[TC-I Changemakers]: A conversation with Jabeen Jambughodawala, founder of SAHAJ | ThinkChange India
One of the grassroots social enterprise voices at SoCap09 was that of Jabeen Jambughodawala, founder of SAHAJ, an organization in Gujarat that empowers tribal communities through home-based employment with handicraft work. ThinkChange India Managing Editor Shital Shah met with Ms. Jambughodawala at SoCap to learn about her path as a social entrepreneur, SAHAJ’s approach, and thoughts on the social capital market.
Please note that Ms. Jambughodawala’s answers below are not verbatim.
TC-I: What is the story of your path to SAHAJ?
Jabeen Jambughodawala (JJ): I started working in 1989 with informal groups of tribal women. At that time, no one was ready to accept change. The picture was hazy. In 1998, a colleague joined me, but the NGO scenario was still bad. NGOs were not seen as professional, and they were seen as more of project than a business.
We worked on the strategy for two years, and then in 2001 started SAHAJ with the goal to work as a professional organization. We took loans from Friends of Women’s World Banking in the effort to start like a business. SAHAJ is seen as a “corporate NGO.” We are even an ISO 9001 certified and registered member.
We wanted to explore the traditional skills of tribals and turn it into a means of earning, by developing a cottage industry. Migration can be both a good and bad thing. Opportunity migration is very good – it leads to a good future, quality of education increases, and there may be a higher income. But temporary annual migration, as is the case with the tribals, means there is no opportunity for work. The women end up living on the roadside, children cannot get school admission, and there are no health facilities. They also need employment for three or four months.
From the beginning, we never approached this as a “sensitive” market – we approached it as a commercial market, and we want customers to know that they are buying a good quality product.
TC-I: How are SAHAJ products developed, and where do they end up?
JJ: Our products are sold throughout India, and exported to the UK, Germany, and the US under the “SAHAJ” brand. They are sold at exhibitions, retail outlets, corporations, and expos. This also exposes the world to the situation of tribal women.
We develop the product by studying trends and market demands, and then creating the design. We engage a few designers from NID and NIFD. We have teams that focus on design sales, training for skills development and upgrading skills, and marketing.
TC-I: How do you think SAHAJ fits into the social capital market?
JJ: Return on investment is not possible for an organization like us. I don’t think it’s a good idea for organizations to focus on that. When working with the rural poor, the margin of profit is slim. We do need to think about how to sustain ourselves further. We have to providing a lot of training and support services, so in order to build, we need soft loans. Everyone seems to be investing in projects for the poor, not in projects where the poor are actually producing something. We need employment first, and everything else will follow. Economic sustainability must come first.
The entire world is looking at social venture capital as an investment for the poor – this is not investing IN the poor. This is investing in the product for the poor. This needs to change.
TC-I: What are your plans for the future?
JJ: We would like to give employment to 15,000 women by 2014. We will need more funds, since WWB has a limit of Rs 50 lakh. We would also like to establish a village based facility centre – that way, the women will get all the inputs from their own village. We have six existing centres, and would like thirty by 2014. I also have a dream to have a design/business school for artisans.
TC-I: What is your advice to social entrepreneurs?
JJ: Have your own mindset – don’t worry about what people around you are saying. You have to be a visionary. You have to have a good plan. You will also need patience and persistence. You must have a team that has faith in the leader. And you will need confidence, courage, and commitment.