As we work with social entrepreneurs every day, we have discovered that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for being a successful social entrepreneur. There are many storms to be weathered before their model is a true success with high-impact.
To highlight some of the motivations that drive social entrepreneurs, especially the ones solving socio-economic problems in remote locations of India, we spoke to Namita, who founded Gramshree – a social enterprise that works with farmers in rural Udaipur.
Q What inspired you to become a social entrepreneur?
I have been working in the development sector for the last 14 years. After my B. Tech in Civil Engineering, my parents wanted me to secure a government job. Through campus placements, I began to work for an NGO. This was against the wishes of my parents and a huge step in challenging the norms of the middle-class society that I came from. During my stint with the NGO, I had the opportunity to work on a project about women empowerment against patriarchy. I met a lot of inspiring women in the village. These women, even though they were not conventionally educated, they were all smart and quick learners with a zeal to learn new things. That whole experience was transformative for me and motivated me to work in the development sector, not just as a hobby, but as a full-fledged profession.
Q What is the problem that your initiative is addressing?
Across the tribal belt of our country, farmers are unable to realise the real price of their produce due to lack of knowledge, capacity, or access to markets. In 2015, Rakesh (Co-Founder) and I set-up Gramshree – a social enterprise that works with farmers, producer organisations and civil society organisations in tribal areas to ensure that farmers are able to get a fair and reasonable price for their produce. We add value to the products through our in-house expertise & food processing facilities. We follow a farm-to-fork model that ensures the products are directly sourced from the farmers to the markets.
We did our first pilot in 2016-2017 in Udaipur and were able to impact around 250 women farmers. We trained them in maintaining the quality of the produce, grading, sorting, weighing the fruit and making pulp in a hygienic manner. After processing, the pulp is stored in cold chain units and later sold to ice cream companies. We have set up small units of pulp processing and refrigerators in villages. The price realised from the fruit sales saw a 210% increase (from INR 4 to INR 8.5 per kg) thus doubling the earnings of the farmers.
Q What is the impact created by Gramshree till date?
Gramshree has provided livelihood opportunities to over 350 women so far. Out of these 100 women work at our processing unit. Through this intervention, the women have been able to earn an additional INR 10k-12k in a year.
We have expanded our operations to Madhya Pradesh as well besides Udaipur. We have been working with Satpura Self Reliant farmer producer company which is into custard apple cultivation. They have made it easier for us to mobilise and train the farmers and provide market linkages for their produce. This model of partnering with an on-ground partner would help us scale in a much faster way. We are also planning to diversify our portfolio of fruits according to the different seasons so as to ensure year-round earnings for our farmers.
Q. How has been your journey so far?
It has been a roller coaster ride. There’s no glamour in this job. The work that we do is located in the remote areas of Udaipur that comes with certain difficulties. Also, finding the right talent with the right temperament to do on-ground operations has been difficult for us. There have been incidents when team-members have quit because they were unable to adjust with ground-realities.
It also took us a while to establish credibility in the community. However, our experience in social sector helped us plan our mobilisation strategy and enabled us to develop a rapport with the community members. It’s gratifying to know that people now trust our work. Our long-term goal is to enable and empower them to take ownership of the program to ensure its longevity.
Q. What motivates you to continue doing your work?
Our long term vision is what helps me focus and constantly motivates me to strive hard. When we witness the positive results of our activities and see the farmers immensely benefit due to our intervention, we are reassured of the work we do. It gives us great satisfaction and fuels our passion to continue to work towards long-term sustainable change.
Q. What is the one thing that you believe will disrupt the sector in the next 5 years?
We want to disrupt the value chain in which we are working. We want to make it more efficient, and ensure that farmers receive a fair price of their hard labour. The Government has come up with a lot of schemes in terms of MSP and other such welfare schemes for farmers. But they are not being implemented properly. We want to ensure in the long term that at a policy level, farmers are able to access and benefit from the schemes that are designed for them.