The road to impact
As I’m writing this I’m sitting on an airport in Doha, Qatar, waiting for my transit flight back to Norway, from India. Over the past two weeks I have been part of something huge, something no less than making a real change in the world.
We have opened a sewing centre for women that have not previously had access to work. Ten women have been given training in textile production and six of those women have been hired. That means that more women has a stable source of income of their own, so that they can have a higher saying in their household, and experience a higher standard of living. In turn, this can also enable them to send their kinds to school and afford better health care services.
Ever since January 2016, when I first came to Sujata, a small village located right outside the Land of Enlightenment- Bodhgaya in the state Bihar, in Northern India, that which we have just accomplished had been an idea and a dream. One of the first individuals I met as I came to Bodhgaya was Pankaj, an enthusiastic, pragmatic and insightful young man from Sujata. While he was still in this teenage years he had started his own community organisation, that had been running women’s empowerment initiatives and he was currently in the process of building a school for the local children. During 2010- 2014 he and his friend Pooja conducted textile training catered to the local market for up to 90 women.
I had only planned to stay a few weeks in Bodhgaya. During those weeks Pankaj would tell me about the local history, the cultural significance of the community, and the needs of the local residents. He told me he wanted to cooperative with someone that could help meet those needs in a locally self- sustained manner. So I ended up staying for a month, to write a project proposal that I later brought back to Norway and introduced to my present business partner Cecilie.
It is now a bit more than a year ago, since my Co-founder Cecilie and I decided to start our own social enterprise with a mission to empower the women of Sujata.
It was a rainy and cold autumn season in Oslo then, a few weeks after I had returned from Brighton where I did my Master’s degree. At the time we had both completed our masters degrees and held internships in renowned institutions. We were a bit disillusioned, but our minds were filled with allot of ideas on how to generate impact, many of which have been and are being fulfilled at present stage. We were weary, but confident and ready to begin the turbulent journey of social entrepreneurship. In fact, one of our main objectives was to inspire others to do something similar!
hungry to learn:
Since you’re still reading I gather, you’re interested in how you can make an impact or have been down the road of a similar journey? Well, let me tell you a little about how we got started and what 2018 has taught us,
To depict the process, starting this blog has been at the back of our minds since we initiated Better Living Projects. Note that each of these topics deserves a blogpost on its own!
With this blog, I’d like to share with you some of the insights I’ve gained on: business planning; sustainability; self-development; organising and strategy; content development; communication; team- work; leadership; management; and sales processes.
As an entrepreneur there’s allot you need learn, you're essentially doing the job of ten different people, on limited time schedule, without any predictions of getting paid any time soon. It’s a steep learning curve, filled with rewards and insights, which of course wouldn’t have been as valuable without its hurdles.
We decided early that we wanted to integrate traditional business with a strong social focus in our business plan. The main problem we sought to solve was the exclusion from the workforce for women in Bihar. What could we do about that? After a closer examination we found that it was realistic to give access to work for 30 women in a four year time frame. "Under promise, over-deliver" as our mentor said at the time. The next question then was how? Given Pankaj and Pooja’s past experience with conducting textile training for women we knew that the local women had both an interest and knowhow on how to produce textile products. We were hoping to expand on this knowledge by opening the Norwegian market up for these Indian women. Something that was important for us in this regard was to ensure that the women were given a living wage, and that the products were ethical.
In order produce such an item, we needed to figure out if there was a demand for ethical clothing in Norway. To figure out that answer we conducted a market analysis, where we discovered that up to 80% of close to 250 respondents said that they found access to information and purchasing alternatives on ethical fashion to be insufficient and furthermore stated that they would be positive to purchase more ethical clothing, and were positive to our (then) hypothetical product.
Having done our research at home we needed to head down to India to see if there really was a need amongst the local women for a job as a textile worker. In an area where only 20% of working age women has access to a job, would she still go if that opportunity presented itself?
The answer is multilayered. The few jobs that exist are ofter far from home, and most women are not comfortable by travelling the distance as it is unsafe, particular after dark. Moreover, her family does not encourage her to hold a job, as there is no one that would take over her responsibilities at home. Her husband would for example not look after the children for more than a few hours at a time.
Her time is also scarce as she often marries early, and have to move away from her maternity home to live with her new husband. Shortly after the marriage she is expected to give birth, preferably to a baby boy. When moving in to her new home, her main motivation becomes to take care of the household in a proper way.
No one had asked her if she wanted a job. But we did. In order for the project to work we realised that we had to build a work position based on her needs. A workspace which would be close to their home, short workdays with a hot meal, a place where their voice can heard.
In order for us to deliver on the promises we had made to the women, we needed to raise enough funds to build the sewing centre. This summer, over the course of five weeks we gathered 227 897 NOK (about 26,000 USD) from 214 private individuals and 8 businesses. This was by far one of our greatest benchmark so far! Without the rigorous faith from all our backers we wouldn’t reached this far. This process taught us allot, and reserves a blog post of its own.
To create impact for the women of Sujata we are now at the lookout for small and medium businesses that can purchase our exclusive tote-bags. Those that order our tote-bags are not only customers, they are sustainability partners. Everyone that makes an order our tote-bags will get data on how that purchase has created impact for the women through our yearly report. We intend to invite our sustainability partners to attend quarterly events where they can exchange experiences.
Our goal in 2019 is to sell hundreds of tote-bags to the B2B market! They can be used as gifts to employees, or seld to customers. They come with the logo of the businesses that makes an order, so its a fenomenal promotion product!
An order of 100 tote-bags will give work for one woman for one month! Just to give an idea of the ripple effects that again can give, I’d like to close of with a quote from Rupa, one of the women that works with us: "Now that I have an income, I can become independent. One day, I want to start teaching other women how to sew, so that they can become independent like me".
To make that happen our strategy consists of booking meetings, establishing a network of brand ambassadors, and grow expertise in inbound marketing. Comment below or PM if you have insights or perspectives on any of these topics!
Everything in life is a project- let's learn from each other!