Inspiring True Entrepreneurialism
Prosperity Rings was dogged, untiring, resolute, and unwavering in its mission to inspire borrowers to make their businesses truly entrepreneurial, with a solid business plan, reinvestment of profits, and expansion to become self-sustaining. Board Member Katherine Pasternak*, who accompanied Prosperity Rings President Nancy Pasternak on our February 2013 monitoring visit, contributed a great deal of expertise to the business oriented discussions we held with group after group.
Most borrowers working with our partners, ANISHA, SHWET, and SRIA, in rural Tamil Nadu are naïve about how to structure and grow a business. Many opt for a milk cow and goat rearing simply because exposure to entrepreneurial diversity is not readily available to them. Our challenge was and is to motivate each woman to gain exposure to a multiplicity of businesses, and pursue a sustainable growth-potential enterprise. She needs a solid understanding of her marketing goals. She, alone, needs to control the money, employ anyone who assists her, and reinvest toward expansion. The rapt attention of the borrowers and enthusiastic nodding demonstrated their willingness and eagerness to go beyond their comfort zone and consider more far-reaching pursuits.
We told them about Umarani, who learned in two hours how to weave colorful plastic strips into carry lunch bags and is selling them like hot cakes. They heard how borrowers took the initiative from on-the-job experience to create their own businesses. Jaya, who worked for a fruit juicer, decided to buy a blender with her loan and now sells juice herself. They heard about Pappathi who makes and sells curd (yoghurt), buttermilk, and ghee (butter) from her cow’s milk. “Why don’t more dairy borrowers learn to do that?” we prompted. Instead of selling male calves and goats, we encouraged raising them and charging stud fees.
With more experienced borrowers, we explained that second and third loans should not be simply for more inventory, but for a capital investment toward expansion of the business — a mobile cart to haul merchandise to a larger customer base; an industrial grinder to grind spices for large weekly markets; a stove to go along with pots and pans to rent out for ceremonies; an additional tailoring machine to employ another tailor.
We worked with our partners to help them support women in pursuing truly entrepreneurial ideas and then marketing them. First, we revised the business plan to help them better single out the business concepts that have more potential for growth. They agreed to make advertising flyers and to take borrowers on field trips to weekly markets to help them discover a variety of enterprises. They will urge borrowers to invest a substantial portion of profits toward growth to make their business sustainable.
We encouraged the organizing of trainings so that women who are further along in their businesses can train others in the same line of work. Every year we come across unique enterprises that borrowers found out about and put into practice, which demonstrates that exposure to products and services is key. Mary Pongajam is making phenol from urea and caustic soda to sell as industrial cleaner for medical instruments in hospitals, for car washes, offices, and children’s hostels. Lakshmi Annadurai is making and selling a health drink from Ragi (finger millet) flour and water, which for breakfast can keep you full until lunchtime.
The discussions created a stronger awareness of the potential for personal blossoming and the importance of building entrepreneurial growth on a well-thought-out business foundation. We believe we inspired borrowers to think big, seek opportunities, and trust themselves and our partners to establish bigger, more diverse, and sounder enterprises. They certainly inspired us with their eagerness to break free of the stifling isolation of traditional functions of women and work hard to create a new world for themselves and their children.
*Katherine has an MBA and a Master’s in International Management. She has been instrumental in enhancing business plans and their outcomes in Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia.