Women Powerment

Preetty Ch Marak speaks to a few entrepreneurs in the state who are defying conventions & kindling hope amid despair & disingenuousness

In a country where honour killing of women, gang rapes, school dropouts owing to lack of menstrual hygiene and child marriage are still rampant, it is a banal effort to even speak about empowerment. In a state where women empowerment is only a façade behind which patriarchy reigns and a woman’s power is yet to see a full bloom, what meaning would Women’s Day hold? No, there is no meaning.

But again, what are we living for? The flicker of light in the darkness that tries to engulf the whole existence of womanhood, the end of the rope that hangs at the edge of the cliff and the exemplary actions of a few which keep our spirits up. Call it a dichotomy, but in Meghalaya, the examples of feisty women are endless despite the tribulations. These women have not only paved their own paths but also set examples for others and smoothened the way for many more to come. On this occasion of International Women’s Day tomorrow, Sunday Chimes speaks to a few of the many successful women in the state and tells their stories so far.

Deepa Hajong,
Angelic Computer Centre

For women of her age, it would be a tough decision to tread the difficult course of entrepreneurship but Hajong is a strongheaded woman. At 27, she is the owner of the computer centre that provides computer education, soft skills and mind power trainings and other services in local languages. The challenging part of her venture, which started in 2019 in Garobadha, South West Garo Hills, is that Hajong runs her start-up in a rural pocket and has to provide the services at an affordable rate. “We also make the rural populace aware of new technologies and help create employment. These services are not available in rural areas,” the enterprising youth tells Sunday Chimes in an email interview.

The awareness programmes provided by Angelic are on government schemes through common service centres. She has helped a few gain confidence for job interviews. This not only helps students in rural areas to easily gain access to the hitherto unknown services but also save time and money by travelling to the cities.

Besides students, Hajong’s services help government employees who are not adept to the digital platform.

“Today is a digital world, so people from rural areas, especially those between 40-60 years of age, working in government offices find it difficult to work with technology. The government has made attendance digital and they find difficult to use it and need guidance. I have evening batches for teachers as now technology is mandatory for everyone. Old people find difficult to use ATM to withdraw money. Hence, I provide a week’s free training to them,” she explains.

Born and brought up in a village, it was not difficult for Hajong to understand the problems of the section of the people in rural areas while living in the city for higher studies. Many people would be unable to avail government schemes which required online registration. All these prompted her to become the angel guide.

Hajong is disciplined and always keeps her priorities right. “I focus on three main things — management where I give importance to team work and consider employees as family; newness as anything new, if implemented properly, can bring about change in the society; and finance as it is important how to increase the finance if we want to expand it,” she says.

Before starting Angelic, Hajong worked with Network Marketing Company when she was studying in Punjab. She got a project to provide computer literacy to the poor children in rural areas. She also got training from IT companies like HCL and Adobe in Noida. This helped her to successfully implement her start-up idea in her home state. “An entrepreneur should know where to implement the idea. We should focus on the need of the customers for the business to grow.”

Talking about the challenges, Hajong says there are many but she never thought of giving up. In fact, the pandemic affected her financially but she connected with her students through Google Meet. Classes were on but she provided free service and “it felt good to help people as it was crucial time for everyone”.

She says meditation helps her keep positive and affirmative. Now, Hajong is planning to open branches in other districts. “I want to provide the services in local languages because communication is a problem for people in villages. I will gradually connect with every rural area in the North East,” she tells about her big plan.

Tiapokla J Kynjing, Home-made
food products

Those who know Kynjing, lovingly called Kong Apokla, personally will agree that she is the epitome of motherhood. One encounter with her is not enough as her hospitality is enthralling and her personality magnetic. The multi-talented woman, now 46 years old, turned her home-making skills into a business endeavour.

“I always had a flair for cooking and loved to prepare different types of dishes. Many people loved the dishes I prepared. So I thought why not utilise the talent I am bestowed with to start my own venture,” she says.

Kynjing started her business by taking catering orders from friends and relatives. Later, she got a food licence and expanded her business to making different types of pickles and supplying them to local shops. She says her mother-in-law and husband helped her in finding orders and connected her to the right people.

