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Don’t Think Women Can Be Entrepreneurs? You Should Meet The ‘Basta Girls’!

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By Bhanvi Satija for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Three people with varying ideas and principles – but with a shared dream. Malvika Verma, Akshita Singla, second year students of Philosophy and Apoorva Sharma third year student of Economics at Lady Shri Ram College for Women recently came back from the United Nations Headquarters where they presented their business model, Basta, which was conceptualised as part of an international internship programme organised by the USA-based non-profit 1M1B: A Million for A Billion and Indian partner Connecting Dreams Foundation. Basta employs rural women, who use flex and cloth to create economical bags, and other accessories, upcyling waste material and helping promote indigenous handicraft. Starting off as Project XYZ, the journey of Basta has been nothing short of exciting. Bhanvi Satija, Campus Correspondent for Youth Ki Awaaz, interviewed the ‘Basta girls’ about their journey.

Image source: Connecting Dreams Foundation-LSR Chapter/Facebook
Image source: Connecting Dreams Foundation-LSR Chapter/Facebook

Bhanvi Satija (BS): Where did the idea/motivation for Basta come from?

Malvika, Akshita, Apoorva (M, AK, AP): We were Connecting Dreams Foundation volunteers, which is an NGO under National Service Scheme at LSR, and we had been brainstorming for nearly a year and wanted to come up with a business model. In the beginning, we had ideas like chocolate-making, and dupatta-making for our start-up. But then, while we were in the middle of this brainstorming process, the competition 1M 1B came up and we thought of trying our luck and doing something in it. Under this programme, we received mentorship and training for roughly 5 months. Our mentors are UC Berkeley Senior Fellow and 1M1B founder Mr.Manav Subodh, National Service Scheme (NSS) Faculty Advisor Dr. Smita Sahgal and Connecting Dreams Foundation Founder and Director Dr. Amit Tuteja. Mr. Tuteja suggested us to do something with flex print, because he himself uses a lot of it in his NGO. He also gave us multiple ideas apart from this, but we liked the flex use idea the best. We started off by making stationery like notebooks etc. from it but that didn’t work very well as it didn’t look too appealing. Next, we thought of making carry-bags that stores like Big Bazaar give out- only to later realise that these stores already had a chain of suppliers in place and it would be hard to make a space for ourselves there. Then, we had a brainwave one day and we thought maybe we could cover the flex with cloth. We then organised donation drives in colleges and asked people to donate clothes like dupattas and sarees etc. This was the exact time when the idea for Basta was born – that we would cover the flex with cloth and it would look appealing as well. However, the donation drive idea wasn’t too successful as people literally gave us rags and torn pieces of cloth that one could barely use, after which, we moved on to collaborating with home décor and furnishing brands, and the local tailors – who provided us with good cloth that wasn’t of use to them. It was such a long process!

While there were multiple things that inspired us, the most important thing, and one worth mentioning would be that we want to take entrepreneurship to the masses, women in particular. It’s really funny, and rather annoying to be honest, how globally only 8% of companies have female CEOs. It has nothing to do with performance, intelligence, competency, or whatever. We just aren’t given an opportunity. And that’s what we want to challenge.

BS: How did you decide upon the name ‘Basta’?

M, AK, AP: Initially, we had a lot of names in mind like Aangan, Maya etc., but we didn’t want the project to be named something cliché. So inevitably there were lots of debates and discussions and even fights over the name! However, we decided to start off with Project XYZ and went with that for roughly a month or so, and kept the name business aside for a while. One day, the three of suddenly came up with something called ‘Mahila Basta’. We wanted to keep a very Indian name and after asking a lot of people and a lot of brainstorming this word instantly caught our attention, so we ended up with only ‘Basta’.

BS: Basta was organised as part of the international internship program, ‘A Million, A Billion’. What do you feel made your initiative different from others? 

M, AK, AP: One thing that set us apart was the fact that we were making women employable and at the same time upcycling the waste material and making them into fashionable and marketable products.

