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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lijjat: Empowering Women, Everyday

By Nitin Rao

LijjatThis is the second post in a series of successful - even if offbeat - models in the Indian subcontinent. The first is here.

In a number of initiatives aimed at the bottom of the pyramid, women ? in groups ? have been at the forefront.

  • SKS Microfinance chooses to only target women because "they are the most marginalized and because they tend to use resources more productively than men".
  • Unilever in India - HLL ? partners with women entrepreneurs ("Shakti Ammas") to cater to a vast and untapped rural market.
Another striking example in this theme, for over 4 decades, has been the story of Sri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad or simply Lijjat.

In 1959, 7 semi-literate housewives came together to do what they knew best ? prepare Papads (India's most popular crispy bread).

Their official website shares a unique and interesting beginning to Lijjat...

It all began on 15th March 1959, which was a warm summer day with the sun shining brightly in the cloudless sky. A majority of the women inhabitants of an old residential building in Girgaum (a thickly populated area of South Bombay), were busy attending their usual domestic chores.A few of them, seven to be exact, gathered on the terrace of the building and started a small inconspicuous function. The function ended shortly, the result - production of 4 packets of Papads and a firm resolve to continue production. This pioneer batch of 7 ladies had set the ball rolling.As the days went by, the additions to this initial group of 7 was ever-increasing. The institution began to grow.

Today, Lijjat is a proud worker cooperative family of over 40,000 bens (sisters) across 67 Branches and 35 Divisions in different states across India. Any woman who pledges to adopt the institution's values and who has respect for quality can become a member and co-owner of the organisation.

The organization began with a paltry loan of Rs. 80. Today, more than 40 years later, Lijjat has achieved sales of over Rs. 300 crores [$68 million].

Lijjat helps these women who are not encouraged to work outside their homes, to contribute to their household family income. Members earn around $50-$60 a month for roughly 6 hours of work a day from home.
Lijjat is saved the logistical hassle and cost of many offices because the bens take dough home and roll them into papads when they are free from their domestic chores.

Despite the unprecedented scale achieved at Lijjat, quality remains the mantra for every ben. As a policy, Lijjat does not accept any donations and is scrupulous with its accounting.

Recognizing the opportunities that the success with Papads presents, Lijjat is experimenting diversifying into other products such as Bakery Products, Chapatis (staple food eaten in many parts of India) and even Detergent powder.

Lijjat's model is unconventional and interesting. The Lijjat Case Study ? as part of a compilation made by the World Food Programme-International Fund for Agricultural Development Partnership - makes for good reading.

In 2002, the "Businesswoman of the Year" award was given to "The Women Behind Lijjat Papad" at The Economic Times Awards for Corporate Excellence.

Lijjat is a success story that many others could emulate. A story of 40,000 women who are helping themselves move into the Next Billion.

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