From our Field Partner, Udyogini
Saraswati Devi is a disadvantaged woman social entrepreneur who overcame all odds to build an enterprise that is of direct benefit to the community and herself.
Saraswati Devi being felicitated for her achievements
Saraswati Devi is a simple, yet sharp 30-year old woman of Gambharia Village in Bundu Block, Ranchi district. Almost 70% of the population in Bundu is dependent on Agriculture which in turn, is totally dependent on the monsoon owing to the lack of irrigation facilities. Hence, the villagers are engaged only for about six months in a year. The condition of the women is more vulnerable because of the lack of resources and knowledge. They help the men during agriculture season but are otherwise only involved in household work. Delayed monsoon and sudden rise and fall in temperature have added to the difficulties of the villagers.
In an effort to help support her family, Saraswati joined “Adivasi Mahila Samuh” a Women Enterprise Group, and enrolled in the “Udyogini School of Entrepreneurship” (USE) by paying a nominal fee. She showed a keen interest to learn and aspired to become an “Entrepreneur” to earn for her family. She didn’t allow any hindrance to hold her back and she took the pains to travel 8 kms by foot every alternate day to attend the sessions at 8:00am in the morning. Despite the ample amount of work at home, she managed to finish it early and attend the training sessions on time. Being in a patriarchal society, many tried to destroy the confidence of this brave lady by making comments on her daily outings but her determination helped her overcome such hurdles.
Saraswati Devi procuring Lac
During her training, Saraswati learnt basic mathematics, Hindi and how to conduct herself in a group. She picked up essential business skills required to successfully run an enterprise such as inventory management and customer satisfaction. She is able to calculate her profits and losses and even do market surveys for any of the new products she wishes to introduce in her VLSC. She also learnt important life skills which have redeemed her from a state of submissiveness. She often sings a verse from her lessons with a smile “tu bolegi, muh kholegi, tabhi to zamana badlega” (“You’ll speak up, will open your mouth, that’s when the world will change”). Saraswati feels that her world has indeed changed with her newfound courage and independence.
Saraswati Devi was sanctioned a loan amount of Rs. 8000 from Rang De. She established her VLSC in October 2010 with the loan and an additional Rs. 5000 from her personal savings. She became a proud entrepreneur and her venture was immensely successful. From her success, she developed confidence and gained popularity in her village.
In February 2011, during an MSME (Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprise) workshop organized by Udyogini, in front of a crowd of over a 100 people including men from different villages, this transformed lady was the one who spoke up and raised a new business idea of detergent-making in the village SHGs (Self Help Groups) and linking their sale with VLSCs. This shows the kind of confidence she had developed after just a few months of running her enterprise. She has also created a benchmark for other VLSCs and is an example for the new trainees of USE.
After witnessing her abilities, achievements and popularity, the Gram Panchatayat chose her VLSC as a rural library for keeping books related to the Adult Literacy Program. They also appointed her as a teacher at the night school running in this library for which she is receiving a small income.
Saraswati’s achievements featured in the media
In February 2012, she was felicitated by a state level minister, at an event organized by a leading national daily Dainik Jagran for her innovation, skills and contribution to the society through the VLSC. This felicitation program was chaired by the Honorable Governor of Jharkhand. Saraswati Devi’s achievements also appeared in local newspapers. She has been now nominated for the “Anita Sen Memorial Award”. This award attempts to felicitate women/groups who have the courage to chase their dreams and also contribute to the society.
More Media Coverage
In the past, Saraswati Devi was a simple village woman involved in daily household chores and looking after her family members, yet not receiving her due share of respect. She faced difficult circumstances throughout her life and her endeavours were often met with resistance. She undertook her venture with sincerity, determination and courage to overcome all the hurdles that came her way. Today, she has grown as an individual reflecting the self-confidence that has grown within her. She now interacts with the people around her with ease and feels confident enough to speak up about family matters as well. She feels, “ab ghar ka sara jarurat asani se pura ho pata hi. Main apni beti ko bhi bahut padana chahti hun aaur desh ka accha nagrik banana chahti hun.” (“Now, the needs of the home are easily met. I want to (highly) educate my daughter and also want to become a good citizen.”)
Saraswati Devi’s Journey:
- Saraswati was the only girl from her village Gambharia who went to school at Bundu and that too after traveling a distance of 16km daily by foot. After completing her studies till 8th standard she went to Tunju village and in spite of huge resistance from her family she completed her matriculation there. Due to a financial crunch in the family she stayed with her aunt but had to travel a long distance everyday to school since the family was unable to bear the cost of a government hostel.
- In 2006, she chose for herself Sunil Singh Munda, who was an orphan and the only caretaker of his 3 younger siblings (one of his sisters died at early age due to financial crisis) for marriage in spite of her family’s resistance since she found him to be supportive of her ambitions. After marriage, they somehow managed to stay in an under -construction house which didn’t have a door or a roof at that time, since her husband did not have any assets.
- In 2006, Sunil started to work as a daily wage driver (earning Rs.100 daily) to earn their daily bread and stayed at Bundu for the sake of convenience to work from there. Saraswati Devi had to stay alone for 1 year at Gambharia.
- Sunil and Saraswathi spoke of the many nights when they slept on empty stomachs or had a meal of plain rice without vegetables. Meanwhile, Saraswati started to work as a volunteer for a Government literacy program but it didn’t fetch her any financial support. While staying at Gambharia alone she managed to construct one room for her family (her present house).
- In 2009, Saraswati Devi developed an ovarian infection and had to get it operated at a huge cost. She was also pregnant at that time and the family faced severe financial crisis under debt.
- In 2010, Saraswati Devi enrolled herself in entrepreneurship training and Sunil gave up driving to take care of their new-born girl child at home.
- After completing the training successfully, she established her Village Level Service Centre and now she is earning Rs.3500 — Rs. 5000 per month as an entrepreneur.
- Her husband Sunil has now started Lac cultivation, vegetable cultivation and also works as a contractor work for construction.
- Benefit to the Community: Saraswati’s VLSC caters to the daily domestic needs of almost 100 households. Earlier, the villagers used to travel at least 9 kms for satisfying their daily needs. They are now procuring various NTFPs and agri-products at her VLSC at better prices. The villagers are also getting an opportunity to cater to guests visiting their homes since they have easy access to edibles from the VLSC. Earlier, this was not possible owing to the distance of the village from the main market.
- Service to Society: Having gone through terrible times herself, Saraswati understands the needs of those around her. She has started lending money to the villagers without any interest as they have suffered a lot from financial scarcity. She is willing to sponsor one of the VLSC entrepreneurs Kittabera this year and this amount (loan of Rs.7500 + training fee) would be kept as revolving capital to create at least one entrepreneur every year by her.
Note: Village Level Service Centers (VLSCs) are ‘village level market and livelihood hubs’ with identified and researched growth potential in particular sectors/products around which new entrepreneurs can be mobilized. Essentially, VLSCs are small stores run by rural women to provide essential retail commodities such as cooking provisions, detergents, stationery and toiletries, for village level consumption. VLSCs serve as anchors in the rural value chain which not only provide the daily domestic needs of the villagers at their door step as and when required but also function as the aggregation centre for village produce such as value-added lac and other produce for distant markets. A VLSC also acts as a community service centre (for providing services like insurance, health, etc.)