Women empowerment is critical to a sustainable and just world. Ushi Fatma, Associate Editor, greenubuntu.com caught up with Ajat Shatru, who has founded two women-oriented business ventures that have been having a deep impact on the society, especially the women in India. His latest offering is a job portal which seeks to accelerate women’s careers in India by enabling them to start, restart and rise in their careers. His vision is to enable women to achieve their full potential.

Ushi Fatma: You are the man behind many successful women entrepreneurs who have been hitting the market with eco-friendly products. How did it all start? Did these entrepreneurs approach you?

Ajat Shatru: Well, my first venture was GharSeNaukri.com and immediately after 1 year, I launched WomeninBusiness.in. Several life experiences have led me to shape the concept of GharSeNaukri. It all started long ago, some 13-14 years back, when my cousin sister was denied a chance to go out and work after her marriage. She was extremely well qualified and held a Masters degree. Before marriage, her in-laws claimed to be supportive of her career aspirations, but after marriage, they did a volte face and insisted that there was no need for her to work as the family was financially well-off and that she should focus on looking after the home and family. The sad part was that this happened not in some remote village but in a metropolitan city like Bombay.

I was very young at the time but this incident really shook me. Years later, I left my job with a partner company of IBM and started an HR & corporate consultancy. While doing the consultancy business, I found many such profiles of well-qualified women like my sister who wanted to work after marriage but were not permitted to do so due to pressure from their in-laws, society, husband or children, and this made me realize that there are hundreds of women in India who are in the same fate as my cousin.

This was in year 2015. I was already toying with the idea of starting something on my own. My cousin’s story had left an indelible mark on me and I made up mind to do something for women empowerment. I gave up my corporate job after gaining an experience of more than 15 years in varied industry domains and I started with GharSeNaukri.com.  The objective is to provide jobs to women which they can do comfortably from home and earn. The other platform, WomenInBusiness.in, was introduced to help women to start their home business using their creative skills and talent.

Both are women empowerment platforms designed to break the gender barrier in our society, where involvement of women in professional work or business is very less due to various societal obligations. We are providing an opportunity for these women to utilize their skills without compromising on their family and other responsibilities.

Today, both the platforms have created a name in the market and I feel good when I see so many skillful women coming up with their products. There are many who approach me directly, to guide them and to help them out. I usually try to give maximum support to those women who are registered members of our platforms.

Ushi Fatma: Woman in business is an extended initiative. Is GharSeNaukri.com  the pioneer in promoting women initiatives to start off a business. How has the journey been so far?

Ajat Shatru: WomenInBusiness is a marketplace for women who want to start their own business. When we started GharSeNaukri every day we received approximately 100 calls from different parts of India. In at least 30-40 of those calls, women said they didn’t want a job; instead they were looking for a platform to leverage their talents be it cooking, stitching, designing  or counselling. Basically they wanted to be stay-at-home entrepreneurs. This is how the idea of WomenInBusiness took shape. At present it has thousands of women entrepreneurs selling their products to the world.

Like any other businesses, there are hiccups. Highs and lows are a part of life. GharSeNaukri.com has already gained its prominence and we have been awarded the best social enterprise award consecutively for 3 years, from 2017 to 2019. We have more than 6 lakh women registered in our portal.

The journey has not been easy — generating initial engagement, convincing customers and companies of this huge potential workforce has been an uphill task. The major challenge among companies and MNCs is that their information is highly confidential and they are reluctant to outsource it. Also, there is the trust factor: they’re very doubtful if an employee working from home will do the job responsibly and within the time frame. The major barrier is the mindset among job providers. Big companies insist that employees need to be in the office for 8-10 hours in order to be productive. We started by approaching SMEs, and today we have big MNCs also who are taking our services.

Ushi Fatma: You also provide services to women who register with you by providing them mentoring, skill development and training.  How is this gaining attention of the entrepreneurs?

Ajat Shatru: Time to time, there are workshops conducted at our office premises. We had workshops on chocolate making, candle making, madhubani painting. This helps in 2 ways: we help a woman to promote herself, her expertise and her products. She provides training to other women. At the same time, we help many other women to learn the skill at these workshops. It’s like women helping each other. Besides workshops, we are associated with skill-development centers. So, we help women to connect with the right person to get the necessary help. I feel, mentoring is very essential for a woman if she wants to start something. You can have the skill and the talent but if you don’t have the proper guide, either you go haywire or you cannot start.

We also have a few Govt bodies, NGOs and private tie-ups with whom we share training program for budding women entrepreneurs. Handicraft, eco-friendly products like chemical-free soaps , disposable utensils (plastic and polythene free), decorative products from waste material and many more. All such products have good market value.

Ushi Fatma: It has been observed that there is disproportionate share of women owned business which is mostly micro, small or medium enterprises. These businesses don’t seem to mature and this leaves a negative impact. So what are the specific barriers that women businesses face and what kind of solutions do you give these entrepreneurs to further leverage the economic power of women?

