Working towards people’s empowerment often means working without seeing any noticeable results or successes for prolonged periods of time. However, this also necessitates the acknowledgement of ‘little wins’ and urges you to seek more by asking the right questions. After nearly five months of working on a collective model for a business, I have learnt that wins come in all shapes. For some, the changes are more noticeable like starting a new job while for others, it is boarding a bus alone for the first time – a change that can easily go unnoticed in the data and impact-driven world we live in.
The business model that my organization, Chaitanya, is currently working on, serves as a platform to promote women entrepreneurs as a way of empowering them. Through this initiative, groups called WENs (Women Entrepreneurial Networks) have been formed, each one of which pertain to a distinct activity. In this way, we have a Silaai (sewing) group, a Bunkar group of women weavers and groups of beauticians, bakers and cooks. These groups function as independent units, connected by a single marketing network called Kala Maitri. While the functioning and impact of each WEN deserves a blog of its own, this one attempts to explore how change can manifest itself through personal stories of women.
Strengthening Income And Social Status
Jagriti*, a single mother of two, has had her fair share of struggles. After getting out of an abusive marriage, she had to take care of her son and daughter, both of whom were below the age of 3. To be able to sustain themselves and raise her children, she worked as a house help until recently. After getting acquainted here in the organization and the team, she has moved into a new chapter of her life and career. Owing to her friendly and warm nature, Jagriti would often cook for the team members. Impressed by her culinary skills, the team members urged her to start her own tiffin service. She, however, was unsure of this idea, but decided to give it a try anyway.
What started off as a small placard outside her house, about her tiffin service, is now her full-time job. Her move from being a house-help to an entrepreneur is a matter of pride for her and her family.
As a part of Kala Maitri’s Khana Khajana initiative that collectivises cooks and bakers, Jagriti has been able to expand her culinary range by adding snacks and sweets in festive seasons. She prepared snacks for Diwali Gift boxes which helped her bag personal orders. Jagriti plans to get a bigger placard that mentions this. Being able to achieve this feat without much support from her family is a huge accomplishment for her. According to Jagriti, this not only helps her make ends meet, but also strengthens her social status. Her daily tiffin commitments and personal orders keep her occupied through the day, and the aroma of fresh food greets us when we cross her home.
Income And Aspirations
Along with the willingness to excel in academics, Arti* has always wanted to be a beautician. Her family struggles to make ends meet, a situation that has only become worse since the lockdown. Her family comprises of her husband, in-laws, and a three-year-old son. Arti’s family primarily depends on her father-in-law’s income. Her husband, along with doing a few part-time jobs, is pursuing a Diploma in Elementary Education (D. El. Ed.) and so is Arti. She is a graduate and worked as a school teacher for three years before getting married and moving to Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh. Since the teaching jobs did not pay well, Arti gave it up, and began preparing for her D. El. Ed examination.
As a child, Arti picked up basic threading skills just by observing others, but had no formal training. Since most professional courses in Maheshwar were charging more than she could afford, Arti never got around to doing one. Through our Parlour group initiative, she got a chance to fulfil this desire. The meetings strive to bring together beauticians of varied experiences and aspirants, in the hope of building a network to meet the demand and supply appropriately.
In Arti’s case, this network helped her tremendously as she was able to connect with a woman who was offering a professional course at a reasonable rate. Arti has been enthusiastic from the first meeting and proactively pursued the courses being offered. After only 15 days of attending classes, she invested in her own parlour chair and started offering free services like threading, waxing and haircut, from her home.
This early investment is indicative of her will to be successful as a beautician. Moreover, she is confident that her investment will pay-off by increasing her family income. Arti believes that this WEN gave her the access to affordable classes, which was the first-step for her journey in this direction. Resolute and determined, her goal is still to excel in her academic pursuits, but in addition, to also establish her own parlour where she can offer affordable services to others.
Shooting For The Moon
Amrita* has always had a knack for stitching. She had found her calling well before she got associated with Kala Maitri. After completing her graduation, Amrita was determined to find a job, and even though that prospect did not work out, she was still determined to leave her mark in one way or another. Kala Maitri network provided a medium to Amrita, to channel her determination and move closer towards her goal.
In 2019, the we got a chance to be a part of a fashion show which served as a turning point in her career as she was introduced to experienced designers and models. The outfits for the fashion show were stitched by Amrita. The event gave her the recognition she deserved. More importantly, it gave her the confidence to pursue this less-trodden path, something that women of her age in Maheshwar rarely do. On regular days, you would find Amrita hunched over her stitching machine trying to complete an order. Her association with Kala Maitri has expanded her clientele to a point where she now has to turn customers down.
Her small business keeps her occupied sufficiently enough for her to get complacent, but Amrita dreams of having her own brand one day, with outlets spread across big cities. Her family, which comprises of her mother, grandfather and two sisters, is also proud of her dedication and will to be self-made. They are confident that she will be able to lead a financially comfortable life without having to depend on a husband. For women like Amrita, where determination is abundant, Kala Maitri serves as a platform to move closer to their goals and inculcate the confidence to be independent.
*Name changed to maintain confidentiality