Another thing was our model, which is called ‘Basta in a box’. Basically what we want from our entrepreneurial venture is that people get into entrepreneurship and try and remove the misconception of entrepreneurship being difficult. We believe that you don’t need to take up entrepreneurship to become an entrepreneur. We are all entrepreneurs by nature. And it is this innate entrepreneurial skill that we wish to harness. Our ‘Basta in a Box’ model revolves around this belief.  Everybody can be an entrepreneur just by being associated with Basta. We plan to implement this model in Delhi University wherein interested students can set up stalls in their own colleges or wherever they prefer and take a clean share of 15% from the profits made. It can’t get simpler than this, it’s opportunities served on a platter to people all over.

BS: Basta provides semi-skilled and unemployed women with an opportunity to showcase their skills and be employed. How do you think initiatives like these contribute to the ongoing ‘Make in India’ campaign, in terms of employment of rural women?

M, AK, AP: We believe that we are, in our little way generating income for women. We started off with having 5 women on board and we used to increase their income by 12%, because we were under the impression that they are already employed. But once we visited the village, we realised that they were not employed or working anywhere at all. Moreover, their husbands and families were discouraging them from working. There was a clear lack of trust between us and the women at first – because they had past experiences of being betrayed by NGO’s and other people who would promise them money in exchange of work, but the money wouldn’t reach them. Upar se hum bacche hain, we are 19-year-olds – so it was even harder for them to trust us. Building that base and connection was hard at first, but once that was done and everyone received the results that were promised. Now, they are fully employed and have a regular source of income. And then, even students are getting to try their hands at entrepreneurship. That’s about it for now, it’s only been six months – so thinking at the level of contributing to Make in India is only an aim for now.

BS: What are the factors, if any, which prevent people from taking up entrepreneurship as a career? Are there any specific hurdles for women, with respect to starts ups etc? Do you think Basta is a step forward for women entrepreneurs, and will help a few, if not many overcome these hurdles?

M, AK, AP: One hurdle is that the term entrepreneurship is not well received by people, especially when women are doing it. It took us time to explain to people what we are doing. We hope that our step can at least make 1 woman take a step forward. Another major problem is that people think that their own ideas are the best ideas. That is one thing that we faced ourselves, and Basta has taught us the importance of rejection, how to face it and face it well. We have learnt to respect each other as team mates over time, and one thing that we always do is to work in a democratic manner and put everything to vote. Speaking of problems, particularly for women, one thing that the women who work for Basta faced was the lack of trust and the discouragement from their family. The three of us didn’t particularly face any hurdles because of being women, apart from the fact that something like entrepreneurship is not expected out of us. It’s always like ‘IAS ban jao, teacher ban jao, chalta hain, but entrepreneurship?’ It’s just like, nobody will stop you from doing it but it’s just that it’s not expected out of women. Which is also one thing we hope and aim to change through the example of Basta.

BS: What are your plans for the future of Basta? After seeing it at the UNHQs, where do we see it going from now on?

M, AK, AP: After seeing it at the UNHQ, the most motivating and encouraging thing is that people believe in you and are there for you even without knowing you and the best feeling in the world is when someone comes and tell you that they are inspired by you and take advice from you on how to start their own venture. One component that we are planning to add is the ‘Gift Iskool Bag’ – which will be school bags made from flex, given to school children from underprivileged sections of the society either gifted to them or at extremely subsidised rates. So let’s say a bag costing Rs. 250 (market price of which is 600, at least) will last them a good year and a half. Another is that we are planning to tap e-commerce platforms, but that’s going to take some more time. We even pitched to a few investor groups in the US, but only time will tell what happens on that front. With the exams right around the corner, we will take things slow. The priority however, is to expand. During the winter vacations, we aim to get at least 8 more women on board and make it a good group of 16 women and then we want to move on to redesigning and get more collaborators on board. One thing we are definitely refraining from doing is collaborating with retailers and wholesalers, because they plan to hitch the prices up and use our tag name – which is something we definitely aren’t up for.

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