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FEATURE: The making of female eco-entrepreneurs – Experience from Hyderabad, India

Achu Sekhar of ICLEI South Asia describes how the efforts of a handful of dedicated women have led to a hugely successful female enterprise in the city of Hyderabad which is overcoming plastic waste and providing a inspiring example for others to follow.

35-year-old Jaya Sudha is a mother of two. Today she is also an entrepreneur leading the group of 20 women who are running a successful cottage-scale cloth bag manufacturing business in Hyderabad. Things were not always like that – Ms Sudha was a homemaker until a few months ago. Her transformation into a part-time businesswoman happened in a short time span when ICLEI- South Asia reached Hyderabad with its mission to develop local capacity in the city for phasing out the menace of plastic waste.

Environmental and economic sustainability

ICLEI-SA along with the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and supported by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) is developing a strategy for plastic waste management in Hyderabad. As part of the project, we decided to develop the local capacity of Self Help Groups for producing cloth bags as a green alternative to single use plastic bags, which are currently used at large in the city.

Naubat Pahad, where Jaya Sudha resides, is one of the top tourist spots in Hyderabad and is known for the famous Birla Temple. ICLEI-SA, along with GHMC, selected Naubat Pahad as the pilot area. With the support of the Ward Corporator and other GHMC staff, we managed to convene 20 women to participate.

Together, we discussed the socio-economic and environmental potential of the initiative, thereby motivating and inculcating inspiration in the women to grasp the opportunity and become entrepreneurs. Ms. Sudha was one of the participants. And thus the journey towards transformation began.

Ms. Sudha, along with 20 women volunteers, took a rapid, holistic training course which focused not only on crafting, professional stitching, block printing and textile designing, but also on developing key skills, such as finance management and market analysis, required for running a successful business.

In-kind support poured in from the Ward Corporator of GHMC and other local community representatives who provided a community hall for conducting the training. ICLEI-SA facilitated the training programme and brought experts like Mahila Sanathkar (a registered organisation by Telangana Handloom Development Corporation Limited) and several business consultants on board.

All the available financial opportunities as well as relevant schemes of the State Government of Telangana, Mission for Elimination of Poverty in Municipal Areas (MEPMA) fund for Self Help Groups were introduced and discussed in detail with the women’s group.

In order to kick off the initiative, a few sewing machines were also provided to the business unit by ICLEI-SA. Since the training was being conducted in the local area, this garnered interest from many local women who found it easily accessible and possible to accommodate the training in their busy household schedules. The location (perceived as safe) also worked well with women from conservative families, who may face mobility restrictions.

At the end of the training, based on the interest, skill set, economic considerations and traditional importance of sewing in the city of Hyderabad, the Self Help Group women chose to start an enterprise to manufacture cloth bags.

ICLEI-SA supported Jaya and other women to develop a business model where every woman committed at least three hours per day to the business, along with investing INR 1500 each as an initial capital investment. The investment created a sense of responsibility and ownership among women and was used for the purchase of the first tranche of raw materials.

Ms. Sudha was unanimously selected as the team leader along with Annamma, Santha and Rajini as support. The group also came up with their own brand name ‘Spoorthy Business Women’ – where Spoorthy means inspiration.

Sustaining momentum and getting results

However, the challenge was not yet over. Many women started losing interest. There was an immediate need to build trust and confidence among the group. Jaya Sudha along with ICLEI-SA sprang into action and visited each member: boosting their enthusiasm and giving assurance to family members.

Detailed discussions were held – generating their interest in the opportunity that could help them strengthen their economic conditions. Asima Kathoon, the craft trainer, shared her success story of shedding social stigma and becoming a successful entrepreneur. All the efforts paid off. Women returned to the team and the activities resumed their full momentum for another three months at the community hall.

Finally, after three months of training, capacity building and hard work, Spoorthy Business Women received their first order for a batch of 50 bags. They have never looked back since.

Another three months down the line, Spoorthy Business Women became financially sustainable with huge orders pouring in from across the city. Jaya and other women were also provided with membership from Mahila Santkar which enabled them to secure a lifetime access card for Spoorthy Business Women from the Telangana Handloom Development Corporation Limited. This permits them to freely access and organise stalls in multiple exhibitions across the state to display and sell their products. Further, Birla Archaeological and Cultural Research Institute (BACRI) has offered an annual grant of INR 12,000 for supporting Self Help Groups in their operations.

Today Ms. Sudha and Spoorthy Business Women shine as an example of empowered women in the city of Hyderabad who are contributing to the society with their war against plastic pollution through their humble efforts. The group has been acknowledged by GHMC and is also being observed by multiple state level government organisations as a success story that can be translated further to enable thousands of home makers to convert to become social entrepreneurs.

All images of Spoorthy Business Women, courtesy ICLEI-South Asia.

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