Along with six other Gujarati housewives,she had gathered on March 15 1959 for rolling “papads” on the terrace of an old building in a South Mumbai suburb in order to supplement their meagre family income. Yesterday, Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat, the sole survivor of the founding group of ‘seven sisters’, celebrated 50 years of Lijjat along with 45,000 other women who form part of this women-only co-operative.
Started with a loan of Rs. 80 from a social worker and entrepreneur, Chaganlal Karamsi Parekh, the business grew quickly as word spread about the taste and quality of the papads (or “poppadoms” as they are known in other parts of the world). Zubair Ahmed tells the tale of the humble beginning in this BBC article:
Mrs Popat says: “We were semi-literate which restricted our chances to get jobs. But we realised our papad-making expertise could be used to earn small amounts of money to help our husbands reduce their financial responsibility.”
Lijjat is now a co-operative with a turnover of nearly $100m and a sustainable business model that provides opportunity for employment and financial independence to thousands of illiterate but skilled women who live in abject poverty. These women get a sense of empowerment by being able to earn a living, and can their children to school or improve their living conditions. This, according to Mr. Ahmed is the biggest reason behind Lijjat’s success.
Most of the 45,000-strong female workforce live in slums or one-room hutments, with communal bathrooms and toilets.
They are still part of what is known as the working class. But working for Lijjat Papads gives them financial security.
Read more about Lijjat and the women behind its success here.
Photo courtesy: BBC News