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Business News/ Companies / Providing job opportunities for the underprivileged

Providing job opportunities for the underprivileged

Swati Bondia's start-up trains the needy in handicraft and sells the products to hotels and corporate houses

Swati Bondia’s goal is to help 2,000 families across Karnataka and Odisha by 2018, for which she hopes to receive government assistance. Photo: Hemant Mishra/MintPremium
Swati Bondia’s goal is to help 2,000 families across Karnataka and Odisha by 2018, for which she hopes to receive government assistance. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Bengaluru: Swati Bondia is just like any other management student, except that she owns her own social venture, gives lectures at universities across India, Malaysia and Thailand, and was honoured by the Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, among various others.

Started in 2011, Bondia’s start-up Om Shanti Traders provides employment opportunities in handicraft to the underprivileged. The first step in this process is identifying appropriate families, who are usually poor roadside migrants, and then training them in handicraft.

These products are then sold to corporates, and the profits are distributed to the families and reinvested in the business.

“We make the products at the bottom of the pyramid, and we sell it to the top of the pyramid. We’re working to bridge this gap between the privileged and the underprivileged sector," she says, summing up the venture.

“Our customers are corporates like big hotels—(The) Leela Palace, Taj Vivanta, educational institutes like Dayananda Sagar (Institutions), Acharya (Institute of Management Sciences)..."

The venture helps the entire family by providing education to the children of such families, as well—an opportunity the families usually struggle to find.

Om Shanti Traders started after Bondia saw a small girl begging at a traffic signal in Banashankari in Bengaluru. She tried to find jobs for the girl’s parents, but when that failed, she helped them make a decorative Buddha statue. They later sold that statue at the same traffic signal.

Today, Om Shanti Traders has grown to helping 39 families, with a 15-member core team composed primarily of management students. The enterprise has some students working on a commission basis, who are awarded a percentage of the profits for finding new clients. At present, the venture is helping each family earn around 30,000 per month at a profit of about 11% annually, says Bondia.

Bondia’s goal is to help 2,000 families across Karnataka and Odisha by 2018, for which she hopes to receive government assistance. She believes funds from private investors would not have the same impact, as the government can provide a wider reach. She has given herself until 2017 for getting government help, after which she would turn to private funding.

The 22-year-old, who has an undergraduate degree in business management from the Acharya Institute of Management Sciences, Bengaluru, is currently pursuing her master’s in business administration from Mysore University at the Bengaluru campus. She has completed IIM-Bangalore’s course on inclusive business models as well.

One of the biggest hurdles to setting up Om Shanti Traders has been gaining trust of migrant families, who are often sceptical about Bondia’s intentions and fear exploitation. On the customer side, the companies the products are sold to initially had doubts about the quality of the crafts. All the handicrafts are now certified by Archies Ltd, a popular gifts and greeting cards company, in terms of quality of design.

Bondia gives lectures and training sessions to aspiring entrepreneurs at over 200 universities across the country, and even abroad, having trained roughly 18,000 students so far.

Her classes aren’t just limited to students, though, with several of her talks aimed at faculty and corporates as well. “(I go) to the colleges, about three days a week—about one, one-and-half hour sessions," she says.

The training programmes extend to villages as well, which Bondia visits about two to three times a month, to help underprivileged women. “We empowered women, we made self-help groups, connected them with banks, connected them with MNCs (multinational corporations)", she says, describing the work of Focus, the training wing of Om Shanti Traders.

Bondia, who hails from Jharsuguda in Odisha, comes from a family of business people. Business runs in the blood, she says, as she cites her father as her biggest source of support. Encouragement from the family has never been a problem. “There was unconditional support and love from them (parents). Getting that from a parent makes a lot of difference."

An entrepreneur at heart, Bondia runs another venture, Enrich Solutions with two other partners, and it’s profit-oriented. Enrich provides a virtual exhibition platform for educational institutions, and plans on offering this platform to real estate and automobile companies as well in the near future.

The recipient of numerous awards, Bondia was invited by the Colombian government in July 2014 to participate in its Bottom of the Pyramid Challenge. One of seven entrepreneurs chosen from across the globe, Bondia helped connect those at the bottom of the pyramid to those at the top in Colombia. “We were basically working on strategizing how the bottom of the pyramid people can be benefited—whether they can be employed, whether these corporates can build some products which they can buy at a lower cost. There were a couple of plans which got selected during my visit. Those plans are now being implemented. It’s benefiting the underprivileged in Colombia."

But her story doesn’t end there. Bondia has big dreams for the future of the education system in India, which she believes needs serious reforms. She is currently in talks to test the viability of an idea, which is to set up a graduate institute with an emphasis on “practicality".

“There is a lot of difference between what we have learnt, or what our books have taught us, and the practicality of it. The fact that I am now doing both the things together, I can find that difference. Although I get good marks, I get marks from my experience. If you sit down and look at my answer sheet, all the answers will have Enrich and Om Shanti Traders," she says.

Was balancing studies with her ventures a problem? “There has been a lot of cooperation from the college. They have supported (me) a lot. The faculty understand(s) the problem, they appreciate our work."

Bondia’s message to young aspiring entrepreneurs is simple: just take the first step, the rest of it will follow. “See, boss, it’s easy to do. It’s not that difficult, it’s just that you have to take that first step. Once you take that first step, automatically the things will happen."

Choosing the right people for the team is equally important, as Bondia believes, perhaps ironically so, that one person alone cannot make a difference.

Mint has a strategic partnership with National Entrepreneurship Network, which hosts the Tata First Dot awards.

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Published: 26 Jan 2015, 01:32 AM IST
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