Picture the boardroom of your organization in the beginning of the financial year, where the management team, including your MD, GMs, regional heads, sit down with the entire office staff to brainstorm on the 5 year vision for the organization.
Now replace the MD’s, GMs and regional heads with community workers and the office staff with rural tribal women. Still think you can come up with an effective vision statement?
I recently had the opportunity of traveling to Udaipur for a capacity-building program with a women’s collective named SADHNA. Sadhna, a Women’s Handicraft Enterprise based out of Udaipur, started with a small group of 15 women with the aim of providing an alternate means of livelihood to the women of rural, tribal, and urban slum areas of Rajasthan. The organization has now grown to a large family of 625 women artisans, who are also member-owners where they are entitled a share in the annual profit distribution, and are also represented on the Board of Trustees.
The training program was spread over 5 days, where everyone from the CEO, to the management team, to the artisans were involved in building their business plan, setting key milestones and arriving at the main pillars on which Sadhna’s foundation will stand for the years to come.Like a typical review in any organization, the first session began with the entire team penning down what they felt was Sadhna’s core identity, which was then followed by the team listing down some of the challenges that they have been facing. The session finally ended with a ‘wish list’ for the team, where the team was given an opportunity to come up with three wishes for Sadhna. You would think that a session like this would require a bit of coaxing from our side to get all the women to voice out their opinions, since they probably had never had exposure to a management session like this in the past. However, we were pleasantly surprised to see the energy levels in the room when they were asked to share what they had written, with the team. There was no stopping them – they knew exactly what was going right with the organization, which areas needed working on and where they wanted to see the organization a few years down the line.
This was true empowerment, right in front of us. From a state of complete dependence, these women now had a secure job, regular flow of income, bank accounts, and more importantly, a Voice that could be heard. There was one woman though, who stood out the most from the entire team of artisans, Chotti. Don’t go by her name, she is anything but small, neither in size nor in the way she lives her life. She has worked with the organization for 19 years, almost from the organization’s inception. All that Sadhna stands for, all the highs and the lows, all the values that the foundation rests upon, come together and reflect off Chotti in more ways than one. On inquiring about some of her experiences, Chotti shared her inhibitions with traveling to a bigger city like Delhi where she was terrified at points but managed her way out with grace and style. We all lived those experiences through her, while she started recalling some, rather hilarious, episodes with the auto rickshaw drivers, and some typical city customers… she got everybody in the room to crack up on her stories! Ironically enough though, she was probably the only one in the room who was illiterate. Not having read or written her entire life, she came across as a fairly sharp and confident woman, who lived and learnt through her experiences. Her positivity and energy rubbed off on all of us, as we listened to her stories in absolute admiration.
The subsequent days at the workshop primarily involved sitting down with the management team and constructing a concrete business plan and putting in effective mechanisms and systems in place for the organization. Sadhna has a core management team of about 4 women, very distinct in personalities, but united in one mission, to take Sadhna’s legacy forward. To mention a few:
Leelaji, the CEO, has been with the organization for the last 28 years and has grown with Sadhna. Having sacrificed most of her family life, she has dedicated the most crucial years of her life to the organization and its sole mission of increasing work and income for the artisans. Her entrepreneurial spirit and drive for the organization has earned her a lot of respect, while she executes her role with incredible grace and poise.
Manjula, heading production, left her comfortable life in Chandigarh and moved to Udaipur after her marriage. Incredibly smart, with just the right amount of humility, she is the one who keeps the entire team together, knowingly or unknowingly. During the workshop, she humored us with her jokes, while we sat and grilled her on her cost structure.
By the end of the 5th day, we had all established our personal relationships with the team, as well as with Sadhna. Many of us found ourselves in their store, wanting to buy something off their shelves, to take back home as a small memento.
SADHNA’s work has catalyzed a noticeable change in the lives of its artisans, who once were not even exposed to their own villages. Today these women artisans are confident enough to make their own decisions within the family as well as in different socio-political groups. It was truly gratifying to be part of their extraordinary story!