My journey all began last year in a lecture hall at UCLA. While my professor blabbered on and on about some economic theory, I was entertaining the thought of interning in another country (please, I do take my studies seriously, but my mind was wandering!) What a cool idea, I thought to myself: to expand and grow intellectually and spiritually, while experiencing the corporate world in a different culture.
I was also wondering, how much of what he was saying is true? It is easy to criticize from afar. Perhaps microfinance and business development programs are not the solution to eradicating all poverty, but they must be having some positive effect on an individual basis, right? My curiosity and desire to answer the former question and other similar questions led me thousands of miles away from home.
It was then that I decided to become an Ambassador for Accion, and later flew to Bangalore and started working on Accion’s Dialogue on Business Program (DOB) whose mission is to develop the business skills of women micro-entrepreneurs through participatory and engaging modules.
DOB helps women to better manage their personal and household finances, as well as gives them the tools to develop a business initiative or to further enhance their existing business. But I quickly realized that DOB wasn’t just about changing the way these women think about business. By developing successful business, these women positively changed the way they are perceived by their family, community, and most importantly, themselves. I could see this empowerment on their face, and hear it in their story.
My journey led me through Southern India’s lush forests, bustling cities, and swampy rice fields where I used rickshaw, car, bus, and train to reach and interview over sixty women entrepreneurs. Here are some of their stories:
Bushra is an entrepreneur from Thrissur, in Kerala, India, and is the entrepreneurs of all entrepreneurs. She sells poultry, plants, pickled fruit, vegetables, and even goats to her neighbors, shops, and catering companies.
Before the DOB training, Bushra was sitting at home, bored and restless. Aware of her potential, Bushra enrolled in the DOB training and soaked up the knowledge of her teachers. Shortly after, she opened up her own poultry center, and a few months later a pickling production business. What is incredible is the speed in which Bushra has been able to open up all these businesses – just nine months!
Before leaving and without a word of communication, Bushra and her daughter ushered me into their house and handed me a USB chord and pointed to their computer and then my camera. Assuming they wanted the photos I had just took of them, I hooked myself up to their computer, and BAM instant smiles across all their faces. It was really special to see them beam with joy as they watched the computer, looking at themselves and the accomplishments they had built in the past months.
While I was bidding my goodbyes and thank yous to Bushra, she shook her head “No No No!” and gestured that I come into an open roofed room that was attached to the chicken coop. She pointed at my camera, suggesting that I be prepared for what she was about to do. Looking back now, I realize I had no idea what was coming, nor could I have ever prepared myself for it. Within seconds, a chicken was chosen at random, put on the cutting block, a knife was drawn, and a white plastic bag was handed to me. I was shocked, and I am sure my mouth had fallen open. But what was more shocking was the way Bushra and her friends reacted to my reaction: they were not able to understand why I was having such a difficult time with gracefully accepting that warm bag full of a valuable food. I left Bushra’s chicken center realizing how removed I, and oftentimes, many westerners, are from the food we put in our mouth.
There are a lot more stories where that came from… stay tuned as I share the rest!