The economic mainstay of Dhapdhapi 1 panchayat area in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district, agriculture sees participation of a large percentage of local women but does not provide them any income. Thus, their financial condition limits their participation in family and societal decisions, and in some cases, also leads to discrimination and domestic violence. But an NGO, and a social start-up, are providing them a way out.
The women are now being trained to create contemporary utility products with eco-friendly materials like jute, under NGO Loksakha Welfare Society’s Sampoorna programme. Banalata Sen, a senior HR and Sustainability professional, has been organising training and workshops for these women as well as access to necessary equipment so that they can contribute to the family income and have a stronger position in the family.
But the start-up is helping these women – and many others – find a wider market.
Recently, the women of Dhapdhapi sold their first product – Jute Laptop Sleeves – as part of the 30 days/30 products campaign by Mitti Ke Rang (MKR), the social start-up working towards generating livelihood for women. The idea behind the campaign is to introduce 30 new products with a target of 30 orders for each product in 24 hours to provide a wider reach to women entrepreneurs.
“We have, in two months, sold over 200 jute laptop sleeves. This has enabled us to support these 20 amazing women to earn over Rs 2,000 each which, for some, has been their first earning and a substantial impetus towards wanting to be financially independent. It also has given visibility to our product on social media,” says Sen.
“MKR did not stop at just providing a marketplace to sell products but rather strengthened women entrepreneurs with resources like building and establishing their social media presence, helping them with strategy on improving their outreach, creating a community for entrepreneurs to come together and exchange and share best practices, like introducing digitalisation of order fulfillment process,” she adds.
For women entrepreneurs across India after funding, getting access to market networks and building visibility into their offerings is a big challenge. This is more pronounced for those working in rural or peri-urban women entrepreneurs’ space.
This is where MKR comes in.
Co-founded by Pune-based Saket Deshmukh and Amit Jain, MKR is working towards generating livelihood for women by running campaigns and selling their products through its e-commerce platform.
“The aim of MKR is to build a community which will help women to earn livelihood by acquiring skills and fostering entrepreneurial spirit. We help women entrepreneurs with the listing of their product on our e-commerce site,” says Jain.
Jute Laptop Sleeves was the first product that MKR launched early April 2021 in its ongoing Mission 30 Products Campaign Mission Livelihood. The campaign aims to support women entrepreneurs from across India to sell the products made by them through the MKR e-commerce platform.
“From April 5, till date we generated revenue of more than Rs 5 lakh and processed 800+ orders which were shipped from different states where our women entrepreneurs are based to more than 100 cities across India,” says Jain.
Sharing his own journey, as well as that of MKR, Jain, who comes from Maharashtra’s Bhusawal, said that he had lost his father when he was three, and then, his grandfather had opened a tailoring shop for his mother and his cousins to help them support themselves.
After doing his B.Com, Jain came to Pune in 2012 to look for a job, and subsequently got a job at The Bank of New York Mellon.
“In 2014, I started MKR with Saket Deshmukh. The main idea at that time was to collect clothes from people who wish to donate and distribute these to the NGOs and slum areas. Slowly, we started to get volunteers and it got bigger,” he says, adding that in 2019, he left his bank job to give MKR his full time and attention.
“In 2019, we started training women entrepreneurs to make cloth and paper bags and got a few orders which helped us make more products. In September as Diwali was approaching, we added tea light candles and it was a great hit. We sold 52,000 units in 40 days which generated Rs 17,500 each for five women entrepreneurs,” he recalls.
After that Diwali, Jain said that he decided to backpack across India, to meet women entrepreneurs across rural areas and understand the women entrepreneur ecosystem and challenges they faced in their businesses and traversed 80 cities with only Rs 17,500 in his pocket.
“I had a plan to backpack across India covering Kanyakumari to Kashmir, Arunachal to Bombay. I started from Mumbai and went till Kanyakumari, then from there till Arunachal Pradesh. Then a lockdown happened due to which I got stuck in Guwahati for 70 days,” he says.
During his journey, Jain said that he met a lot of women entrepreneurs in different cities and after interacting with them, concluded that while many women want to start their own business, technology and social media as a means to promote and sell their products posed a big challenge for them.
“We thought that we already have a platform, so why not assist all such women entrepreneurs with the platform to ease the process and help them get the customers from across the globe,” Jain says.
Covid was a hurdle and MKR only started full-fledged operations in December 2020. “We started circulating forms to women entrepreneurs who wished to register their products on our e-commerce site mittikerang.org. In one month, we received 100+ applications and started onboarding them. Our first big campaign we launched on February 25 for Holi,” says Jain.
In 18 days, MKR sold 500 colour boxes across India through which they were able to generate more than Rs 1 lakh for women entrepreneurs of Help Foundation in Uttarakhand.
Explaining their process, he says that a woman entrepreneur can fill a form available in the “Sell” section on mittikerang.org, and the MKR team then gets in touch for further process. “In just three months since we started, we have received 250+ applications. Once we review the products and the process behind them, we take the final call,” says Jain.
He notes MKR has turned the Covid crisis into an opportunity for several women entrepreneurs. “Many of them started the business at home as an experiment and now they are looking at making it mainstream and expanding it,” says Jain.
Jain considers their work, consistency and a clear mission of onboarding women entrepreneurs and bringing as many visitors on the site so they can purchase the product they need, find useful, as their competitive advantage over other e-commerce platforms.
On the way ahead, he said MKR aims to bring more amazing products on the site, take it to more people and keep innovating with it.
“We wish to generate more revenue for women entrepreneurs by supporting them by selling their products worldwide through different campaigns and work, constantly experimenting and consistently doing what we believe in,” says Jain.