She experiments with local ingredients, which are organically grown, and uses traditional methods for preservatives. According to the ‘home-grown’ entrepreneur, quality is the priority.

“I enjoy cooking, and so, I never had to think what business venture to start as I already knew it. In fact, the day my husband came to meet me before our wedding, he was surprised to see me making sweet ice cubes for sale,” she says.

Kynjing specialises in Naga pickles. But she also makes other food items like Christmas bakes, bread and cookies. Her creativity also diversifies into making Christmas gifts and wreaths, decorative items and gardening. However, there was a lull last year as “I could not do the usual cooking owing to unavailability of ingredients”. She incurred losses as business was dwindling.

She is back in action after the hiatus. Currently, she is nurturing a backyard garden where she grows over 10 varieties of vegetables and mushrooms, besides flowers. She is also rearing local chicken with the help of her husband, Jefferson Kynjing, and is planning to start a piggery.

“The biggest factor that helped me in my business is the love of my family and the gift from God. My late mother-in-law supported me financially and morally. My husband and my children constantly promote my products, which is a great help,” she says.

Hard work and faith in the Almighty have been her constant source of inspiration in hard times.

Kynjing has also received a state award for women entrepreneurship. But she says her family is her priority, and no matter what she does, taking care of her family “is the most important thing” for her.

Through her hard work and dedication, Kynjing has set an example for home-makers and showed them the way to be economically independent without disturbing the balance of family life.

Shidalin Marbaniang,
Syntu Sanitary Napkins

Marbaniang, who is from Nongstoin Nondein in West Khasi Hills, ventured into hygiene products for women in June 2019 with an aim to create sustainable and gainful empowerment to women.

Syntu sells hand-made eco-friendly sanitary napkins which are compostable within 180 days.

As a teacher from a rural area, Marbaniang was shocked how menstrual hygiene is neglected in villages, especially in rural schools. “Girls would either be absent from school during periods or they would show lack of concentration in the classroom. Some would also drop out from school. This made me worried. Girls in rural areas do not use sanitary pads either because they do not know about these or they could not afford it,” says Marbaniang.

This crisis prompted her to embark on a mission to provide menstrual dignity to all girls and women. In her endeavour, the government training helped her. With no fund to start a business, Marbaniang made the best use of the one-week training at the local incubation centre. “I used the incubation centre to start my journey as an entrepreneur. We were just two persons in the beginning. It takes three months to master the work,” she recollects the early days.

Being a women and mother, the challenges were aplenty and she would often think of giving up. But it was the hostile words of a man in her village which strengthened her determination. “The man told me that my business would collapse within no time and he would witness it. I took up the challenge and told him that no one had the right to look down upon women under any circumstance,” says the 35-year-old entrepreneur.

Now, Marbaniang has nine helpers making 1,800 sanitary napkins a month. “I strive for my dream and work hard so that the busines thrives. My success means the success of the women of Meghalaya. I firmly believe that empowerment of women begins with her health,” says a determined Marbaniang.

Catherine Dohling, Co-founder,
The North East Store

It was longingness for home that prompted Dohling and her friend, Trideep, to start the shopping portal in 2015 that sells an array of products indigenous to the North East.

Dohling calls herself a social entrepreneur and ensures that her business partners engage in sustainable, profitable and self-sufficient enterprise. “The impact of our venture is twofold — providing easy access to northeastern products to interested customers throughout the country and giving unique opportunities to local farmers, artisans and producers to reach new markets,” says the 34-year-old entrepreneur.

The North East Store sources products straight from the makers and producers as well as from NGOs, government and self-help groups which directly support local farmers and artisans. In fact, it bridges the gap between the producers in remote areas of the region and buyers from across the country and beyond.

“Both of us (the co-founders), through the course of our lives, have lived outside of the North East and missed ‘home’ and all its comforts and tastes. We found many others who were in the same predicament. For too long, we made do with bringing back foodstuff and other items back from our too-few-and-far-between holidays. From this personal experience and observation that we thought, ‘Hey, if you can’t go home, how about getting home to you?’ That’s how out store came about,” says Dohling about the beginning of the entrepreneurial journey.

