challenge will be to prioritize and implement these ideas!

Ambika is a creative strategist and digital producer who helps social impact organizations share their stories. In her most recent position at Hyperakt, a Brooklyn-based agency, she managed client relationships and oversaw the firm's strategy, design and development processes. Day to day, Ambika led multidisciplinary teams to create brands and digital communications in print, motion, and web. Her clients included the Ford Foundation, UNHCR, Google, the NEA and UNICEF. She graduated with honors from Brown University with degrees in architecture and international development; her honors thesis examined water rights activism networks in urban India. Ambika is a passionate believer in the power of design to effect positive change.

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