Community Leader & Flourishing Entrepreneur
This person is the community cashier. He is also the guy who goes around a couple of times a year collecting funds in the range of Rs. 300-500 per family for the community emergency fund - communal insurance.
Key entrepreneurial quality : Credibility
It is not surprising that the person who created and manages what is effectuv, that this person says the key trait an entrepreneur must possess in order to be successful is credibility. He especially used the words "public relations" to describe his main focus of operations.
He himself made the connection between his position in the community and his reputation as a business owner. In both arenas - he said - he was the person that was always there to help. His store was always open when someone needed it to be open.
** It was a strange combination of social empathy and strong business sense.
What else did he say? That entrepreneurship wasn't everyone's cup of tea.
That he got up at 4am every morning and kept his store open well into the night. That the constable kept bothering him for keeping the store open late at night - why is your store open? what are you trading?
That it wasn't about selling enough.... that was the easy part. That it was about buying the right things at the right price... that was the hard part.
That it was about PR, about marketing.
He agreed that entrepreneurs had to be developed using a variety of in-depth training methods, and that traditional self-help groups did nothing to enable entrepreneurship.
But he's so self-made and is so obviously cognizant of his higher entrepreneurial capacity vis-a-vis his neighbours, that he seems very sceptical of our success.
He shrugged at everything. His eyes only lit up and his body only became animated when he described his own enterprising behaviour & entrepreneurial journey.
His eyes glazed over when we spoke about how we wanted to create more entrepreneurs like him in the community.
This family is very excitable.... always fun for us :) The female head of household is from Berhampur (Orissa) which, as everyone in my team assures me, ensures that she is a born entrepreneur!
The household head couple were a powerhouse in the snack production sector. They made chanachur, murki, and various other kinds fried, grain & lentil based Indian snacks. They produced on such a scale that lorries would come to their house and take away sacks of snack food to wholesale retailers in the entire region.
They hired 25 other young women to help them in this production business. After almost a decade, a large number of these women employees left to get married. Their business never got over that one big shock to the system. The couple tried hiring substitute employees but couldn't get anyone to stay for long enough to make a sustained profit.
Labour Constraints & Collective Action
The couple said they moved to this slum community because they thought labour would be easy to find.
This turned out to be a wrong assumption. The poorer women in the community worked as domestic labour in neighbouring houses. Making snack foods all day and toiling over vats of frying oil seemed unpleasant, and also lacked the perks of being a housemaid - expensive foods when the employer threw a party, or new garments given as gifts by the employer during Festivals.
So the couple found no good labour and all their hired help left after a while. Business shut down. After a long, bitter struggle against the economics of their fate, the couple finally ended up at a better point in life - their elder son has a nice job in a neighbouring town, while their daughter has finished her secondary school and is looking to do a two month computer course with our vocational training unit.
This couple and bunch of other women (who opted to be participants in our project) visited a successful snack food dealer - Mr. X - a couple of weeks ago as part of their business training "field trip" that our team had arranged.
I met with that dealer today & he said that this kind of food production would only be profitable if raw materials were purchased in bulk, production were done on a large scale, and products sold to wholesale retailers not small stores.
Good advice but...how to get this couple to re-start their business, this time by collaborating with a couple of other women in their sub-community so that a larger scale of production could be achieved?
The couple were absolutely burnt by their experience, and adamantly refused to work with the other women from their community, saying that the arrangement would never last.
The couple also turned up their noses at the kind of skill possessed by another snack food producer in the community. They also turned up their noses at the quality of raw materials supplied by that super successful entrepreneur - the wholesale dealer I met today.
The problem is that this couple made good stuff, but the business nearly killed them. They are obviously scared stiff of returning to that same area of business.
We tried telling them that we would find labour for them from wherever they wanted.
My team & I ate some absolutely delicious (and horrifyingly greasy) homemade tomato pickle at this house. Overall, today might have just been one of the most satisfying days since I've been here. This field work and the accompanying heated debate regarding our project intervention strategy, this is my absolute comfort zone. I could stay here forever. Outside of this, in the fundraising & politicking zone, I am lost, miserable and worst of all, quite useless.
I am currently a PhD student at the Graduate Institute of International & Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. My interest lies in inclusive governance - participatory governance in cities, political participation by women, making local government work better, and community-based approaches to environmental sustainability. You can read the "about" page for more!