My Experience with Saath: Incubation at Grassroots Level

By Apurva Gajwani

My one-month internship at Saath, was under Development of Corporate Citizenship (DOCC), with the aim of sensitizing us towards many social issues of modern India. Saath is an NGO, which is a public charitable trust in Gujarat. It has reached out to over 100,000 slum dwellers in Gujarat. In 1994, it started community-based savings scheme. In 1999 it started its microfinance services by giving out small loan schemes. It employed a formal way and structured their operations by establishing a cooperative society structure. In 2002, it formed two co-operatives in Ahmedabad area. Today with over seven cooperative societies it has helped over 18,000 members.

Its main focus is on areas including health, education, infrastructure, livelihood & micro-finance, scope now being increased from urban poor to rural poor. Empowering local people to carry out the process of sustainable development, uplifting themselves from poverty, maintaining their social & economic status. It combined all cooperative societies to form the Saath Savings & Credit Cooperative Society. The main aim of Cooperative is to enable easy access of credit to urban as well as rural poor after they demonstrate their willingness to save and develop on the basis of the credit. Equal participation in credit availing process & providing it to the ones who have been excluded from this facility by formal institutions due to various reasons.

My internship started with a celebration, a celebration of women’s day. Almost 300-400 women had arrived from different centers being operated by SAATH in Ahmedabad, for this celebration. The program started with a drawing competition with a theme of “You are beautiful because”. I was amazed to see the enthusiasm as senior women also took onto crayons and started drawing with a passion. Being an MBA student, I always have a business perspective on everything. The first thing which I realized there, was that these women had awesome designing talent, they were very good at their drawings which could be easily useful in tailoring work. This thought of mine coincided with the aim of this program, i.e., to make people realize their hidden talents.  This competition was followed by some fun activities like musical chairs.

On the second and third day, we visited all the centers of Saath. First was Urmila Home Manager training center, which used to train women with training for being a home maid and also used to provide them with placement for the same. The business model, marketing techniques, and resources which they used to provide were very innovative, and it seemed like they had carried out extensive market analysis, as they exactly knew the requirements of each and every stakeholder in the process. The second was UDAAN, which to train ladies for starting their own beauty parlor, through interactive video tutorials. Also, it used to train people for retail management. The third was Women@Work; this center used to bring livelihood opportunity, to local women in sectors like mobile repair, plumbing, and electrical appliance. We also visited URC center which used to provide the local community with help regarding various schemes like getting a pan card or Aadhaar card. Last was Saath Co-operative, which is basically a micro-financing wing of Saath for providing the loan to small farmers, vendors, and entrepreneurs. I was literally amazed to see that it was completely handled by women and they used high tech tablets for accounting purposes.

After the third day, I was allotted my mentor, Kruti Ma’am, the Livelihood Programs Director of Saath; she was very cordial and helpful during the whole internship. My task was a part of the Business Gym program in coordination with Quest Alliance of Bangalore.  It was like an incubation program for small street-level vendors. It was divided into two parts:

  1. Pre-assessment for selecting the entrepreneurs – Developing a detailed quantitative as well as qualitative questionnaire for selecting the entrepreneurs suitable for this program.
  2. Developing curriculum for the program to help people who could then trains such entrepreneurs

This curriculum provides a structure and briefs points for the proper managerial training of micro and nano level enterprises. The nano-level enterprises are small street vendors, and road side food stalls, small plumbers, mason contractors.  Most of the owners of such enterprises are uneducated and don’t know how to expand their business to the next level. Also, they don’t have basic skills of communication and ignore major issues like inventory management and marketing.

This curriculum mainly focusses on six trades:

  1. Street Food stalls and Stores
  2. Small-scale electricians
  3. Plumbers
  4. Flour mills
  5. Laundry businesses
  6. Tailors

It focusses on improving the efficiency of businesses by improving their skills and knowledge on seven points including-

1) Market analysis techniques 2) Cost analysis 3) Inventory Management 4) Alternate business opportunities 5) Marketing Activities 6) Online Payments Portals 7) Government and other initiatives

This curriculum will require a certain level of motivation from the participation side to follow as most of the participants would think many of the modules as redundant, but examples such as most of the corporates follow these at a much deeper level may inspire them. Also, examples at a local level would inspire and motivate them.

I also carried out field visits to food stalls, electricians and plumbers to find out that practical examples of interviews, feedbacks forms, and inventory or storage cases would make them understand and make session much more interactive, only theoretical teachings would bore them and may lead to incomplete understanding. Props like pamphlets, boards can be given to show them effectiveness of marketing. Also, the online payments methods which have been shown could be given a live demo.

I am grateful to Saath and DOCC, SPJIMR for providing me such opportunities to get a unique experience, which was both remarkable and astonishing. Thanks a lot.

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