A few kilometers past Charminar, the heart of the old city of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, an auto rickshaw stops in front of a quiet, non-descript gate. Across the road is the Falaknuma Palace, in the process of getting a major face-lift. Upon knocking, we walk into a compound housing a workshop for rescued victims of human trafficking, a social enterprise run by Prajwala. The environment is peaceful and friendly, with shady trees and smiling faces.
Numerous rescued women are brought here each month, once they are able and willing to work. The workshop currently employs 70 women. It provides them with a steady income, and more importantly, a supportive environment to transition back into mainstream society and the workforce. Women here print and bind books, make notebooks for schools, print business cards and letter heads, and also make furniture from wood and metal. Their activities are labor intensive, with minimal automation.
Some women are more productive than others, depending on their frame of mind and how far they have come in their rehabilitation. Some of them work at the center for a few months, and happily move on to better jobs. Others have been there for years. The workshop provides basic training and guidance by aides experienced in carpentry, welding, and printing. Most training is done on the job, and the women learn from each other. The women also drive the sales by speaking with local schools to negotiate rates and to fix delivery dates and times.
The enterprise is currently not breaking even, and employee salaries are subsidized by grant funds. This puts the future of the enterprise in jeopardy: truly unfortunate, as it has so much potential. These women are hard working, savvy, and sincere, and with the right guidance on marketing, production efficiency, and order management, they too could run a profitable business.
According to the US State Department, 150,000 of the 800,000 people trafficked across the world each year are within and across South Asia, headed primarily for Indian cities. On average, 60% of these people contract HIV/AIDS. Most of these children and young adults are duped into joining the trade with promises of jobs, marriage, film roles, modeling, and, perhaps love. Often, the traders or handlers are not strangers to the victims. In addition to contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), trafficking victims are subject to violence, humiliation, and a violation of their personal integrity. Once rescued, their security is often a concern too, preventing them from mingling in mainstream society.
Few other successful examples of using social enterprise to help rehabilitate rescued women and reintegrate them into society. In Ukraine, grants that enable victims of trafficking to set up micro-enterprises have been successful. This model has been applied in the Indian context too, with Amul accepting these women as ice cream parlor franchisees. In other cases corporations have agreed to hire rehabilitated women as sales girls, cleaning staff, or security guards. Yet, such interventions rely solely on the enterprise of the individual victim; not all those rescued will have the confidence or know-how to independently run a business. These are measures that work best post-rehabilitation.
Thus, it’s vital that Prajwala’s social enterprise is able to show proof of concept, to show that this is indeed a workable model, and that rehabilitation can be an attractive investment prospect. I have faith that these women are capable, and I hope that they receive the support they need.
Editor’s Note: Devyani Parameshwar is a Senior Associate with the Business Advisory Team at Intellecap. Intellecap (publisher of Beyond Profit) is a for-profit development firm with a focus on intermediating capital and advisory solutions for small and medium enterprise development.