Nagli papad, vermicompost…no, make way for event managment SHGs, who are also curbing alcoholism in their villages with this innovative initiative. Read what Gangaben tells SBI #YouthforIndia fellow Pooja Dewoolkar, who is now at Dang in South Gujarat.
“How often do we imagine markets in rural India? The newest lifestyle products which come out cater only to the urban population believing that rural population will never need it. This is where a lot of companies miss out on a fundamental market population.”
In my orientation week at SBI Youth for India Fellowship 2014-15, the idea of “imagining markets” stumped me. Mr. A. Murugantham, the man behind the sanitary napkin revolution of India, who created affordable, disposable sanitary napkins for women in rural India, highlighted this fact for us. Yes, the market is very different from the conventional one, but this does not mean that there is an absence of need.
Once the fellowship actually began, I had forgotten most of it until I visited Dagadpada, a village 11 kms away from the highway in Dangs district, South Gujarat. Nestled in the Sahyadri ranges, it was one of the villages I had visited in the attempt to meet as many diverse stakeholders as possible. The village is home to many self-help groups (SHGs) and it also had watershed development committee who I intended to interview in order to gain better insight on their workings. In this process I happened to meet Gangaben Sonjebhai Gaikwad, a woman about 60 years of age who is a trained auxiliary mid-wife nurse and an SHG member. Since most SHG have an income generation activity in that area, I inquired about her group’s activity. I was ready for a usual response of ‘making Nagli papad, vermicompost, and plant nursery management’ and other practices associated commonly to promote women’s involvement as a source of income for the household. “We rent plastic chairs for weddings and functions in the area. There is another SHG here which rents a DJ mixing set and a group of men who are involved in making mandap (construction of tents and skeletal structures in which events can be held)”, she stunned me into silence.
These groups co-ordinate among themselves and form what can be called as an event managing team for all the events that happen in nearby villages. On further probing and analysis, I realised that apart from the initial capital, there is very less costs involved which makes the business very easy to manage and sustainable. The groups undertook saving activities like any other SHG, out of which the maintenance of the capital was taken care of, and shared the profits. Women did not have to devote all their time in the activity and thus could undertake other businesses if they wanted to. Every component of this business, the plastic chairs, the DJ set, the SHG which is involved in making food and the mandap group when separated, are still functional and don’t have to rely on each other in order to get an event. Therefore, they can individually carry on with their business as and when they have a demand.
Before they ventured into this field, the group used to buy cloth for sarees at wholesale rate from Surat to sell in Dangs region and this earned them a respectable profit. The idea emerged from the fact that people in the villages also desire to dress well and stay fashionable, and were okay with investing in whatever their means could afford. The big jump to event management happened when the women realised that their weddings and functions were turning into a boring affair with lack of entertainment before and after the ceremony. People use to drink heavy amounts of alcohol at such events since they said they had nothing else to do as source of enjoyment. “Now they don’t drink as much. They want to dance”, Gangaben tells me. In an area where alcoholism is rife due to extreme poverty and alcohol is used as a substitute for evening meals, switching their investment patterns with an innovative idea was mind-boggling.
Rural India is transforming with every innovation. If only we start realising how much it is a part of ‘mainstream culture’ the process will be much faster.