I came to India to document the stories of the women entrepreneurs I would eventually meet; but what I left with was so much more. Despite being lost in translation one too many times throughout my journey, there was one thing that needed no interpretation: the courage, strength, and gratitude that all these women entrepreneurs possess. These women instilled in me the necessity to take action instead of just make excuses.
It is easy to complain about our lot in life, but it is so much more rewarding and exhilarating to shape your own destiny. So let’s stop longing, and start doing. Let’s move forward in this New Year by taking small but steadfast steps in the direction of the life we’ve always wanted. Let’s be trailblazers in our communities just like these women — Bushra, Dilshod, Praveentaj, and Savitha, Manju and Sanguna. And why not? We have more to gain than to lose.
Signing off – Asya Tabdili!
So, what do cashews, lab work and floor mats all have in common, you ask? Well, they all just happen to be the products that three enterprising women in India rely on for their livelihoods. As an Ambassador at Accion’s Dialogue on Business Program based out of their Bangalore office, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing women from all over Southern India who had taken the customized courses in business skills and self management. Their lives have all been impacted tremendously by what they learned in the powerful program, but each has her own unique story. Here are just three:
Savitha is from Kerala and has a cashew production business. (Did you know that India accounts for over 50% percent of the world’s cashew production, processing and exporting!?)
She already had her business before she enrolled in the Dialogue on Business program, but Savitha says the Self-Management module increased her confidence, and other modules helped her manage her time more efficiently and better measure and manage her expenditures.
Now, not only does Savitha have a more stable income through her stronger cashew enterprise, but she is also helping her community by employing fourteen other women who help her peel and clean the cashews. Below, Savitha enjoys a break with four of her employees. Read More…
Ever heard the example about the enterprising woman who used her small loan to buy a sewing machine and was then able to increase her income exponentially? Well, I had heard it too, but it wasn’t until I met Praveentaj – an entrepreneur from the outskirts of Bangalore, India, who has been embroidering various clothing items for 17 years – that I realized that microfinance can indeed work the way the fairytales say.
Through the Dialogue on Business program at Accion, Praveentaj was encouraged to increase her services and production as a way to increase her revenue and income. So, she decided to invest in a sewing machine as well as implement a tailoring component into her business. Quite a change from how she was working before — all by hand! Read More…
Dilshod is an entrepreneur from the outskirts of Bangalore, in Karnataka, India who makes Agarbatti. Say What? Agarbatti? Yes, Agarbatti, which is the Hindi word for incense.
It was so fascinating to go behind the scenes and see how something is made that I use nearly every day. And the speed of her hands! My camera could barely focus.
When I visited Dilshod, she was working on the first step of making Agarbatti, which is rolling charcoal powder and an adhesive onto bamboo sticks. The last two steps are adding the fragrance (Sandalwood, Star Anise, Cedarwood, Patchouli…can’t you just SMELL India already ?!) and packaging the finished Agarbatti, which will be sold to homes, workplaces, and places or worship, in India and around the world. Read More…
My journey all began last year in a lecture hall at UCLA. While my professor blabbered on and on about some economic theory, I was entertaining the thought of interning in another country (please, I do take my studies seriously, but my mind was wandering!) What a cool idea, I thought to myself: to expand and grow intellectually and spiritually, while experiencing the corporate world in a different culture.
I was also wondering, how much of what he was saying is true? It is easy to criticize from afar. Perhaps microfinance and business development programs are not the solution to eradicating all poverty, but they must be having some positive effect on an individual basis, right? My curiosity and desire to answer the former question and other similar questions led me thousands of miles away from home.
It was then that I decided to become an Ambassador for Accion, and later flew to Bangalore and started working on Accion’s Dialogue on Business Program (DOB) whose mission is to develop the business skills of women micro-entrepreneurs through participatory and engaging modules.
DOB helps women to better manage their personal and household finances, as well as gives them the tools to develop a business initiative or to further enhance their existing business. But I quickly realized that DOB wasn’t just about changing the way these women think about business. By developing successful business, these women positively changed the way they are perceived by their family, community, and most importantly, themselves. I could see this empowerment on their face, and hear it in their story.
My journey led me through Southern India’s lush forests, bustling cities, and swampy rice fields where I used rickshaw, car, bus, and train to reach and interview over sixty women entrepreneurs. Here are some of their stories:
Bushra is an entrepreneur from Thrissur, in Kerala, India, and is the entrepreneurs of all entrepreneurs. She sells poultry, plants, pickled fruit, vegetables, and even goats to her neighbors, shops, and catering companies.
Before the DOB training, Bushra was sitting at home, bored and restless. Aware of her potential, Bushra enrolled in the DOB training and soaked up the knowledge of her teachers. Shortly after, she opened up her own poultry center, and a few months later a pickling production business. What is incredible is the speed in which Bushra has been able to open up all these businesses – just nine months! Read More…