Sarita Brara An ordinary homemaker not too long ago, Geeta Vesnav today runs a beauty parlour from her house, sells cosmetics, readymade or self-stitched garments, and sarees. Vesnav is from Dagla Kheda, a hamlet in Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan. She is one among 50 women who have been trained to become Business Sakhis (BS) or village -level entrepreneurs.

Vesnav joined the Sawarian Samooh, a self-help group, in 2018, under ‘Sakhi’, a project funded by Hindustan Zinc Ltd that focusses on empowering women through micro enterprises at the village level. To start her enterprise, Vesnav availed a loan of ₹50,000 and has already been able to pay back seven instalments.

The Sakhi project, implemented by the Manjari Foundation, comprises 10 micro enterprises, which are production hubs that take on tailoring, grading pulses and spices, and making pickles. The hubs are located at six centres, five of them in Rajasthan in Chittorgarh, Bhilwara, Ajmer, Udaipur and Rajsamand. One unit is in Rudrapur, Uttarkhand.

Though all the women are not as enterprising as Vesnav, they too are spreading their wings and setting up small sales outlets. Take Anju Khatik from Putholi in Chittorgarh. She lost no time in setting up shop and selling ground spices, papads and pickles. She purchases her inventory from the production unit run under the Sakhi project and sells it among her community. “The going is not as good as expected because of the pandemic but once the situation eases, I am hopeful that I will have a wider client base and will be able to earn good money,” she says.

Leveraging social media

Anju Salvi too is following the same model but has gone one step further. She is using social media platforms to sell products she purchases from Sakhi’s units. “I am able to sell products worth ₹10,000-15,000 and earn a commission of ₹4,000-5,000. The profit margin varies from product to product, from 10 per cent to even 30 per cent,” says Salvi. Stressing that women empowerment is key to the overall development of not just families but entire communities, Arun Misra, CEO, Hindustan Zinc, says the company is planning to expand the project to train over 150 BSs across the country.

Tapping the potential

In addition to the BSs, there are over 670 Sakhis who have taken loans and started their own small businesses such as grocery or vegetable shops, beauty parlours, flour mills and tailoring centres. While women like Vesnav can now be called entrepreneurs in their own right, the Sakhi project is busy identifying others with the potential to become businesswomen.

Rekha from Tiddi village in Udaipur block is a typical example. Since her husband met with an accident and could not go back to work, Rekha started taking on odd jobs. She stitches blouses and long skirts. At other times she grinds wheat and maize. But she needs to earn more to support her two school going sons. “I am waiting for the training to start and hopefully after that I will be able to earn much more by selling products made by Sakhi,” she says.

While the setting up of these micro enterprises has enabled house makers become entrepreneurs, it has also provided livelihood to women. Radhajat, who grinds spices and packages them at the Sakhi centre, earns ₹30 per hour on a seven-hour shift every day. “I have been able to earn ₹15,000 in the last six months. Now I can meet the needs of my school-going children and live with dignity. As a farm hand there was no guarantee that I would get work every day,” she says.

The writer is a senior journalist

based in Delhi