When Ms. Sangita Keisham set up her group of women to work under ABCDEO (All Backward Classes Economic Development Organisation ) Samaran Bazaar in Manipur, it was an upward struggle all the way! After schooling in Manipur, she did her graduation in Ramjas College in Delhi and then returned to her town to take up the handicrafts business, which has interested her from the beginning. She opens up to Shree Lahiri about the early years, when it meant travelling by tempos but the inspiring fact was that she got full support from her family.

1. Tell us about how you started out as a woman entrepreneur.
My group of women work under ABCDEO which is very famous in Delhi. But we had no space in Delhi and the women faced a lot of problems when we had come to Delhi for a fair through the Ministry of Textiles. We had no place to stay and to keep our goods, so at that time we discussed and formed the team of women, who initially started working.  

Our seller groups are at Dastakaar at Chhattarpur  and we go for events there, and we get calls from others too to sell our goods. We do sell at Dilli Haat, but we are not there continuously.  Our goods are handicrafts, which are organic and eco-friendly. There are cotton sarees, chunnis, stonework cooking bowls, trays, mugs and decorative items like flower vase, kettles and so on.

We try to go to as many events and once I remember we had got an invitation for a global event and we got the chance to spot our PM Narendra Modi, form a distance, which was wonderful!

2. How did you manage the funds?
We took loans in the beginning, which helped us,  but it took very long for the loans to be finalized. Now we have applied for another loan from Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, but we have yet to receive it.

3. How large is you team and how do you motivate them?
There are about 100 ladies, out of which 500 work in really interior areas. The team gets “josh” when they realise the more they work, the more money they will make. I tell my team of ladies, if the production increases, their income too, will increase. But all the women are very committed. They do the handicraft production work and at the same time they are doing the house work and working for their families too, to keep them happy.

4. Do you feel there is a need for women to be financially independent?
Yes, ladies need to be independent because wherever they are placed, they do need a regular cash flow. So they make the goods, and we sell. Everyone needs to work, even if they are not educated because it is critical that retain they some independence.

5. Did you get any training to start the production?
We got some training, from an NGO. A master came to teach us, but payment had to be made. No one does it free na? We don’t have a website and we are not selling online. But we will be very interested if we can get trained in this area. This will mean that our production will go up, and we can expect more earnings.

6. What were the problems you faced?
There were a lot of challenges and the struggles along the journey was really immense. Even to turn up for work was so difficult. Now we sell sometimes at Dilli Haat and even in Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai. In Dilli Haat and Nature Bazaar, we managed to get a slot 6/7 times, and then we could sell there. Now we have been invited to participate in an event from Cottage Industries. We filled up the forms, but we are still waiting for the reply.

Now we have all documents like PAN cards etc all in place – we hope things will improve!

7. Where do you see your business going, in 5 years’ time?
We want to take part in the International Expo at Noida, because if we do, we will get more orders. We also want to get our own showroom and we also want to get into exports in a big way. Now we do get some orders from abroad. But I am interested, because I hear there is a huge demand for our products abroad.

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