In Perspective: Multiplying livelihoods in rural Karnataka through the Navodyami program

Deshpande Foundation, Hubballi Sandbox, Navodyami

Micro-entrepreneurs in the Hubballi Sandbox were delighted when Deshpande Foundation’s Executive Director Dr. Raj Melville and Director Dr. Sushil Vachani visited them. Empowered by the Navodyami initiative of the Foundation, these spirited entrepreneurs proudly showcased their products to the very-interested audience.

Here is a perspective piece by Dr. Raj Melville.

“What do a handloom weaver, an incense stick maker, a tailor and a dairy farmer have in common? They are all products of the Deshpande Foundation’s Navodyami program supporting and training rural entrepreneurs. I have been visiting our Deshpande Foundation Indian headquarters in Hubballi the past couple of weeks and had the opportunity to visit several of the rural entrepreneurs touched by this program. The Navodyami program fans out into rural villages, identifies promising entrepreneurs with a desire to grow beyond their local roots and puts them through a basic training program that covers topics such as customer identification, accounting, marketing, and branding. They are also paired up with mentors who are generally local businesspeople with more established operations that are willing to share and help others. In addition, the Navodyami staff provide constant support, encouragement and connections. Navodyami also works with several local banks that are willing to work with the entrepreneurs, once they have been qualified, thus making it easier for them to obtain loans.

Among the many enterprising businesses we visited was a determined young widow, Sunita Nair, who decided to start her own business stamping ecofriendly disposable plates and bowls from areca nut leaves. Starting off just by herself two years ago using a second hand manual press, she has grown to manufacture over 500 plates a day with a brand new multi-station electric press and employs 3 other women. She is bursting at the seams and looks to expand to a new space soon.

Deshpande Foundation, Hubballi Sandbox, Navodyami
Sunita Nair, the proud entrepreneur with her ecofriendly plates

Another growing entrepreneur is Somnath Somsale, who started four years ago manufacturing handstitched bags from environmentally friendly materials now used by many stores with the current ban on disposable plastic. He started with a revenue of Rs 35,000 per month and has since quintupled output to over Rs 2,00,000 per month. He too is looking to move to a new location in the next few months which will allow him to increase output several fold again.

Deshpande Foundation Navodyami
Environmentally friendly bags made by Somanath Somsale and team

Then there is Raja Babu, a farmer who decided to get into the multigrain nutrition supplement business after he tended to the health of his own child, born premature, by feeding him a healthy mixture of local grains as a porridge. His business using local millet (Ragi) and several other grains has grown from a home based business supplying around 5 kg a day to his neighbors, to a small scale manufacturing setup now packaging over 200 kg per day in professionally packed boxes.

Deshpande Foundation Navodyami Manjunath Poojar, with the packaged high-nutrition multigrain supplement
Raja Babu, with the packaged high-nutrition multigrain supplement

Through it all Navodyami and its staff have been the constant companions for these entrepreneurs. Helping with their business plans, encouraging them to think of growth, connecting them to mentors and banks. The outcomes of Navodyami serve a multiplier effect in the communities both by enhancing the entrepreneur’s income and, more importantly, generating even more local employment.”

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