FROM HAND-POUNDED lentils, spices and organic farm fresh produce to apparel and cold-pressed oils, the stalls at this year’s edition of the Mann Deshi Mahotsav that kicked off in Prabhadevi on Thursday are stocked once again with unusual products. But the annual showcasing of rural women entrepreneurs’ products is also replete with tales of villagers adopting technology and mechanisation to expand their entrepreneurial ventures.
Rupali Narsinh Kamatkar of Manikbag in Dhayari in suburban Pune signed up for the non-profit Mann Deshi Foundation’s Business School three years ago and underwent a course on jewellery-making, going on to start a faux pearl jewellery and festive decorations venture. Having made sales worth Rs 15,000 at 2017’s Mahotsav, she says she grew as an entrepreneur, connecting with new customers. With some help from her son, she began to take orders on social media, and now also takes orders from the US. “I bought my son a laptop from my earnings,” she says proudly. After three successful years at the event, Rupali is not exhibiting this year but wants other women to experience the success she tasted.
“This year’s event is an amalgamation of traditional knowledge or what we call ‘AI’ or ancient intelligence along with tools and technology that women are adopting to expand their businesses,” said Chetna Gala Sinha, founder of Mann Deshi Foundation.
So, on the one hand, there are women who still sell hand-pounded dals. On the other, there are women who have purchased equipment with the help of Mann Deshi to expand their business.
Kantabai Salunkhe is described by the Mann Deshi team as the inspiration behind the opening of the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank — India’s first bank for and by women in rural India — in 1997. “Kantabai, a welder who lived with her family on the footpath in Mhaswad, told us how she was rejected by bank after bank when she tried to open an account to put away her savings so that she could purchase tarpaulin sheets that would protect her family during the monsoon,” said a representative of Mann Deshi.
That’s how Mann Deshi bank was set up for women such as Kantabai. In all, 1,335 women with savings of Rs 7.8 lakh set up the bank. Kantabai continues to be associated with Mann Deshi, and is at the festival with her hand-welded iron tools and utensils.
When Ashwini Lad’s father-in-law encouraged her to start a business, she decided to focus on horticulture and organic farming. With the help of Mann Deshi, she purchased machinery to make and package candied fruit and also established her own brand along with her husband. Her company now has an FSSAI certification for their candied amla or Indian gooseberry.
The Mahotsav aims to celebrate women entrepreneurs from rural Maharashtra, including women with agri-businesses, artisans and others. The festival is organised by the foundation under its Chamber of Commerce initiative to provide market linkages to entrepreneurs. Nearly 100 rural women entrepreneurs are showcasing their products, mostly from the Mann region of Satara, but also from Konkan and western Maharashtra and Karnataka. On sale are indigenous pulses, jaggery, dry fruit, foodgrains, homemade papads, chutneys, snacks, pickles as well as embroidered or handmade bags and fabric. The festival is on at Ravindra Natya Mandir till Sunday.
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