Leading by example

Issue 02, 2020

Leading by example

Shrabasti Anindita Mallik |author

Issue 02, 2020

There’s nothing more a woman needs than her own conviction and resolve to shatter the glass ceiling. From venturing into a business traditionally thought to be a man’s domain and turning a colonial heritage to a sustainable venture to changing the way we look at medical education in India, women have broken stereotypes and changed the game for the better. Here are five such women entrepreneurs

There is no doubt the contemporary Indian woman has undergone a metamorphosis to carve for herself an image, an image that society now sees as a role model. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is also a firm believer of this notion, probably why he entrusted the control of his social media accounts on Women’s Day (March 8, 2020), with millions of followers, to seven inspirational women so that they may inspire the country with their journeys of becoming change-makers. Here are five Indian women entrepreneurs who have not just disrupted existing business models but have also addressed several issues pertinent to our environment, society and way of life.

The Pan-India success story

What started in October 2004 with four small tables in Cursow Baug in Mumbai, with decadent blessings from the Messman family, is today one of the leading patisseries in the country. But Kainaz Messman Harchandrai, the face of the Theobroma Patisserie, humbly refuses to take the entire credit. “The credit must go to my parents who started and grew our brand to what it is today. I just took the idea forward,” she says.

Sisters Kianaz (left) and Tina Messman, founders of Theobroma and authors of the book Baking a Dream: The Theobroma Story

Baking ran in the family. Kainaz’s mother operated a small home-based business, baking cakes and brownies and making desserts. The idea of an outlet was first brought up when Harchandrai was recovering from an injury. “We initiated a discussion about starting a full-time business. We agreed to serve the foods we loved ourselves were soon thinking of little else,” she adds. Today, Theobroma boasts multiple outlets across the country. But, this was only achieved by meeting challenges head-on. “When we started, we did not even know if we would recover the costs of initiation. The idea behind it all was to make small indulgences a way of life,” she explains.

Achievement: Turned a small family-based business into one of the most renowned Indian patisserie brands

Reconnecting with roots

All it took for Deeksha Agarwal to carve a niche for herself in the Indian tourism industry was a 19th century colonial bungalow named Cloud End in Mussoorie and faith in her dreams. Run-down and dilapidated when she first saw it, Agarwal transformed the bungalow to the Cloud End Forest Resort and made it one of the most sought-after boutique accommodations in the region. The resort is surrounded by a 2,000-acre forest of oak and deodar that is home to almost 40 species of flora and 103 species of fauna!

Sisters Deeksha and Divisha Agarwal, the head of operations at Cloud End Resort

“It is not just a resort. It connected me to nature and taught me to appreciate the environment,” she smiles. The remote location of the property led to maintenance challenges, but Agarwal solved water-shortages through rainwater harvesting while solar powered panels took care of energy woes. The local shepherd community provided natural pruning and manuring of the forest through the winter months and her efforts to build a motorable road allowed the people to prosper and grow with the business.

Achievement: Single-handedly restored a heritage building and preserved its natural surroundings

The craft of revival

In the age of textile revivalists, Shirin Mann chose to focus on juttis (a flat-soled traditional footwear). She founded Needledust in May 2014 with the aim to revive and reintroduce quality juttis as a fashion statement for the modern woman. Mann braved through naysayers and notions that she would find no takers as no one wears juttis anymore. She set out finding artisans. “Jutti-making is a highly skilled craft that is passed down through generations. Many traditional artisans had taken up daily wage jobs as the craft was declining” she points out.

Shirin Mann Sangha, Founder of the Needledust brand

She not only found artisans but utilised their skills and amalgamated the finesse of old royal patterns with innovative design sensibilities and embroidery patterns. “Our design theory is to do the unimaginable on shoes,” she adds. Today, her success is reflected in her list of clients that boasts several Bollywood celebrities. She is proud that she could revive a dying art and provide livelihood to artisans. “The way we could bring confidence to the artisans was to give them job security. So we house the jutti makers as well as their families and also sponsor education for their children. I have always felt that a craft as beautiful as this should bring pride in its artisans and I believe we have been able to do that.”

Achievement: Revived a dying traditional craft

No challenge too big

Today, everything that we do or use is in someway or the other, influenced or powered digitally. Taking cue, Savitha Kuttan, a healthcare consultant with experience of working in the US and Europe, set up Omnicuris, a one-of-a-kind Continuous Medical Education Platform (CME) developed to cater to the country’s medical fraternity, in 2016. Omnicuris attempts to evolve healthcare in India by providing medical practitioners with free video-based content. To implement this initiative, the platform has partnered up with eight state governments and 35 reputed medical associations and institutes. “I noticed a gap in Indian medical care. Our doctors often have little time or resources to attend medical conferences and seminars. The platform brings together medical experts and specialists from across the country to create a knowledge pool and bring in uniformity” she adds.

Savitha Kuttan Founder, Omnicuris

Today, Omnicuris’ course materials are vetted by leading experts of the institutes it is associated with. “Also, with the help of local governments we can successfully disburse our content to practitioners in almost 10 states, including their remotest areas.

Achievement: Founded an application to help doctors enhance their knowledge digitally

The need of the hour

At a consulting job in London, Khrisha Shah found herself somewhat with a dearth of interesting professional connections and no-way of forming them. “Every network lacked the core idea of people being like-minded,” Shah recalls. She explained this gaping hole in networking to her brother and Dysco’s co-founder, Mishal. The two immediately put their efforts into creating a social network where people, brands and businesses can discover, work and collaborate with each other. “The first challenge was to find the right people who understood that we were not trying to build a job portal but an amalgamated platform to serve all needs of someone seeking and offering work. Gradually we were able to formulate, design and create a community that drew its strength from successful networking. We can now host our entire community online as well as offline and soon will be able to advertise and collaborate opportunities directly to our members.”

Khrisha Shah, the co-founder of Dysco

Dysco lets its members showcase their work, decide whether they want to be employed or work as a freelancer, avail offline consultation sessions to overcome work challenges and also attend curated events. “India is poised for an overhaul of the way we work and network. We need more inclusive and diverse hiring practices; more transparency, collaborative management styles and to broaden the spectrum of careers. Networking is no longer about wearing suits and handing out business cards.” Shah sums up.

Achievement: Created an inclusive professional networking platform

Shrabasti Anindita Mallik

A graduate of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Shrabasti Anindita Mallik has worked with MyCityLinks, a Bhubaneshwar-based tabloid, and New Delhi-based The Pioneer newspaper. She actively writes on travel, Indian culture and traditions, music and any subject that intrigues her.
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