Shalini Datta quit her full time job to start an organization which is helping women from the marginalised fisherfolk community to make amazing paper products and earn a better livelihood. All thanks to Datta, these women have found a new respect in the family and can even send their kids to school now.
Nalini*, a mother of two, was planning to drop her daughters out of school after 9th standard because she could not afford their fees. That is when she met Shalini Datta, who trained her to become an artisan and an entrepreneur.
Nalini not only managed to earn enough money to send both her daughters to school but also saved money for their future.
All thanks to After Taste, an organization started by Datta, that enables underprivileged women like Nalini to make beautiful craft pieces out of paper.
A chemical engineer by qualification, Datta always wanted to do something more meaningful with her life, something which could leave a positive impact on the lives of others. When she got her first job in an IT giant, she included herself in the CSR activities to be a step closer to what she believed in. But that wasn’t all. Datta wanted to take her inclination towards social change more seriously. Hence she quit her well paying job to think more about what she wanted to do with her life.
A Teach for India fellowship came just at the right time, where she got an opportunity to experience the lives of a marginalized community closely. She would use various arts and craft activities to engage her students and that is when she came up with an idea to help the community by using the medium of art.
“Art is such a strong medium. I spoke to mothers of the students that I used to teach and realised the problems they faced and that there was so much they wanted to do. I decided that I had to do something with them that could help them earn a livelihood” Datta says.
What started as a small initiative with two women gradually gained momentum and more women got involved. Finally in 2012, Datta organized their first exhibition of handmade products. Today, After Taste works with 12 women from Ambuzwaadi slum of Mumbai and helps them live a better life.
The USP of After Taste’s products is the personal touch to each and every one of them. Women not only make everything from scratch by using paper, but also customize them by painting and decorating them in their own unique way.
Where After Taste stands out is the approach it has towards these women. Datta was sure that she would bring together totally unskilled women and train them from the beginning.
“Also, I wanted to inculcate the feeling of teamwork among them. Since they had never worked together as a team before, I made sure they learn to cooperate with each other and not compete,” she says.
And Datta’s efforts were successful when each woman started taking responsibility for the other and helped each other through thick and thin.
Today these women make 10 to 12 different varieties of products only from paper which include customized bags, lamps, photo frames, pen stands, etc. Their main clients include 25 big corporates and organizations, apart from various educational institutions and also some individual buyers.
Women who faced several challenges at home have started living a better life now. Not only have they become financially independent but also more confident and brave in their interactions.
“Women who earlier would not even step out of their houses have now started raising their voice against any injustice done to them at home or even outside, as they now know that they don’t have to depend on their husbands for money,” says Datta.
Also, they have gained a new respect in the family and community as they are working and are financially independent. “They take their work very seriously. They come on time and never fool around. They say it is an office and serious work, not a way for them to pass time, and it feels good to see them so passionate about something,” says Datta.
“Some time back, these women went to Gujarat and trained women there to make spectacular products. That was one of the most amazing moments for me as the ladies who were once dependent on their family are now going out and teaching others to be independent. It was a great feeling,” says Datta.
Currently operating from a small room in a slum in Mumbai, Datta wants to expand After Taste and get a better and larger space so that they can reach out to more women. Her goal is to get 25 women on board by the end of this month and get bigger orders.
“Our focus is on getting regular bulk orders to sustain our model. We want to organize more exhibitions and make more products, but that is only possible if people buy more products,” she says.
After Taste is planning to reach out to other stores and start e-commerce too in order to reach as many people as possible.
“I would just request people to buy the products and help these women sustain themselves. We are not looking for charity, we just want to make it a tangible solution to the issues these women face,” says Datta.