In the past month that I have been working with Gramalya Microfin foundation or GMF as a Milaap Fellow, my judgment that 'Women in rural and semi-urban areas are not very entrepreneurial' has been greatly disproved.
GMF provides loans to women in rural and semi-urban areas of Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu. The women use these loans to start small income generating enterprises. They are trained for anyone of the 25 businesses that Gramalya offers and then sanctioned a loan. Some of the businesses are making masala powders, wire bags, foot mats, kundan jewellery, millet products and saree stone design. While most of the businesses are up and running, some of them are outright inspiring.
Kavipriya (in blue) with her group member
Meet Kavipriya from Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, who has a Masters in Computer Applications. Due to lack of jobs in this region, she started a masala powder business, ‘Bhoomi’s’ in her daughter Bhoomita’s name. She also attended a NABARD training for food products. She can make different types of masalas, biscuits, jams and pickles.
With the extra income that she makes, she can afford to send her elder daughter, Kirbashini for handwriting classes. She wants to be able to contribute to her daughter’s education financially, in whatever ways she can. Kavipriya’s husband owns a printing press. She wants to expand their printing business and has applied for a loan from Laxmi Vilas bank.
Vijayalakshmi, Thanjavur at her threading machine
Meet Vijayalakshmi from Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, a Maharashtrian-Tamilian, she is the first of 795 groups in GMF to pick up thread making as her business. As she already had access to the machine, she took a loan to buy raw materials for her business. She makes rolls of threads in different colours and sizes. These threads are typically used for food packaging in local shops as well as threading gajras (flower garlands pinned to the hair).
In her neighbourhood, there are about a 100 families who are engaged in the same trade. When asked if she was worried about the competition, she rebuffs, saying that there is demand for her product. She lives in a joint family of twelve members. The extra income that she rakes in is a great support to the family.
Sindhu, with her group and her assortment of products
Finally, meet Sindhu and her group from Musiri, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, she seems to be a very keen leader. Their products include sambhar powder, dal powder, peanut powder, chilli powder, rasam powder and peanut laddoos. Sindhu sees a marketable opportunity is most of the food products she makes at home. In Tamil Nadu, Tamarind rice is very famous. Looking at the rise in demand, the group has started producing Tamarind powder to sell.
Currently, they are only selling the tamarind powder to neighbours to test their product for quality. Her husband is a Pandit and conducts pujas. He buys turmeric in bulk. Sindhu saw this as an opportunity to market turmeric powder. They know that people will buy from shops as opposed to them, but their USP is that their product is unadulterated and trustworthy.
In Tamil Nadu, millet porridge is a very famous breakfast option. It's healthy, light and easy to fix. Mariyayee Karuppudurai, from Namakkal, Tamil Nadu saw this as an opportunity. She sells millet porridge for Rs 10 a tumbler and has quite the clientele.
There is a point in Darjeeling, West Bengal called Tiger Hill (granted this is not a rural or semi-urban setting). This point is famous for the spectacular view it provides of Kanchenjunga at sunrise. Every morning, a local woman comes up to the point at 4 am and sells cups of coffee here. On a good day, she sells 500 cups of coffee for Rs 10 a cup. Her idea is quite simple - everybody needs a cup of coffee in the morning.
What I took away from all this? Women in rural and semi-urban areas are keen entrepreneurs. More so, because their resources are less, their opportunities are lesser, and they aren't allowed to step far away from their homes. With help from organisations like Milaap and GMF, these women worked on their skills and are making the most of every opportunity.