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Housewife or entrepreneur?

As you walk down a narrow lane, away from all the hustle and bustle of Bangalore, Parveen, a very jolly woman, emerges to greet you and welcome you into her immaculately kept home. She is accompanied by her sister in law and both of them scurry around to make sure their guests have clean chairs and a glass of fresh juice.

Parveen is a client of Grameen Koota and has taken out 2 loans, totaling 15,000 Rupees over the last 2 years, in order to grow her sari business. She sells beautiful saris from her home for as much as 5000 Rupees for each piece. She says that despite the fact that her clients tend not to be so well off they still attach a great deal of importance to their appearance and so even if they cannot afford it, will purchase the best saris she has. As she lives in a Muslim area, she is currently preparing for Ramadan, her busiest time of year. This is a month where Muslims also celebrate Eid and so will buy new outfits for the occasion. Given how expensive her saris are, she allows her customers to purchase on credit and so far she has never experienced anyone defaulting on their payments. She has great support from her family, especially her sister-in- law and brother-in-law who travel to the wholesale market to purchase her stock. Her husband is a driver but when he is not working he also helps out in the business.

She recently participated in ACCION’s Dialogue on Business Training and has seen a huge improvement in the way in which she manages her time between her business and home. She also feels she manages money better, having understood how to record her cash flows and plan for future expenditure. She is planning on expanding her product range to include artificial jewelry so that when she sells saris she is able to match jewelry to each outfit. As a longer term objective she would like to have her own shop. However at present the cost of setting this up, as well as the ongoing rent and electricity charges would be too onerous for her.

Parveen Taj is a confident lady who has all the qualities of a good salesperson. However it is ironic that despite running a successful business she still describes herself as a housewife. This is a common issue amongst many of the women who have established businesses. It will clearly take time before some women entrepreneurs are truly able to view themselves as such.

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Baby food – YUM YUM!

If a baby can eat it so can I!

Surrounded by lush green forests, the Amritam baby food production house provides employment to 11 women. This project is a wonderful example of how the Kerala government has played a crucial role in helping women establish themselves in business.

A few years ago the Kurumbashri scheme brought together 20 women, gave them training in how to make baby food and built them a modern factory to enable them to produce over 500kg of food each day. They also ensured that the product would have a guaranteed market by providing local schools with the product on a daily basis.

In the last couple of years the women have taken over the business and now pay rent for the premises. The team has now reduced to 11 and they work together exceptionally well. Despite their official working hours being 10am – 5pm, they all tend to work longer to get the job done and focus on increasing sales and profitability. This has all been possible with the support of their families.

Before this project these women were quite timid and admit to not having had much business sense. Out of the 11 women who continue to be involved in the business 7 have now learnt to drive and have been able to purchase scooters to enable them to commute to work easily. They are very proud of this!

Participating in ACCION’s Dialogue on Business training has enabled them to formulate ambitious plans to extend their product range. They have already established that if they improve the quality of their food they will be able to sell it for 120 Rupees per bag in the market rather than solely relying on the local schools where they sell the current product at 40 Rupees per bag. They would also like to start producing rice powder as well as set up a tailoring business, for which they have already identified a possible location.

The training also taught these women more about how to deal with suppliers and customers and improve their market linkages. This is an area that they would now like further training on in order for them to understand how to test the market to determine the feasibility of their new products.

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How to make Appam

Appam is a common daily food in Kerala which is usually eaten for breakfast or dinner. It is a type of bread made from rice batter on a stone griddle.

Sreelatha, runs a flour mill where they make the rice flour that is used to make appam. She established the business 4 years ago after having learnt the process whilst working elsewhere. Her family had needed to boost their income and they felt that they had the capacity to set up on their own. But things have not been easy for Sreelatha. Unfortunately she suffers from chronic allergies and so cannot work consistently. The business is so dependent on her that in 2008 when she was hospitalised for a year, they had to close down. They resumed operations last year and she now has excellent support from her husband and 3 children and has also hired 2 employees.

