Pratibha Krishnaiah‘s life was almost perfect, she had a great job, wonderful boss, and a six-figure salary, but the Bangalore girl left city life for the hills to fulfill her fantasy of living in a village, but as fate would have it, she now runs a social business which provides livelihood for over 200 women. Here’s her inspiring story…
After graduating in software engineering, Pratibha started working at a renowned media agency Thomson Reuters where she drew a seven-figure salary annually, enjoying it so much that she continued to work there for eight years. Although she was living it up with her family and friends, Pratibha wasn’t truly content and kept wishing she was in a quaint village away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Being the daughter of a farmer, Pratibha enjoyed spending time at her father’s hometown in Mysore and began craving to do so more often, which is when she realized she needed to change her life.
She shares, “I kept asking myself why I was doing what I was, I had a great job but I just wanted to fulfill that childhood fantasy.”
But Pratibha played it smart, and instead of just jumping in blind, she applied and got selected for State Bank Of India’s Youth For India fellowship (SBI- YFI) through which she would not only get to fulfill her dreams but also help others. The fellowship gives the youth the opportunity to volunteer with various NGOs in different remote villages in India, for 13 months. And so Pratibha set off to Uttarakhand’s Khetikhan village in 2014.
The geographical change, language barrier, and cultural differences were challenging initially, however, Pratibha quickly fell in love with Khetikhan. She observed that the women in the village were highly skilled in knitting and crochet, so Pratibha decided to help them monetize this and set up a self-help group. “It was challenging initially as these women didn’t have any faith, that they could use their skills to earn a living, demotivated by societal norms and their prejudices. But with a little encouragement, they came around.”
By 2015, ten women joined the group and were knitting and crocheting everything from scarves and clips, to bags and baby clothes which were exhibited in Bangalore. Much to the women and Pratibha’s surprise, their merchandise was completely sold out, which made the women realize that they had a successful brand on their hands and thus Himalayan Blooms came into existence. Seeing the success of the initiative, more women joined Pratibha. And now, there is a network of about 200 women artisans from around 40 villages working with Himalayan Blooms. In the first year itself this not-for-profit social enterprise’s turnover was Rs 4.5 lakh and went on to grow 4 folds in the 2020-21 financial year. Their handcrafted products are sold across India including the cities Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and also internationally in the United States of America and Japan.
Although the turnover has been going up but Pratibha does not take a huge share from it and all the money goes into reinvestment and payments for the women working there.
“I take not more than Rs.10000 from the revenue for my expenses. My purpose of starting the enterprise is not to earn money, but to empower the women and give them a sustainable livelihood opportunity” says Pratibha.
Pratibha started the venture to empower women which reflects in the core team of Himalayan Blooms with its all-women core team of six. In just five years these ladies went from having no faith in their skills to now creating new designs, making quality checks, handling orders, payment, accounts and much more. Working flexible times, these women make anywhere between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 7,000 a month. Pratibha explains, “It’s very easy to live very comfortably with less money in a village as compared to the city as everything is much cheaper here, even Rs.5,000 a month is enough for household expenses.” Pratibha adds, “You give them resources, techniques, tools, support, time, great exposure and that’s it, see them soar! Women in rural areas are a lot smarter than we city folks perceive. Women, in general, can do wonders; it’s all about believing in you.”
Pratibha had started Himalayan Blooms as part of her initiative during the fellowship and had decided to hand it over at the end of the fellowship term, however, the NGO she worked with refused to take on the responsibility. Thus, she ended up pursuing it full time and registered it as not-for-profit social enterprise, Himalayan Blooms India, as a trustee and co-founder. When her family initially found out about Pratibha’s decision to keep living in the village, they were stunned. She shares, “My family could not wrap their head around the fact that I was leaving a perfectly stable life in Bengaluru, to continue living in a Himalayan village! But once they realized that her work contributed to empowerment of rural women, they came around. ”
Pratibha wishes to move on from this village and explore another one, so before she leaves she is grooming the women to lead the initiative and become entrepreneurs. By next few years, they should be able handle Himalayan Blooms, as a not-for profit social enterprise, on their own terms. For their community and run by the women of their community.
When asked if she misses anything about the city life, Pratibha admits, “Apart from missing my family and friends, I love the villages more.”
This story is submitted by Bilal Khan and edited by Alfea Shaikh.
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