Shalini, a 2010 fellow, founded AfterTaste – an organization that works with unskilled women from an extremely disadvantaged community of Ambuzwadi in Malwani, Malad (West), Mumbai.
The community of Ambuzwadi is approximately home to 50000 inhabitants and is 20 years old but deprived of:
· Proper shelter
· Access to drinking water.
· Electricity (installed only now in April 2014)
· Drainage system
· Basic sanitation and hygiene
AfterTaste is a grass root level social enterprise, working from within the community. Shalini came up with the idea of a model that is self sustaining, wherein, in collaboration with the women from this community they generate revenue through sale of our handcrafted products and use that for salaries, operations etc.
Since Aftertaste’s intervention, it has generated dignified livelihood opportunities for 8 families and impacted 40 direct and indirect beneficiaries. Due to consistent efforts, the women’s earning has led to an increase in the monthly income of their house-hold by 40% to 50%.
- The women’s income directly translated to: Spending and saving for children’s education, financial inclusion, significant improvements in their lifestyle, and increased awareness and access to healthcare.
- The women empowered with their financial independence and exposure now fight their battles against abuse and inequity with confidence.
- The women have transformed themselves from unskilled housewives with daily existential struggles and negligible literacy to skilled artisans who now dream of educating their children and lead them to a path with opportunities.
What motivated you to start your own social enterprise?
The two years left me with a strong desire to continue to work in the social space. I had worked for 9 years before the fellowship. The two years had equipped me with strong skills for working on the field, but I lacked the knowledge of the social sector eco-system or any educational qualification like masters in social work which seemed to be a key selection criterion for many organisations.
The above did disillusion me for some time and made me question, the modus operandi of the social sector in general. However, the fellowship had helped me gain an understanding of the challenges faced by the women of the communities and that had sowed a seed in me to do something for them and with them. The stories of relentless struggle and challenges shared by the women made me realise the urgent need to empower them through economic independence. However the absence of dignified and sustainable livelihood opportunities was a challenge. That led me to finally start a social enterprise after 3 months of the fellowship completion.
I started AfterTaste, in October 2012 with the vision to empower women from the low income communities through creation of sustainable livelihood opportunities using art and craft thus enabling them to break the vicious cycle of poverty.
What are the challenges you faced while setting up Aftertaste?
One of the biggest challenges was to come out with a model which enabled them to work without coming in the way of their responsibilities of a caregiver and did not take them away from the community. Today every afternoon 11 women complete their domestic chores and assemble in a common place inside the community.
When we started, the skills required were completely new to the women and needed teamwork and collaboration. They were not just unskilled and with no or negligible literacy, but they had never worked before and working with others was something alien to them. The community being a bottom of the pyramid slum, made them struggle and compete for each basic necessity every single day. And at AfterTaste we expected them to work as one team. It has been a challenge to make the women overcome that mindset and collaborate with each other. To work cohesively in one team and not compete, to trust each other, and show mutual respect, continues to be a challenge even today especially when the number of women are increasing.
It has been a steep learning curve for them from being unskilled to working as skilled artisans, making each and every product in a team, managing inventory, keeping a track of raw materials, meeting delivery deadlines and being able to retain knowledge and train new members.
What has been your biggest learning?
Today the women handcraft 10 niche paper products and also inspire and motivate other women to do.
My biggest learning has been perseverance and hope: Just when things seems impossible, and all doors seem to be shut, a window always opens up gives us hope and 100 reasons to continue and work relentlessly.
One of these reasons for me was when one of the ladies said that she had given up hope for educating her children, but now with her earnings from Aftertaste she feels stronger and has the courage and determination to educate them further. Today both her daughters go to junior college and she spends her earnings from Aftertaste for their education.
Another such moment was when the women from AfterTaste traveled to a remote village in Gujarat and trained 20 other women. It was a sign that they were now sowing a seed elsewhere. That for me was the true revenue we earned at AfterTaste: empowerment.
What are some of the things you would like to share to people who are looking to start their own initiative?
Sometimes all you need is a leap of faith. If you have an idea and a vision, by all means make a start. I would say work towards making it sustainable at first and then aim for scale. Do not be disappointed if the numbers don’t grow initially. It is important to have sustained and overcome initial challenges. There will be hurdles and challenges which challenge your sense of possibility, but do not give up till you think if you have tried everything and give it more than your 100 percent. Once you are able to make an enterprise sustainable, the numbers will come, slowly but certainly.
To quote Mohd.Yunus:
How can the Alumni Community Help?
Being a social enterprise, with a self sustaining financial model, we are always on the lookout for points of sales for our handcrafted products at corporate organisations, educational institutes, lifestyle stores etc. It would be great if each one of you could promote AfterTaste in your organisation and networks and help us with getting orders, exhibitions opportunities etc.
You can visit AfterTaste’s facebook page here.