What comes to your mind first when you hear the word MBA? Business, money, management and a better life? However, there is more to it.
In a country like India, where the majority of the population still lives in villages and hold on to traditional ways of employment, finding new ways to find sustainable solutions for them. For long, selling local industry and home-grown products has been, a major source of livelihood for people in villages. Women, who mostly are limited to household chores, are also taking part in earning for the family. The self-help groups and local NGOs are helping them in becoming financially more independent. But finding a sustainable business model for them is the biggest challenge.
And the young minds of the country are ready to take up the challenge!
A group of 6 students (Aayush Aggarwal, Anmol Chouksey, Divya Sharma, Ashish Garg, Sundeep Nawani, Smrita Borthakur) from IMT Ghaziabad got in touch with a 13-member self-help group in a nearby village named Dasna, in Uttar Pradesh. When they came to know about the village and the group, they took help from an NGO named SADARAG (Social and Development Research and Action Group) to know a little more about their problems and how they can be of help.
After their initial research on the group, they decided on letting them make various products including earthen lamp cotton, petticoats and sweaters, and sell them in the market. But, none of them was turning out to be a sustainable model for them.
The students went on visits every week to the village. They started to coordinate between members of the self-help group, the NGO and learned more about the villagers and their requirements.
“A lot of these women were in their 40s and it was difficult for them to work on intricate embroideries because of their fading eyesight. Besides, most of them were consumed with household chores for the better part of the day, making it terribly hard for them to work in volume,” said Smrita Borthakur, one of the members of the group who overviewed the entire project.
This is when the team decided to explore the market and went on a tour to a nearby local market in Turab Nagar. They studied the market and made a list of items that these women can easily make and sell, in order to make a living. Looking at the demand for handmade bags, decorative items, and paper plates, they thought it might just work best for the village womenfolk. But, a further probe in the situation of the market presented a different picture. “The raw material for making these items were coming very costly and the margin was minuscule. There were similar products coming out from factories, that were available in the market for much cheaper rates,” informed Borthakur.
After a detailed brainstorming within the team, they decided on producing a liquid dishwashing gel. With his experience in chemical engineering, Ayush Agarwal, successfully created the product using raw materials easily available in the market at cheap rates. The initial set of tests happened in the campus hostels and the results seemed satisfying.
It was a tough task initially to make the village people aware of the product and encourage them to use it in place of the traditional ash and cheap soap that they use for cleaning their utensils. “There was one woman who came directly to us, while we were demonstrating the product and telling its benefits to the other women in the village, and said, “We won’t leave our bond with the ash”, recalled Borthakur.
But there were bigger challenges waiting for the team. Because of the nature of the product (FMCG), they had to get their product tested from a recognized institution. And that needed funding.
“We were really worried about arranging the funds. That is when we thought of crowdfunding. We got enough money through the fundraising campaign that we started and got our product quality tested and certified in no time”, quips Borthakur.
The team, with the help of IMT professor Elkana Ezekiel, then developed the branding and zeroed upon the marketing of the same. The product was now bottled and labelled as ‘Amaze’ dishwashing liquid; reminiscing the amazing journey of it so far!
The team went on to buy raw material in bulk from Delhi and trained the group on how to use it in right proportions to make the product. The training process involved getting the measurements right in the weighing scale, to adding the right amount of lemon extract to bottling, labelling and understanding the safety instruction, while undergoing the same.
In no time, the women were ready with a new product in their hand, with a complete ownership of the same. Cost of the raw material, including chemicals, bottling and labelling stood at around Rs. 15 per bottle. The selling price for the bottle was set at Rs. 35, giving a substantial margin to the women working on making and selling them.
“But our job didn’t stop there. It was now a challenge for us to distribute the product through various B2B channels and encourage the women to opt for a door to door selling. We went to various nearby restaurants and hotels to convince them for bulk orders,” informed Borthakur.
Facing challenges right from the ideation stage to that of creating awareness, branding it, arranging for funds, getting it tested, market it through the right channels to derive profit, the project made them aware of every stage of a business and how to tackle it. “It helped me a great deal to be more persistent. It was like a live application of all the things we have learnt in our MBA classes.”, admits Borthakur.
As the number of assignments, lectures and case studies grew, it was time for the team now to hand over the operations of the project to SADARAG, which is currently looking after getting its trademark and GST registration is done for its expansion. “Although the project lasted for a small time for us, we are really glad that we could help in establishing and building a successful business for the women in the village. With them being a step closer to financial independence and empowerment through this programme, I feel I am too.” concludes Borthakur.
IMT Ghaziabad initiated a mandatory three-credit course for the first year PGDM programme students on Sustainability and Social responsibility (SSR) in the year 2016. As part of the programme, the students need to work with local self-help groups and provide them with better and affordable business solutions. Students work in groups and try looking for problems by dropping their classroom comfort and working closely with the people on the field.
Learnings from the journey of Amaze
- What you think and conceive as a great business idea need not be the best idea in the world. Try and analyze the market first and bend your ideas accordingly.
- Understanding the target audience and market is important. You can’t sell your product to someone unless they are aware of the benefits it can entail.
- Negotiating with shareholders to prove your point and put forward your argument in favour of your idea is important.
- When you are stuck with no money for your business to grow, ask for it from like-minded people. Go first to family and friends.
- Understand your competition and make better use of its weakness to strengthen the stronghold of your product.
*This story is a promoted feature