My journey began in Munger, Bihar, a place known as the 'Yoga City.' Despite growing up in the traditional setting of Bikaner, Rajasthan, my roots, like the fragrance of a blooming rose, were deeply ingrained in a culture that valued customs and heritage. Life took an unexpected turn when I faced a prolonged illness that kept me rooted in my hometown. But with determination and resilience, I not only overcame this challenge but also resolved to break free from the confines of my cosy hometown.
My aspiration was to challenge societal stereotypes and, in my own way, to create a meaningful impact on the lives of women in rural India.
My journey as a Fellow began with immersive field visits to the villages of Munger. There, I uncovered a pressing issue that demanded our attention. Women in these communities were actively engaged in goat rearing, yet they weren't fully harnessing the potential it held for livelihood generation. It was during this time that I learned about the remarkable work of a former SBI YFI Fellow, Rohin. He had made significant strides in enhancing the goat and livestock management skills of these women and introduced them to the art of goat milk soap-making.
This revelation acted as a catalyst for me. It was clear that a comprehensive project was needed, one that would involve both product and process development. This project would not only empower these women with new skills but also open up marketing and sales channels, providing them with opportunities they had long deserved.
Awakening Economic Potential Through Goat Milk Soap
My vision was crystal clear - to empower the community by maximizing the utilization of the resources readily available to them, with goat's milk soap emerging as a promising avenue. Many within the community were unaware of the profit potential associated with goat milk sales. Furthermore, I envisioned a future where the community actively engaged in both soap manufacturing and sales, fostering self-reliance and sustainable economic growth.
Strengthening Community Ties with Local Vendors:
My journey commenced with the development of the goat milk soap product and the refinement of the production process. Over time, it evolved to encompass various critical aspects such as packaging, training workshops, inventory management, and the establishment of a robust system for financial record-keeping.
I took proactive steps to identify and collaborate with local vendors for sourcing raw materials, aiming to enhance product quality while staying attuned to prevailing market trends. This holistic approach allowed us to create a sustainable and thriving enterprise.
Innovative Product Development:
At the outset, our soap-making venture revolved around a single type of soap featuring a familiar fragrance. We were hesitant to experiment with new scents and designs. However, as we ventured deeper into this endeavour, it became evident that staying competitive in the market necessitated innovation.
In our quest for knowledge and innovation, I decided to enrol in online soap-making courses. This journey exposed me to a wide array of techniques, though not without initial challenges and learning curves. Eventually, we returned to the reliable and time-tested cold process method, which proved to be both easier to handle and cost-effective. Additionally, this method resonated well with the Pashusakhis, who were already acquainted with its intricacies.
Today, our Goat milk soap-making venture has reached a remarkable milestone. We've significantly expanded our product range, now offering an array of cold process soaps. These soaps come in five distinct, eye-catching designs and feature two captivating fragrances – the refreshing aroma of lemongrass and the soothing scent of vanilla. This expansion marks a turning point in our journey, enabling us to reach a broader audience with diverse preferences.
Our commitment to quality and the values of our community remains unwavering. This expansion is a testament to our dedication to continuous improvement and our ability to adapt to ever-evolving market demands. We're poised to thrive in this dynamic and ever-changing landscape, demonstrating the boundless potential of our soap-making venture.
Product Name: "Sewa Goatique”
Choosing the right name for our product was no small feat. After extensive exploration of various options and seeking approval from the SEWA Bharat community, while also gauging its reception in the market, we proudly christened our venture as "Sewa Goatique.
Certifications for Credibility: Strengthening B2B Ventures
Fueled by enthusiastic reviews and a growing demand, we decided to venture into the urban market, and our inaugural exhibition exceeded our wildest expectations. The resounding success of this endeavour was a testament to the quality of our products.
As we made inroads into the urban market, we quickly realized the importance of certifications and the need for a more structured approach, especially in our B2B ventures. To address this, we took a significant step by enrolling in a professional soap-making course, which proved to be transformative. It not only provided us with essential certifications but also enriched our knowledge in product development, helping us solidify our position in the market.
Also Read: The Importance of Girl Child Education
Navigating Challenges: Overcoming Obstacles in Our Journey
As someone with a legal background, the world of business and strategic planning presented its own set of challenges. It became clear that seeking expert advice was imperative for our success.
Our journey was marked by a series of obstacles, and packaging emerged as a significant challenge. Finding the ideal packaging solution, one that harmoniously combined aesthetics, functionality, and affordability, necessitated numerous iterations and creative problem-solving.
The project's transition from the hands of a previous Fellow to an NGO introduced complexities in decision-making and brought temporal uncertainties. Nevertheless, the steadfast support and patience of my community were instrumental in propelling us forward, surmounting these hurdles with determination and resilience.
Our project has borne fruit in several significant ways, with a primary focus on skill development, income enhancement, and the promotion of financial empowerment among the Pashusakhis. What initially began as a modest initiative has grown into a robust, community-driven soap-making endeavor, with a comprehensive approach that encompasses various facets, including product development, packaging, marketing, and sales.
One of the most tangible outcomes of our initiative has been the substantial enhancement of the Pashusakhis' skill sets. Thanks to targeted training workshops and hands-on experience, community members have not only acquired the knowledge and expertise necessary for soap production but have also developed a deep understanding of quality control and the intricacies of the soap-making process. This skill development has not only bolstered their confidence but has also paved the way for sustainable livelihoods and economic independence.
Moreover, the influence of our project extends beyond skill development, resulting in a tangible upswing in income for the Pashusakhis. By introducing goat milk soap as a marketable product, we've equipped them with the means to generate a consistent and reliable source of revenue. This newfound financial stability has bestowed a sense of security and autonomy that was once absent from their lives.
Takeaways from My Fellowship Journey
My journey as an SBI YFI Fellow has underscored the immense value of building robust relationships, the guidance of exceptional mentors, and the nurturing of self-confidence and self-belief. Throughout this transformative experience, I've gained invaluable insights and achieved significant personal and professional growth. I've honed my skills in conflict management, strategic thinking, and the art of assembling a cohesive team that shares a common vision. Most importantly, I've discovered the remarkable ability to transform challenges into opportunities, turning negatives into positives, both for myself and my community.
For incoming fellows, I impart the wisdom of being sincere in your endeavours, not only to yourself but also to your community. Patience and dedication may take time, but they eventually bear fruit. Invest your time in truly comprehending both the community and the NGO's work culture.
As we continue our journey with Sewa Goatique, we humbly acknowledge that there is still work to be done. Legal obligations remain unfulfilled, and communication with B2B partners is an ongoing process. However, with unwavering dedication, innovative thinking, and resilience, our community-driven goat milk soap-making venture is poised to explore new horizons and uplift the lives of rural women in Kateriya Village.
In the words of my grandfather, "SAPNE DEKHO SACH HOTE HAI" (Dreams do come true). My Fellowship journey has transformed my dreams into reality, all thanks to the unwavering patience and determination of my community.