Sreelatha felt that by undertaking ACCION’s Dialogue on Business training it would help her improve her management skills as well as learn how to recruit staff effectively. Her business is now flourishing and unless she adds to her team she will not be able to meet the growing demand for her product. As a result of meeting Sreelatha, the staff of Muthoot, the bank where she most recently took out a 25,000 Rupee loan, were so impressed by the quality of her rice flour that they now purchase it for their own use. The Muthoot Hotel has even requested Sreelatha to start producing a specific type of flour to be used in its restaurants.

The training has boosted Sreelatha’s confidence and re-affirmed the need for her to expand the business. Another hurdle she has realised she has to cross is how to transport the rice. At present she is dependent on using auto-rickshaws and buses. However carrying 20kg of rice from her house to the bus stop and then travelling over an hour to her destination will not be feasible for much longer so she is making plans to purchase a vehicle.

Despite her health issues Sreelatha remains optimistic and is always on the look out for new business ideas. Since attending the training she has decided to set up a side-business of making banana chips at home.

Appam Recipe


Raw rice – 2 cups
Urad daal-1/4 cup
Boiled rice – 1cup
Coconut Milk – 1 cup
Sugar – 2 tbsp
Salt – As required
Water – 1cup

Preparation• Soak raw rice and Urad dall for 4 hours.
• Put soaked rice and urad dall in a mixer and grind till smooth paste.
• Add Coconut milk, salt and sugar.
• Mix well by hand.
• Keep the mixture closed to ferment for 7 hours in a warm place
• Heat the Appa Chatti (Cast iron pan with deep bottom).
• Wipe the vessel with oiled cloth.
• Pour in the appam mixture.
• Lift off the stove and swirl the vessel.
• Pour oil round the appam.
• Close with lid for 5 minutes.
• Gently remove the appam from the vessel.

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The Entrepreneurial Indian Tailor

As you drive through the streets of Vijayanagar, a colourful residential area in north-west Bangalore, the smell of beef carcasses hits you. This is a Muslim area where a number of women have established businesses and expanded them by taking small loans from Grameen Koota, a microfinance institution (MFI). ACCION has worked with Grameen  Koota  by providing financial literacy training to some of their clients. We met with Mahmooda who runs Noore Fashion, a tailoring shop, to speak to her about how ACCION’s training in self management and cash management has helped her run her business more effectively.

Mahmooda is 45 years old and now employs 7 people including her husband and 2 sons. Not only does she sew sari blouses, suits and dresses but she has also now established a small factory to make bags. Her bags are sent to large cities such as Chennai where she sells over 500 bags a month.

She decided to participate in the training following her daughter’s wedding. She found herself with more time on her hands and her husband encouraged her to invest more time in growing her business. For her, the training was most useful in helping her to manage her time and prioritise, both at work and home. She was also able to pass on these skills to her sons who run her factory and as a result have implemented better processes there. Unfortunately the downside of her spending 3 days at training was that, in her absence, her workers would slack off. She then had to pay them all overtime so that they could finish the piled up orders. Despite these additional costs she still felt the training was worthwhile as she is now far more productive in her day. She has also improved her communication skills and is now better at discussing different fashion designs with her customers to encourage them to order different styles. Her record book was particularly impressive (as you can see below); every client’s order specifications are recorded in English with a sample of the material they will be using. She said that since establishing this system she hasn’t confused a single order!


Empowering Indian women entrepreneurs with financial literacy skills

I am posting from Bangalore, India where I am working with ACCION Technical Advisors on their Client Education training programmes. Today I visited one of the Financial Literacy workshops that was being conducted at Sanghamithra, a Bangalore based microfinance institution (MFI) that provides financial services to the poor in both rural and urban areas. Sixteen branch managers received training on how to train loan officers who in turn will train up to 2000 female entrepreneurs on ways to develop strategies to help mitigate lifecycle risks, smooth household income and consumption levels and ultimately improve their general wellbeing. These entrepreneurs are encouraged to increase their savings and optimise their assets to prevent over-indebtedness.

Through this training the MFI is able to strengthen the relationship with its clients and the client is able to have a greater understanding of financial and management practices and thus make more informed decisions.

The training was fun and interactive and used local examples such as how to save for your daughter’s wedding. The women are therefore able to understand in a practical way how better financial management can improve their lives.

In this video clip you can see how Subha, the trainer is explaining how a woman running a tea shop should manage her finances.