These are women who make a difference to the lives of others. For most, it is what they always wanted to do and had no difficulties in trading their plush, comfortable corporate jobs for lives of hardship in the social sector. The others chose to take that plunge into social entrepreneurship to bring about a meaningful difference to the lives of people around them.
HerStory looks at some women who made a positive intervention in the lives of many.
Anita Ahuja: The founder of Conserve India handbags grew up in Bhopal. The daughter of a freedom fighter, she later moved to Delhi. Her subsequent involvement with resident welfare associations brought her in contact with ragpickers. She started Conserve India as a waste segregation operation, then worked with her brother on converting plastic waste into material for handbags. The designs were a hit at local trade fairs. The company now has a wide range of products, including shoes.
Chinni Swamy: It was in 2001, when Chinni and her husband thought of moving to some place on the foothills of the Himalayas. They moved to village Purkal in Uttaranchal, which falls somewhere in between the Dehradun and Mussorie charm. Once there, she started teaching children from the nearby villages and soon after she realized she wanted to do something much more meaningful – she started her entrepreneurial venture Stree Shakti. Through this, she introduced the women of the nearby villages to the art of quilting to earn their livelihood.
Ishita Khanna: Founder of eco-tourism company Spiti Ecosphere, she grew up in Dehradun and joined TISS, with a master’s dissertation on eco-tourism. After learning about the properties of local berries of the seabuckthorn variety, she started an NGO called Muse to produce berry pulp. The local charm and opportunities for tourism via the Internet, she then founded Spiti Ecosphere in Spiti to promote eco-tourism in Himachal Pradesh.
Jonali Saikia: Founder of Heeya, Jonali makes sarees and crafts by employing the underexposed communities of artisans from North East India. She left a highly paying corporate job to start her social enterprise. Most of her customers are from the metros, Tier 1 and Tier II cities. There are quite a few NRIs as well in her illustrious list of customers.
Leena Kejriwal: a photographer and an installation artist is associated with a social cause. She is currently working on a M.I.S.S.I.N.G project, a public art project which addresses a very sensitive issue – an awareness campaign about girls being trafficked and hence disappearing . This project talks about the huge number of girls who get lost in this trade. The sex trafficking figures are indeed high, with girls in the age group of 9 and 12 years in India being the worst hit.
Neha Juneja: She is co-founder and CEO of Grameen Infra. In this venture, she has combined her passion for the environment with her talent for product design to bring about a significant change to rural households. At Grameen India, she has designed smart stoves that burn biomass with incredible efficiency, reducing smoke emissions by 80% and fuel consumption by 65% compared to traditional mud cookstoves.
Rathi Rana: Her desire to do something for the underprivileged drew her to orphanages during Christmas and other festive occasions. This was however not what she wanted to do. One day, she met a woman looking for work as a house help and the idea of starting up a venture hit her. She along with her husband Prateek kickstarted HouseMaidFor You.
Shaheen Mistry: She started the Education initiative Akansha. Despite growing up in Lebanon, Greece, Indonesia and the US – she developed a deep attachment with India during her visits to the country. She got involved in teaching slum children via a team of volunteers in the after-hours space in schools. Akanksha raises funds through initiatives like Sponsor a Centre, Sponsor a Fellow, and Adopt a School. The programme gives kids a good time while also learning, building character and acquiring job skills. Mistri then set up Teach for India, adapted from the Teach for American mission.
Sheetal Mehta Walsh: She is the Founder of Shanti Life, a unique microfinance platform serving the poor in Gujarat villages and slums for them to create sustainable businesses. All beneficiaries receive financial literacy training, mentoring, access to eco-sanitation facilities and a low interest rate of 12% – interestingly all funds are recycled into further loans.
Sumita Ghose: Founder of textile sourcing firm RangSutra, she grew up in Kolkata and studied in Mumbai. Inspired by the Amul story, she along with her husband devoted themselves to rural empowerment work in Rajasthan, followed by Assam. Her husband was abducted by ULFA militants and was never seen again. She then founded RangSutra to source textiles and crafts from artisans and retail them at FabIndia, with a strong focus on quality and punctual delivery.
Tammana Bhati: Recently, this fashion designer started off the ‘Hamara Saahas’ initiative in Jodhpur, Rajasthan to empower rural women. It’s an endeavour for women and run by women. This venture is run by housewives and women professionals and aims to uplift the status of underprivileged women and children of the society. This founder, who is a trained fashion designer, identifies with the challenges, limitations and struggles of fellow women. Hamara Saahas imparts short term vocational courses like embroidery, sewing and handicraft making skills to these women.
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