Ajat Shatru: Although many women are joining us but even then, there is a hitch among women. Not all talented women are coming out. Government too has introduced a number of incentives and financial plans. But, still we see, either they are not up-do-date or they simply don’t get the support from the menfolk in their family. And even if they join, many of them get impatient and want immediate results. But then, this does not work always.

Problems are basically associated with finance and lack of family support. The market is also flooded with lots of cheap and fancy factory products which demotivates such handmade, ecofriendly products. From the viewpoint of the end customers, there is always a kind of blockade to purchase handmade products. Indians still are not opening up to accept the concept of handmade. They are ready to purchase a machine-made item online or from the market at double the price, but not a handmade product. So, matching the price quoted by the women entrepreneur and the price expected by the customers becomes difficult. Even today, we try to engage our women for Corporate gifting orders, during festivals and events.

I urge these women to keep themselves updated with govt. schemes, to learn the trade, to watch videos on YouTube, to get proper training and upgrade themselves.

Ushi Fatma: There are many hurdles that women face especially when it comes to business and I as a woman can relate to their situation. I guess the biggest hurdle remains finance and funding. And the thought that will their business be able to bear the losses? How do you motivate the women when they bear such losses?

Ajat Shatru: Yes, finances and funding are the biggest issues for women to start with. So, they basically need an external source to promote their business. This is where, womeninbusiness.in. Ours is a free registered platform. I urge home-based business women to join us for free. And for those who want an elaborate digital promotion of their home business, we charge a minimal amount of Rs. 1000 for lifetime membership. But, in many cases, they don’t generally open up to invest something and they want immediate profits.

Well, profits and losses are part of every business. It’s an age of competition. In what way you create your products different from others, that is important. Choose a niche product. There are many ways you can start your business with a minimal investment. Use your own home space as your store, your kitchen or store room as your work space, tell everyone known to you about your home business. Word of mouth, particularly, helps in selling handmade items and homemade food items like cakes, pastries, cookies and all. A number of bakers are doing quite well for themselves without much investment. It’s all through Whatsapp messages and word of mouth.

See, what I feel is that when you do what you enjoy doing the most, this becomes your passion and when your passion is associated with your business, it’s all the more better. Like we say, keep on doing hard work and success will follow soon. A failure should not dampen your spirits and you should move on.

WomenInBusiness is associated with lots of Banks and NBFCs and facilitate basic funding process for women entrepreneurs. The process is very simple and doesn’t require any collateral to get business loan after basic formalities.

Ushi Fatma: Coming back to our green initiatives, like GO GREEN , India’s staggering waste is actually growing at a very fast pace. And there are a few young minds who are working towards changing the society and making it environment friendly with sustainable products. Some of the names are Mini Varkey Shibu who has made a name in making natural khadi and giving new style statement to the world. Pallavi Aggarwal and Prachi Aggarwal, founder directors of Chalk and Chuckles are making ecofriendly toys and board games for children.  It’s again a very economically viable solution to the competitive world of toys. How do you think the customers today leave behind the famous brands of toys and look out for ecofriendly toys. Are these companies gaining good attention from the consumers?

Ajat Shatru: First of all, we have to make our end consumers realize that buying a handmade product means you are not only supporting a woman for her empowerment but you are also supporting her family. By opting for eco-friendly products, you are taking one step to protect the environment.

There are many who are doing a lot in this field. We do have many women entrepreneurs coming up with natural products. Like I have said earlier, for women in business, it all depends on how you promote your brands. So, don’t hesitate to get some external funding to grow your business. If your products are of good quality and serve the end purpose, there is nothing that can stop you.

About Ajat Shatru: He has rightly proved himself as a true alumnus of St. Xavier’s college and XISS, Ranchi with his two business ventures that have a deep impact on the society, especially for the women in India. With more than 18 years of experience in varied industry domains, Ajat had started his two social ventures, GharSeNaukri.com and WomeninBusiness.in, with the sole intention of uplifting the lives of the women community in India. While GharSeNaukri.com was launched with the objective of providing jobs to women which they can do comfortably from home and earn, the other platform, WomenInBusiness.in was introduced to helping women to start their home business using their creative skills and talent.

Considering the fact that 60% of women work force in India is sitting idle and want to gain financial independence, both these platforms are creating an eco-system to support every woman, be it in the form of work-from-home and other jobs or home-based business opportunities. Just as XISS is committed towards sustainable development and empowerment of the marginalized, Ajat Shatru, with his deep rooted values and strong business acumen, thrives to foster a society that helps balance family and work life, empowers women, and thereby bridge the gap between women and work.

About Ushi Fatma

Author at greenubuntu.com. I am a freelance journalist, environment activist, fashion blogger, and a short film and documentary maker. My association with Taru Mitra, an organisation working hard for the environment in India, taught me the value of nature preservation. I want to make the world a better place for future generations. Being a mother, I know how important it is to do that. I love nature, art and creativity.