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Someone once said, a team is not just a group of people who work together, but a group that trusts each other. In Maharashtra’s villages, there’s plenty of this camaraderie and trust to be seen in rural folk. We work across 33 villages in this state, with an aim to bring holistic development of the rural community. Across these villages, there was one common factor that struck us; how villagers are ready to work together in groups for their common good. Our Group based enterprises were the result of this discovery.

Our Village Uplift Programme essentially brings development to villages and improvements in livelihood for the community at large. The villages are largely dependent on agriculture and our interventions focus on skill development, infrastructure upgrades, enterprise development, education and healthcare. In Maharashtra, we brought together not just women, but men too and trained them to set up their own enterprises.

Here are four stories of trust, friendship and much more from the hinterlands of Maharashtra.

Soaps make for a clean enterprise | Devale Panchayat

Away from bustling Pune city lies Devale panchayat, a quiet rural Maharashtrian setting. The men of the villages here are busy with their agricultural work, while women look after their households. But during lean times, the family’s income dips. This is where Hand in Hand India stepped in.

In Devale panchayat, our programme’s core objective is women empowerment and job creation. The women here are enthusiastic, but we found they were unable to find jobs due to lack of higher education and low skills. Our first step was to form different self-help groups to train these women on how to save and manage money. We also introduced them enterprise-oriented skills such as pottery, soap making and more.

The first group that came forward to start their own enterprise decided on soap making as their business. A scoping study showed soap to be a good product, after all, detergent soap bars are used by rural as well as urban population and are an everyday requirement. The Hand in Hand India team motivated the Sanyojini group and taught them how to procure materials from the village itself.

The ‘Sanyojini’ SHG women group started their enterprise and called it the M. K. Soap making unit. The four women group started with an initial investment of INR 4000 in their venture and today earns INR 5200! The women market their products in the village and nearby local shops. We are also in the process of helping the women find bigger markets for their products.

Farmers Unite! | Bhoyare Panchayat

In Bhoyare panchayat, we came across a unique problem. We had set up our Self Help Group of women, training them to be entrepreneurs and create their own sustainable livelihood. We were soon approached by the husbands of these women too to help them out with enterprise development!

We had six young farmers from this are come together and brainstorm with us about their problems. The problem area was discovered – an unavailability of a paddy thresher machine, irregular labour availability for rice harvesting – which meant a loss of crop and thereby income for these farmers.

Hand in Hand India encouraged these farmers by forming a group called the Bhairavnath Farmers Group. We supported them in building their capacity on identifying a minimum-investment enterprise, skilling and various business strategies. After multiple meetings, the Bhairavnath group decided to support them in their investment of a semi-automatic rice cutting machine. The machine cost INR 20,000 and became a huge asset in the paddy harvesting season. On day one, the group earned INR 3000 from the machine and continues to earn INR 60,000 to 80,000 during the season.

The group is now encouraged and plans to evolve new business using a similar minimum-investment strategy.

Adding a fragrance to life | Taje Village

Taje village like its neighbouring villages described above, clearly depending on agriculture and the land. When the Mumbai- Pune expressway was built, many of these farming families had to sell their land and move to working in industrial areas such as Kamshet, Talegaon and such. However, the women members of these families did not get an opportunity to earn a living due to lack of education and skills.

Our Village Uplift Programme is a nascent one in Taje, started in July 2020. Despite the recent start we had here, the progress we see is fantastic! One of our self-help groups named Udyogini approached the team to get guidance on starting an income generation activity for bettering livelihood. The preliminary meetings discussed pros and cons of many enterprises and finally the group hit upon the Scented Oil Making Unit.

Interestingly, this is the first scented oil unit from Maval block, Pune. The enterprise is led by eight women and was started with a collection of INR 16,000 from all its members. The Hand in Hand India team put in some effort to help guide purchasing materials and skilling these women. Today, the women have gone to the next level and increased their market scope with different fragrances such as jasmine, lavender and more! Their monthly output has gone up to 1000 bottles of different sizes, each costing between INR 30 and 60. The monthly profit earned by this group is around INR 23,000 is shared by the members. The Udyogini women (which incidently means industrious) are immensely proud of their efforts and rightly so!

An inspiringly unique enterprise
| Kashal Panchyat

In India’s villages, the one common factor is the availability of cows and therefore plenty of cow dung. This has multiple uses, as fertilizer, pesticides and more. At Kashal panchayat, however, we found a very unique use for cow dung – Dhoop or fragrance sticks made from dung!

Five women of the Tejaswini self-help group are busy at all times of the day. These are the women who came forward when the Hand in Hand India skilling team came up with an idea for an income-generating activity. Creating an enterprise with raw materials available at little or no cost appealed to these women. The handmade product is totally natural and made from cow dung, cow urine, ghee, ash, tulsi, camphor, neem, turmeric and such easily available ingredients. The initial investment for the enterprise was taken care of by Hand in Hand India to facilitate packaging etc.

The fragrance sticks not only smell good, they also act as an insect repellent – two uses in one product! The women are currently aiming at making 300kg of this handmade dhoop, with a target of INR 10,000 net profit every month. Hand in Hand India has helped the group by identifying two buyers for the product to start with.

Hand in Hand India’s Group based enterprises in rural Maharashtra have had a great start. These group-based ventures ensure that women don’t have to travel great distances to create sustainable livelihoods. Read about our other set of group-based enterprises in Punjab and see what a resounding success they have become. These rural women have not just transformed into businesswomen, they’ve also inspired other rural women to come forward to create their own success!

Hand in Hand India’s Self Help Group (SHG) model is based on women empowerment and job creation. We mobilise women into groups, draw on the collective social capital, facilitate access to economic capital, provide skills training, hone their entrepreneurial ability and act as a catalyst for a gender-equal and empowered society.Read more about our work here.