Married off at 17, Kamal Kumbhar realised the importance of financial independence very early on, she says. Born in Hinglajwadi village in Maharashtra, she had to drop out after Class 10 due to relentless poverty.
“I got married in 1993 and for the first few years, we struggled for money to lead a decent life. I really wanted to contribute to our family’s livelihood, but didn’t know how,” she tells The Better India.
In 2001, she attended an event organised in her village by Swayam Shikshan Prayog, an NGO based in Pune that aims to support female entrepreneurs in areas such as agriculture, health and sanitation. She soon became associated with him and with their guidance, she started her first micro enterprise in 2002 — a bangle making business.
This marked the beginning of her successful entrepreneurship journey. Eventually, she got into multiple businesses and now earns around Rs 30,000 in just three days, she says. “I started my bangle business with the Rs 10 I received from a self-help group in the locality. Their help continued and I started pitching in more money.”
Alongside the bangle business, she put together other ventures including those to sell sarees, stationery, and light bulbs, as well as a mess. She sold the products by going door to door in nearby villages.
“Until 2012, this was my routine. Along with selling, I encouraged the women of each household to start something similar of their own to become financially independent. I introduced them to government schemes and loans available for micro enterprises and they were redirected to some self-help groups in the villages,” she recalls.
In 2015, Kamal took up poultry farming. She chose the field after visiting villages and researching which business would work best.
“By that time, the bangle business became so prevalent. With more women entering the field, almost all micro businesses were covered and I thought of launching something big, yet different. The poultry business, especially goat breeding, seemed like a new and successful option. I went forward to launch Kamal Poultry and later Ekta Sakhi Producer Company, a poultry-cum-hatchery business,” she explains.
Today Kamal manages six different enterprises of her own, including an organic farming business, compost business, mess for school children, light bulb business and the two poultry ventures. All of these are located in and around Osmanabad, her native place.
When women help each other
For Kamal, training village women to start their own business comes equal to running her ventures. Also, a majority of the employees in her enterprises are rural women.
“While I encouraged women during house visits to take up businesses, some others approached me directly for guidance. The numbers expanded when they connected with other women from nearby villages.”
“As there were many women, I started charging Rs 100/month as fees to train them. The training is for 10 months and includes details about how to start a bank account, what business they prefer, how to do market research, how much net worth will be received and more. I also tell them about the available government schemes so that they can register and get benefits,” says Kamal.
Kamal says she has trained 70 women in her village alone and a total of 5,000 in all of Maharashtra. “Men, too, take part sometimes, but it’s mostly women,” she adds.
Shaheen Babasheik, a 35-year-old entrepreneur, says, “Kamal and I hail from the same village. I was aware of the activities she has been doing. I approached her, sharing my wish to begin a business of my own. After a brief market research, she helped me in opening a bank account and shared details about the loans available. In 2000, I launched into bangle making and the next year into jewellery making. This continued for 10 years and after my marriage in 2010, I also started stitching clothes.”
She continues, “I am able to earn upto Rs 15,000 from all these businesses, thanks to Kamal.”
Kamal notes, “Their income goes upto Rs 50,000 per month, based on the business they are involved in. I am happy that they are making a livelihood of their own, whether or not they receive support from the family or not. Also, they continue to empower other women from their locality, which is the best part of it all.”
Bringing solar power to rural homes
Kamal has been collaborating with an organisation called Urja in 20-25 villages of Maharashtra. She worked with the loan team of the group, who go from house to house and tell women how much and what type of loan to take while starting a business.
“It was during these visits that I realised that most of the localities face power cut issues and people complained that their kids are unable to study after school due to this. This made me think about solar power, through which at least basic electrical equipment can work in a household. This needed great investment, which I couldn’t make. Thus, with the support of the same organisation, I distributed solar lights to 3,000 households of Maharashtra,” she explains.
For her contributions towards women empowerment and entrepreneurship, Kamal has been recognised by several organisations and the government. She won the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Foundation’s Woman Exemplar Award from former president Pranab Mukherjee in 2017. The same year she also won the Women Transforming India Award, organised by the United Nations and NITI Aayog. On the occasion of Women’s Day of 2022, Kamal was presented the Nari Shakti Award by former president Ram Nath Kovind.
“My future plan is to open a training centre for women who wish to become entrepreneurs. By the end of 2025, I wish to train 10,000 women,” says the 46-year-old.
“Women who don’t even have proper homes approach me everyday. I want to help them all achieve everything they wish for. All they need is an initial push. They are capable enough to take it forward and share strength with fellow women. I also want each one of them to educate their children and save for their future. I believe that the fate of rural India is in the hands of the upcoming generation. It is our responsibility to lead them.”
Edited by Divya Sethu; Photo Credits: Kamal Kumbhar