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How a Pune-based NGO helped village women become entrepreneurs through their rural startup initiative

Maharashtra’s government’s startup village entrepreneurship programme, implemented in a few villages by the NGO Swayam Shikshan Prayog, has helped many women from villages stand up on their feet and pursue a career or business

pune Updated: Feb 02, 2018 23:08 IST
Varsha Torgalkar
Varsha Torgalkar
Hindustan Times, Pune
Kavita Sakhar from Masale Choudhari who began a shop of clothes for women and girls under the Maharashtra’s government’s startup village entrepreneurship programme.(HT PHOTO)

Forty-five-year-old Shehnaz Kazi’s life turned upside down after the untimely death of her husband in 2014, leaving her with four kids to feed. Shehnaz, who hailed from Pangari village in Barshi taluka of Solapur district, had never left home without hijab, and without someone accompanying her.

Relatives and family friends turned their backs on her when she was in need of money. Forced to fend for herself, she began knocking on doors till she heard of the Maharashtra’s government’s startup village entrepreneurship programme, implemented in a few villages by the Pune-based NGO Swayam Shikshan Prayog. The programme is run under the Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission, also known as UMED, established to implement programmes of National Rural Livelihood Mission.

The NGO guided her in getting a loan to re-start her husband’s meat shop. Shehnaz recalls, “It proved challenging as I had to buy animals from a market near Barshi and had to slaughter the animals before I could sell the meat. But I did it with the help of my 15-year-old son. Now I earn at least Rs500 a day.”

She has bitter memories of those days: Even people from her own community suspected that she was having an affair with someone when she was staying away from her house to attend meetings or training programmes at the NGO.

“They were spreading canards that I killed my husband. They had a problem with me wearing clothes of my choice. I had no option but to ignore all the canards and rumours and concentrate on earning a livelihood,” she said.

After two years, she had earned enough to bear the wedding expenses of two of her daughters. “Now, my son who is 17 handles the shop,” said Shehnaz who travels alone to Barshi to purchase livestock such as chicken and goat.

Shehnaz is not alone. Over 200 Muslim women from Barshi and Mohol talukas of Solapur, who had to find ways to survive on their own due to family problems, have been able to earn a livelihood to feed their families.

Swayam’s co-ordinator Vijaya Gurav told this correspondent that the NGO is partnering with the state government in the implementation of the initiative.

Presently, 1,300 women have begun their own enterprises selling bhakari (jowar roti) to hotels, wicks for oil lamps to shops near temples, and masala mixes like kala or goda masala.

“We ask them to do things that would get them customers from their own area. We don’t advise them to start tailoring units or beauty parlours as these already exist in every corner of every village,” said Gurav.

Rekha Khade (42), a Scheduled Caste woman from Najik Pimpari village in Mohol taluka, is another beneficiary. Used to working as a labourer at brick kilns round the year, her life changed for the better after the startup experience.

She managed to get a loan of Rs5,000 and started a grocery shop at home. She now earns about Rs6,000 per month. “For the first time in my life, I am leading a secure and stable life without fear or insecurity,” she said.

Like Rekha, over 250 women who had been working as labourers at brick kilns, sugar mills or construction sites in these two talukas have started self-driven enterprises with the help of the programme and are living a life of dignity.

Sadhana Jogat (37), who had a failed child marriage and was earning Rs1,000 per month by working as a maid servant in Mohol taluka, has now taken to ironing clothes. She earns at least Rs3,000 per month and this has done wonders to her self-esteem.

There are more than 20 such women without any support from their parents, husband or siblings who have become financially independent through the programme.

“These poor, illiterate women were so timid that we had to teach them how to talk to strangers and whom to trust in business,” said Gurav. The NGO guides them step-by-step in getting customers, procuring raw material from wholesalers and getting them started.

First Published: Feb 02, 2018 23:06 IST