However, for a start-up, the journey was not without hiccups, especially the pandemic-induced lockdown last year was the biggest setback. Dohling, who had no experience of running a business before starting the venture, says the first three months of the lockdown brought the business to a standstill. But that was not reason enough for the entrepreneurs to give up on their “baby” as crises “don’t last forever”.

Amid the pandemonium, they saw a silver lining. “People got more and more used to ordering things online —from groceries for everyday needs to clothing and big electronics as well. The public has become more and more comfortable using digital forms of payment and shopping online. All this helped us as an e-commerce company and we have, in fact, seen an increase in the number of orders, especially from North-eastern expats living outside the region, who are not able to travel home,” she explains.

The North East Store has a selection of food items and indigenous handloom and handicrafts which are unique to the states in the region and are not easily available in the mainland. This is what makes the portal a coveted one to those living far from home.

On expanding its magic basket and reach of the portal, Dohling says it is an ongoing process as identifying and accommodating maximum number of items from the eight states in the region is a “great starting point for growing our business”.

According to her, the learning process as an entrepreneur is still on and they are still picking up the tricks of the trade from webinars and business skill development courses. “One should identify the skills in oneself and turn them into something profitable. Even I did not grow up thinking that I would become a businesswoman one day… Now we can genuinely say that we’re passionate about running a successful company because of the great satisfaction we derive from it when seeing it grow and thrive,” she adds.

Melanie Pariat & Shanisha Kent,
East End Events

Pariat and Kent (in pics above) founded the bespoke event planning agency in July 2019 because the duo “strongly believe in curating turnkey solutions for all events, be it the wedding of your dreams or any occasion that calls for a celebration”.

“Growing up, we have always been intrigued with creativity and art. Trained to create life out of blank canvases- to create, recreate and expand our vision. At age 24 and 25, events gave us a platform to bring detailed art and architecture to life. It is through our passion where we are able to connect the same happiness with our clients. As young adults, we feel empowered because pursuing one’s passion calls for courage, bravery, vision, knowledge and an armour,” says Pariat.

The young entrepreneurs believe their brand revolves around the definition of ‘unique’ because they deliver the best with elegance and charm. “All designs are sketched with handpicked colour combination to match the vision we hold till the time we execute our design successfully,” they say.

According to Pariat, there cannot be any wrong idea if executed with the right strategy. “In fact, the best ideas were always seen as illogical and then have these very ideas ruling the world… An idea can be completely out of this world but when it meets the eye, you see a simple thought in the cloud of dreams turned into extraordinary reality. With EEE, it’s all about capturing our client’s imagination and putting it into plan and action.”

EEE specialises in creative weddings but the co-founders are open to other events too. Their first event was a ‘Baby Shower’ and that gave them free thinking and liberal creativity to experiment and quickly learn from. It is the incorporation of all types of art in their events that holds a captivating look together with a glimpse of an eye and strongly portraying the pride, character, integrity in the brand “which gives us the roots to expand our passion”.

As entrepreneurs, the duo give much importance to trust, quality and compassion. “It’s the bridge of trust created with our clients through our work that makes our business successful. With every meeting to every event, there is no shortage of remarkable ideas… Every venture needs its heart. The business model is such where it caters to important days in people’s lives which they’ll remember forever. It has its intimacy, love and perfection,” they say.

Talking about the challenges in the start-up and how they keep up with the stress, Pariat says, “Chasing a dream calls for no quits! Growing up together from the same school we were taught to never quit, to never say ‘no’ to opportunities and learning. In every race or marathon, we were taught to either move slow but move forward than to stop and turn our back from the finish line…. And as sportspersons, the strategy is to get the hang of the race, then give your solid best!”

About women entrepreneurs, Pariat says, “The term entrepreneur has no limits, no restrictions. It is a vast profession but one of the key points about being an ambitious entrepreneur is to look for problems in areas that require solutions. The idea is to solve a problem, not avoid it.”

~ Photos sourced