Gary Mao

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Gary Mao

2016 Global Fellow
Founder of Roots Studio with Rebecca Hui

Gary Mao 2016 Global Fellow

Bold Idea 

Increase artisan income while keeping village traditions in tact in India by digitizing local art, providing intellectual property education, and expanding market access.


Photo courtesy of Roots Studio.


Roots Studio boosts the livelihoods of rural artists by giving them the technology and training to digitize their art at minimal cost. By transacting art digitally, the organization enables village artists to instantly distribute their creations globally, sell the same piece of art multiple times, sell on different mediums like apparel and stationery, and receive their payment share instantly through mobile money. Additionally, Roots Studio simplifies the distribution chain by skipping the step of shipping physical goods, which saves costs and allows the organization to return a share to artists that is 10 times greater than that of traditional craft ventures.


Gary Mao is co-founder of Roots Studio, a company that provides the technology and training for rural communities to digitize their art and unlock new monetization channels for their skills. Gary built his first business at 21 and went on to build several other businesses in China, India, and the United States, from food businesses to engineer matchmaking services. In India, he and his co-founder formulated their idea for Roots Studio as they piloted an education project where they tore apart a 50-seater bus and turned it into a mobile classroom for deep jungle localities in India. It was through this project that Gary saw the power of income generation to enable things like education. Simultaneously, he saw the untapped artistic talent that was fundamental to the identities of the millions of artisan communities in India. At this point it became a no-brainer to combine these elements, leveraging art to improve livelihoods. Gary is also a recent MBA graduate from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and their 2015 Social Innovation Fellow.

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