When three liberal arts students set out to change the status of women in commercial entrepreneurship, little did they know that what was starting off simply as ‘Project XYZ’ would metamorphose into an innovative entrepreneurship model that would be presented at a United Nations conference in New York on 16 October in such a short time. This is to mark the International Day for Eradication of Poverty the next day.
Malvika Verma, Akshita Singla and Apoorva Sharma of Lady Shri Ram College for Women wanted to do something in the women’s entrepreneurial space. And after experimenting with products such as chocolates, vermicompost, papad, tie and dye dupatta, they finally decided to go with handbags and pouches from recycled materials, deciding upon ‘Basta: Waste to Worth’ as the name of the initiative.
But the road wasn’t easy. First, they needed to be taken seriously. “It’s hard to believe but being women and liberal arts students, can be a huge problem. People didn’t take us seriously because we weren’t from a commerce background, we really had to struggle,” says Malvika Verma.
This put them in direct contrast with the two students from the Shri Ram College of Commerce, who will also present their model, Sanjeevani, at the UN headquarters. Their model is a market-linkage programme to connect rural food product manufacturers to potential markets, transforming them from manufactures to entrepreneurs.
For Basta, the girls decided to collaborate with home décor and interior furnishing companies to refashion flex banners and waste cloth into handbags and pouches. These were processed by women in rural areas, thereby, generating employment and income opportunities for them.
Luck played its part as well. The trio received mentorship under the UC Berkeley Senior Fellow Manav Subodh, who is also the founder of US-based non-profit 1M1B. The project was then taken forward by Connecting Dreams Foundation (CDF) director Dr Amit Tuteja, and is being supported by the NSS LSR faculty advisor Dr Smita Sahgal.
Currently functional in Shampur village in Uttar Pradesh, the drive behind Basta has always been to promote women entrepreneurship, especially in rural India. “Women currently hold only 4.6% of CEO positions at Standard & Poor 500 companies as per March 2015 statistics. It has nothing to do with performance, intelligence, or competence. It is related to lack of opportunities instead. Basta is our effort to create those opportunities,” says Singla.
The opportunity to present Basta at the UN Headquarters is quite an honour for the trio, whose model was shortlisted from over 300 international participants on the basis of innovation, execution during the internship period and the sustainability plan. They girls also plan to pitch to an investor group in Washington DC.
At a time where the line between profit and non-profit organisations keeps getting thinner by the day, the student trio behind Basta has decided to keep a distance from collaborations of any kind for the time being. “Basta is not merely about buying and selling. We’re a movement that allows young people to take matters in their own hands. Even though collaborations mean less work and more money for us, we have decided to do it the harder way and work our way up,” says Sharma.
They intend to expand their user group base by March 2016 and then consider useful collaborations. “We plan to add another component called ‘gift a schoolbag’, wherein schoolbags will be gifted to underprivileged children. Post this, we plan to target e-platforms for further expansion,” the founders say.