Q1. Tell us a bit about yourself, your family.
I am Harsha Joshi, the youngest of three sisters, born in a small town named Junagadh in Gujarat to teacher parents. After completing my MSc. in reproductive physiology, I decided to go for MPhil and PhD in same subject. During my Ph.D. two incidents shaped my perspective and motivated me start my journey in the development sector.
The first incident was regarding my primary thesis subject, after having received CSR scholarship. As part of my study I had a realisation that even child conception process of a woman is related with the social set up where one comes from. Additionally, the answers of infertility also needs exploration at social level. The second incident was when I was working in a clinic where women from lower middle strata used to come for free blood tests and sonography. One day a radiologist was carrying out sonography on a woman and showed me that she does not have an uterus, hence she will never be able to conceive. However, while writing the report the doctor used very diplomatic language saying that further investigations are required. I asked the doctor, “When you know that she does not have a uterus why are you not stating that clearly in the report?” He replied, “Stupid girl! If I write clearly, she will be thrown out from her house in no time!”
I realised and decided that I want to work in social and development sectors.
When I come to Pune, I got introduced to BAIF Development. BAIF taught me everything what, how and why one should do in development sectors. I worked with BAIF for eight years in six states with hundreds of women. I was the coordinator of participatory research which I carried out with rural women. I got an opportunity to work with many international bodies like IDRC, CIDA, EU etc during my tenure.
Later I joined United World College – Mahindra College where I was one of the founder members of starting its outreach programme 'Akshara'. Equal Access to Opportunity – Akshara was launched in 2005. The programme intends to create more opportunities which are not only provide many options for earning livelihood but also empower them to become change agents social changes in the community. In order to make a difference in pedagogy of education one has to address even peripheral and invisible factors which are affecting significantly. It is always overwhelming to see rural students doing wonders in their journey.
This phase of life taught me so many thigs and reconfirm that the field of development is not losing hope!
Q2. What motivated you to start your own business? Tell us a bit about your journey?
I had never dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur in my life! I did not even know how to run a business, but it was two-three life changing incidents that allowed me with the opportunity to do so!
While working in Akshara - we used to motivate rural students to persue their dreams. Two girls who come from Asde village wanted to pursue fashion designing after their 10thgrade. We supported them and got their admission in Pune, following which they completed their course successfully and joined boutiques for work. After a few months they came to meet me, I thought they would be very excited and joyful with what they are doing now, however they were quite unhappy. They said, “ First of all we are not happy to go to Pune every day from our village because it is expensive, but most importantly we are unable to use our skills. You taught us that you must not do what you do not like!”
Then they posed a question, “Can we not do something in our village so others can also join?”
This gave birth to our tailoring wing which is known as 'Kruti in-house'.
- More than 40 women were gainfully employed during the 2019-20 pandemic.
- More than 100 well trained women working independently in the last two years in rural as well as urban areas.
- Delivery of around 100 surgical gowns and more than 60,000 masks to hospitals and various organisations.
I also used to go to Bhadas village to teach. A few boys aged 17-20 tried to catch my attention and talk to me. One day I went to them and asked what the problem was, they said, “Your people are not doing anything for school dropout youths. We also want to live our life with dignity in the village.”
We did some research and realised that since land holding is marginal, farming is not viable so one has to go outside the villages to earn livelihood, which is difficult if one is a school-dropout. During this time, there was also an over production of tomatoes so farmers could not get even 50 paise per kg. All the farmers had gone to the Pune market to sell their yields, and when they could not even cover the transportation costs, all of them threw tomatoes on roads! Since then, farmers have been very reluctant to yield tomatoes.
After a couple of meetings with the youth, farmers and women, we understood we must do something which connects farmers, skill development of women and youth and finding a market in urban area. Hence, we started a small food processing unit with Rs. 25,000 in the backyard of one of our students’ house. We bought a second-hand pulper, a stove and few utensils. Since it was connecting farmers, youth and urban consumers we named it 'Samanway in-house'.
Samanway - Food Processing Unit
Samanway is a food processing unit that is an opportunity to link local farmers to better marketing opportunities through value addition. Processing of locally harvested and collected fruits and vegetables like tomato, mangoes and wild berries is undertaken. A trained team has been instrumental in gradually increasing the production of a range pickles, pulps and dehydrated products. Today, Samanway holds a place of pride in the local community as a small scale production workshop for them.
- More than 450 farmers are associated.
- Production capacity of processing 300 kg tomato per day
- Anubhuti-Samanway products have established a name in the market due to good quality and home made taste.
- Research and trial of new products is a continuous process and new products like dehydrated tomatoes, onion, banana have been added to the product range.
And so the journey started, with these two initiatives - Kruti and Samanway. By 2014 we realised that we have to set up these two units as an enterprises so we registered as a non-profit company under Section 25 A.
Giving birth to " Anubhuti Social Empowerment and Educational Foundation "
Q3. What are some of the biggest challenges you faced?
I have realised that we are basically development oriented human beings. Hence, marketing is really a big challenge for us. We have not yet reached breakeven and so we are struggling. We would like to have funding as a cushion for our organization but would not like to depend on funding. Hence, we want to sell our products because we are proud of their quality.
Q4. If you have to give one piece of advice to someone who’s looking to reinvent themselves, what would it be?
Believe in what you do and never give up!
You can also find products on Mitti Ke Rang is a Social Venture working towards generating livelihood for women through its E-commerce portal all over the world. This helps these Women Entrepreneurs to sell their products and generate employment.