Friday, December 2, 2011

Women's Shop Update: 5 Days to Launch!

The Women's Shop project is well underway and we are only 5 days from launch! It has taken some time to find the right female entrepreneur to lead this initiative, but now that we have, things are moving along quite well.

Her name is Bhavana and she has 2 children. She has completed her education up to the 10th standard (something like 10th grade in the U.S.) and so knows how to read and write, making her among a small population of women here in Saurath. She is quite amicable and welcoming, always joking with us when we visit, and offering us chai of course. And, slowly but surely, she is even trying to teach me Methali (the dialect here in Saurath)! For those of you who know how terrible my Hindi skills are, you can appreciate that this is no small feat :-). Her husband has been a small business owner for years, running a snack shop in front of their house. Relatively-speaking, their family seems to be making enough money to survive, and educate their children. In fact, last night her son read to us from one of his English schoolbooks (a story about Old McDonald's farm), and today her daughter told me her favorite subject is Math.
Bhavana's husband's snack shop Inside courtyard of their home

Initially, our work was focused on developing the business plan, including identifying all the set up costs and merchandise planning. Now over the past week and a half or so, we have been focused on the physical set up for the store - we are trying to give it a special look, since it will be the first shop of its kind in the village. The store, to be called Rangoli, will be set up in the front area of Bhavana's house (pictured above). As we meet with masons, carpenters, and electricians I'm definitely learning a lot about what it takes to physically build and maintain a store. And of course, I'm continuously getting lessons on what it means to negotiate here in India - like when the carpenter initially tells you his labor charges, and you respond by offering 50% of the asking rate!

Some pictures of the masonry work going on

Now our biggest task is to mobilize the community around this idea. Through word of mouth, notice of the upcoming grand opening is spreading. And we are also working on hiring a rickshaw with microphone to announce the upcoming store launch all around the village. But our work will have to be one of continuous improvement. In the upcoming weeks, we will closely monitor the community's response and feedback, and determine how we can evolve to meet their needs. Over time, we will add and alter services and identify how we can get more and more women involved through things like local manufacturing opportunities, or perhaps simple inspiration around what women can do for other women.

More updates to come soon. In the meantime, here are some photos from my visit across the village for another upcoming project to train women on making papad (an opportunity to own their own micro-enterprise):

These adorable kids were so excited about me taking their picture. They kept asking me to take more, so they could look at it and laugh! :-)

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