As a student of dentistry, Dr Minal Kabra, from Jalna, Maharashtra, has been treating children with dental caries on a regular basis. But she says that the proportion of dental illness is high among children in rural areas. “The sticky chocolates do more damage if the teeth remain unclean,” she tells The Better India.
But besides this, another thought pained the 33-year-old. “The mothers accompanying their children often shared their issues of unemployment and limited finances. Along with finding an alternative to sugar-based food for children, I wanted to find a solution to create a livelihood for rural women,” she says.
So, for the past two years, Minal has been feeding two birds with one scone. She launched a vegan sugarless cookie business—Kivu, a fusion word that means ‘channelising your inner energy for greater good’—while also enabling rural women to become financially independent.
Moringa & Flaxseed Cookies
Dr Minal says that Jalna receives a significant amount of sunny days. So, her business runs on solar energy and is entirely eco-friendly, which helps to mitigate 5 grams of CO2 per cookie. “We get sun for over 300 days in a year, so I thought of making cookies in the solar cooker that my family owns,” she says, adding, “I have been aware of the climate crisis and have always tried to live a sustainable lifestyle. So, I decided to use solar energy for my business too.”
Between 2016-17, Minal started experimenting with sun-baked cookies and different food items to explore the various possibilities of using her solar cooker. By 2018-19, using the solar cooker—that has a glass tube, a cooking tray and a parabolic reflector to build high temperatures—she perfected her style of baking cookies.
Dr Minal says that it seemed that all the stars aligned with her goals. “I could integrate all the needs of healthy food, women empowerment and climate consciousness into one business, so I launched the startup in December 2019,” she explains.
The entrepreneur adds that she recruited two women from the nearby village and gave each one of them a solar cooker.
“I didn’t want to employ the women but wanted them to become entrepreneurs on their own terms. So, I provided them with the required equipment to assist them with production. I buy the products and resell them in the retail market,” she says.
The 1.5-year-old entity today manufactures 30 kilos of cookies a day with varieties ranging from rajgira (Amarnath), jowar (Sorghum), coconut, wheat, oats, flaxseed, moringa, ginger lemon and multi-spice cookies. The healthy cookies have jaggery infused in them for the sweetness.
The products are available in 17 cities across 72 stores and have a presence on online platforms as well. So far, the business has earned Rs 33 lakh and prevented “825 kilos of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere”.
Rajat Barmecha, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur, says he learned about Kivu through a friend and was instantly impressed. “I am not a cookie person, but I tried it for its sustainable practices. All the cookies are equally good,” he says.
Changing Lives For Better
The women working with Minal say that becoming entrepreneurs have changed their lives immensely. Swapna Gavandar, a resident at Ramnagar society in Jalna, says she had never stepped out of her house, but entering into the business has changed her life for the better.
“I learned baking skills using the solar cooker from Minal, and bake and sell the products to her as well. This earns me Rs 450 a day. My husband is a driver, and earlier I had to depend on him for finances. Sometimes he is away for days, and such instances used to result in a shortage of money. But not anymore,” she says.
Today, Swapna has admitted her children to a premium school. “Many women feel inspired by me and wish to engage in a similar business,” the 35-year-old adds.
Dr Minal says that she is already working on a model to involve more women in her business model. “I aim to create 100 clusters across the country in future,” she adds.
Speaking about the challenges, she says that the unavailability of sunlight at times is the main hindrance to steady production. “It becomes more difficult during the monsoons, and we have to plan way ahead,” Minal noted.
But for now, she says, “I am glad to have started this venture that addresses multiple issues and benefits a large set of people and the planet.”
Edited by Yoshita Rao