Lisa Curtis is an intern at Start Up! where she has been continuously impressed by the innovative and growing field of Indian social enterprises. A native of California, her experience ranges from working in the White House to serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural Nigerien village. For more about Lisa, visit her personal blog.
It’s no secret that New Delhi is unsafe for women. With recent articles showing that at least one woman is molested in New Delhi every day and reports of women being molested by their cab drivers, it’s no wonder many women choose to stay at home.
And yet, as of last December, there is another option: call Sakha. In 2008, Meenu Vadera founded Sakha, a cab service run by women for women, in order to provide safe cab and chauffeur services to women in Delhi by training women from marginalised communities as drivers.
Ms. Vadera worked closely with Start Up, an angel investor for social entrepreneurs, to develop an award-winning business plan business plan and create a non-profit arm of Sakha, the Azad Foundation, which focuses on providing young women from disadvantaged urban communities with the training and support they need to navigate the formidable Delhi streets. The Azad Foundation provides a 4-6 month long training programme that covers everything from self-defense to changing tires.
Over the course of one and a half years, Start Up worked closely with Ms. Vadera to assess consumer demand, develop and facilitate strategic partnerships. In 2010, Start Up helped Sakha win the Women In Business Challenge Award, attaining a much-needed cash prize of 15,000 Euros.
As of April 2011, Sakha and the Azad Foundation have trained 70 women, 18 of whom are employed as private chauffeurs and four who are pioneers of the Sakha cab service.
But Sakha is more than just a cab company. As Ms. Vadera explains, “Driving is just an excuse, what we’re really to do is break an image and provoke a change in mindsets towards women.”
Although Ms. Vadera maintains that Sakha and Azad are still in the “chrysalis” stage, the organizations have undoubtedly already changed many minds, both in the marginalized communities where they source their employees and among their customers.
Sakha’s COO, Nayantara Janardhan explains, “When the women come into the program they are so clearly downtrodden. The training strengthens them, gives them confidence and then they start earning and gain economic power—from an average monthly family income of Rs 3,500 and to an individual salary of Rs 5,000-7,000 per month. They become the principal breadwinners in their families!”
The clientele too is changing. Whereas once Ms. Janardhan found herself forced to persuade customers that women are capable of driving, now she has a waiting list for customers wanting to hire Sakha chauffeurs and the Sakha cab services have a plethora of repeat customers. In the future, Sakha hopes to expand to corporate tie-ups in order to ensure a steadier sense of employment for their newly licensed radio cab fleet.
While India still has a long ways to go before women are widely recognized as valuable members of society, innovative social enterprises like Sakha give hope amidst bleak statistics.