Thondebhavi is a picturesque village nestled in between a set of hills in Karnataka’s Chikballapur district. The district capital is 30 km to the east of the village. The area has an ACC cement plant but agriculture is otherwise one of the primary livelihoods for families in Thondebhavi. However, with other industry cropping up in nearby Chikballapur, there are increasingly more economic opportunities now within reach for its residents
We set up an Antarprerna women collective in Thondebhavi in September of 2020 with support from our partner, ACC Trust. As with our other collectives, this one was designed as a group enterprise unit for women in the village who were not in a position to travel too far or work long hours in jobs outside their homes. At the ACC Disha Centre in Thondebhavi, the women can come in, learn new or upgrade existing skills, and generate income through their daily production. Our engagement with the women also includes a round of General Entrepreneurship Training (GET) to familiarize them with various facets of starting a business. Beyond that, our team mentors and guides them to identify and pursue viable business ideas of their own.
We are currently working with the second batch of women at this location. We recently caught up with Mallika, our trainer in Thondebhavi, to find out more about her experience with managing the project on the ground over the last year and a half.
I talk to women I know and those who have basic sewing skills to let them know what they can gain from the program. I tell that they will have a chance to receive training, to learn new skills, and create beautiful products. Most importantly they will start earning an income – maybe for the first time in their lives. I also tell them that they will learn about different business ideas and how they can go about setting up something on their own. This is not always an easy or quick process. The women usually have many questions that I have to answer before they come around and start to get excited about joining the project. I also talk to their family members and try to get their buy in as well.
We currently get regular work from ‘Stitch in Time’ to do different styles of hand embroidery on fabric that eventually gets tailored into clothing items. We have also handled large mask orders from Craftizen. We were very busy earlier in the year with this work. We made Rs 1.5 to 2 lakhs worth of masks alone. With SIT, the styles and patterns to be produced change every month, or sometimes even every 15 days. So the women have to be ready to learn, adapt and switch gears. I make sure I stay on top of the requirements and am ready to guide them with the right specs and techniques. Apart from these two main partners, we do get some custom orders from an organization called Enactus. They send us photos of products and designs that they would like duplicated. Then we have to figure out how to source the materials needed and recreate the design. However, since these are usually small one-time orders, it’s not always cost effective for us.
Keeping the women motivated through the ebb and flow of work is not easy. And since we ask them to commit to coming into the centre every day, this makes it harder for women with families and young children. They can only do it when the family backs them in this.
I am currently working with the second batch of women at the centre. Some members of the first batch have started or are running small ventures, from or near their homes. One of them runs a tea stand; another sells pooja items and others are reselling readymade clothes and footwear. It makes me happy to see these women grow and aim higher and to know that I have played a part in this. One of the first women to join was a 42 year old with college age children whose husband was reluctant to let her work. But he changed his mind after hearing me describe the setup and goals of the centre. She was able to pay some of her son’s college fees with the income she made. And also help her daughter get into a Nursing program. Stories like these make me happy. I know that we are making a difference in the lives of these women.