Meet 5 start-up queens who are changing small town India as we know it
These women from some of India’s most rapidly expanding tier-two cities are using their privilege and extraordinary vision to be the change they want to see. They talk to Aabha Bakaya about their path-breaking start-ups.
29, ODISHA AND ASSAM
MD and chief designer, Punarnawa Crafts
In 2011, Subrata Pandey founded Punarnawa Crafts, a venture to empower tribal women by setting up small-scale industries and self-help groups. While she has trained over 1,000 artisans since then, her cool design ideas have helped traditional crafts increase their marketability. Pandey was selected by the Global Shapers Community in 2014 — as part of the World Economic Forum, it recognises inspiring individuals under the age of 30, who are working to address regional and global challenges. She also won a scholarship to Harvard Business School’s Strategic Non-Profit Management Leadership Program in 2017, and made it to Forbes India’s 30 Under 30 list in 2014. This May, Pandey will open Punarnawa’s first bricks-and-mortar store in Bengaluru.
Mantra: “Do something that makes you happy, and you will discover your calling”
Managing director, Aura Herbal
Sonal Baid established Aura Herbal, a Global Organic Textile Standard-certified eco-friendly outfit that produces herbal textiles and dyes, in 2001. It relies solely on organic colours to steer consumers away from chemical pigments, and also recycles the liquid and solid waste produced during the process, using it as fertiliser and for irrigation. For scale, get this: in just a few years, it has saved over 100 football fields of water. Baid has also trained more than 200 women in the art of hand-spinning (an ancient fibre-making technique), underscoring Aura Herbal’s dedication to move back to traditional methods.
Life lesson: “Just breathe!”
Founder and CEO, Frontier Markets
Ajaita Shah grew up in New York and moved to India after graduating from Tufts University, Massachusetts, with a desire to give back. She returned to her roots, to Jaipur, and after working in microfinance for many years (where she saw rural households struggle without electricity), she started Frontier Markets. The idea was to help communities live a better life, with women firmly at the centre of the value chain. These ‘Solar Sahelis’ now sell and service solutions, and earn up to Rs 50,000 per year. In Rajasthan, more than 3,60,000 households have converted to clean energy solutions.
Words of wisdom: “Think big, work with as many people as you can, be humble, prepare to fail, prepare for chaos, stay strong and stay focused”
Aditi Gupta started Menstrupedia in 2012 with the aim to eliminate the shame and misconceptions surrounding menstruation, and to make it easier for parents and teachers to educate young girls about their periods in a fun way. In 2014, she launched the hugely successful Menstrupedia Comic: The Friendly Guide To Periods For Girls, for girls aged nine and above. It is published in 14 languages, including 11 regional Indian languages, and is shipped to 18 countries, and printed locally in Kathmandu and Uruguay. Through its website, its educational videos and offline operations via NGOs like Teach For India, CRY and Room To Read, Menstrupedia has reached 10 million girls and 250 schools across urban and rural India. The next step is to create an informative guide for boys, on puberty and growing up, to encourage healthy conversations about sex.
On point: “There is no replacement for hard work and perseverance. If you’re determined enough to make a change, it will happen”
Co-founder, Hello English
With the Hello English app, launched in 2014, Pranshu Bhandari’s aim is to make learning more accessible, regardless of gender, age or location. It has impacted the lives of 40 million users so far, and is one of the most downloaded educational apps in Asia, across 22 different languages, with users in 55,000 cities, towns and villages.
Pro tip: “Never settle — don’t put an upper limit on your own dreams”