We met Pooja Shahi in a train, during the Jagriti Yatra, a journey across India willing to create change and urge youth to raise their voice, learn and act. Her presence there was not a hazard. Similarly to this train journey, Pooja reflects enthusiasm and commitment. Pooja is a true social entrepreneur: a constantly, 24/7 passion-driven person. Every single detail of her personal journey brings it to light.
Women stay at home in her village. Not her
Pooja was born and raised in a rural village in India, in Deveria district, living alongside with her 16 relatives. There, 8 out of 10 villagers are farmers, like her father. The remaining part consists in shop keeping or bed and furniture handicraft activities. In such village, women stay at home. It is not a matter of choice.
It mattered to Pooja. She did not choose, she imposed a different path. While women of her village are staying at home, she is in a train, wandering 8000 kilometers in 15 days, side by side with other entrepreneurs, social workers, students, prestigious consultants or journalists, and us.
New word, new project
When we asked her about her story, her answer was without embellishment: honest and simple. Simple to her, crazy to us.
After 9th grade, she wanted to join a sari-making company. They rejected her. She felt upset, went home and decided to start learning by herself. She crafted one sari that a friend liked so much that she asked for her own one. And then, 23 more friends did so. Pooja is like that: stubborn and spontaneous.
One day, she heard the word ‘macrame’ in the course of a conversation. She checked the word online out of curiosity, and found a company that seemed related to it in a near city. She did all the way to meet them. But when she arrived, the guy told her that she misspelled the word. This company had nothing to do with ‘macrame’. Even though she felt ashamed, she asked for the proper spelling, went back home, and kept browsing She found a video-tutorial showing how to design objects from this material. She wanted to try, so she bought thread from a shopkeeper and gave a try. Proud of the final result, She showed off in her village, and they all asked for it, just as the saris. That’s how she started her adventure. Simple, right?
Her main challenge? Finding a proper Internet connexion
Overall, Pooja trained 120 women villagers to make original and well-designed items, from mirror hangers and chandeliers to toys, earrings, belts and bracelets. She also trained 10 other trainers, who can travel at the same occasion, and spread the knowledge in other villages. When asked about the fear of other women nibbling her market, she answered confidently that there is no such question to ask. After each training, she offers them the choice to stick to her or start their own activity… well explaining to them that partnering with her would mean sharing her marketing channel and decreasing raw material costs that represents most of the total costs. Guess what they choose?
Pooja is designing all the products on her own, based on tutorials knowledge. This is actually what she quoted as her biggest challenge: waiting 1 hour on her roof to load a 2 minutes-video on her phone. Surprisingly, seem like enrolling women in her village is not a challenge to her. She just goes to see these women, and shares stories with them, explaining about the opportunities it would create. Money, skills. She takes pictures of women working to show them. One time, she even displayed a poster of women workers in her village, to inspire them.
Not luck but obstinacy
In a 5-years time, her dream is to enable all women in her village to part of it and earn enough money to send their kids at school. Talking about school, she also confesses with a huge smile that she is registered in 3rd year of Bachelor of Arts. And that she never attends classes. She prefers to work on her project. Passion-driven, I told you.
I assume Pooja was lucky to be told by her dad to ‘do the right thing’, not supporting her maybe, but most importantly, not restraining her. But there is no luck in the way she pursued her passion with obstinacy. There is no luck in the way she refused to get married when her parents pushed her to do so. She wants to marry in 5 years, to someone supporting her business. There is no luck in the way women get easily involved in her project. The main qualities of a business leader according to her? Hard work and honesty. Never lie or deceive your employees, be transparent and build trust. These are the reasons why she grew so fast. These are, I wish, the reasons why her project will grow and succeed.
But the success, the real one, she already met it. Without calculation, without flourish, she makes what she feels like making. What makes her happy. In one day of visit in Rajasthan, she learnt how to make a new product. That is her main learning from Jagriti Yatra. In this entire interview, I could look at her face, not having to focus on the words, as the translator would explain me everything right after. I could look at her expressions, and observe the way she smiles while she explains how she got these ideas. Her blooming smile telling how she wanted to embroider these saris. Her authenticity describing how she wanted to know about the word ‘macrame’. How she wanted women to feel as happy as her making their products. And how deeply she wants her passion to help others. Happiness is all about it.
Many thanks to Kaustubh Prabhu for the translation