Incense sticks and team work to increase jobs

Ronald and I arrived in Patna, the capital of the state Bihar early morning on the 18th of July, just as people started commuting to their work. For a second my heart starts beating a little bit faster. I realize that I am actually in the place where my ancestors are from. I am dressed in a salwar kameez and I could easily pass through as one of the locals. Being brought up in Holland, this is a feeling that I am experiencing for the first time.

I am so grateful that I am a part of Women on Wings that has given me this opportunity to work with Jeevika. Contributing to creating jobs for women in rural India and being able to empower them is one of my dreams come true.

We arrive at the Vikash Kunj office of Jeevika to discuss the agenda for the two days workshop with our contact person. Whilst the office boy brings us chai and some biscuits, we talk about the purpose of the workshop. We will work on a business proposal for Incense sticks, known as Agrabatti in India. We agreed to help bridge the gap between the current situation and achieving their ultimate goal, creating 100,000 jobs for women by 2017. Since Agrabatti is Jeevika’s biggest product, we decided to start with Agrabatti.

We start working with the team, 15 people who are all involved in the Agrabatti making process. They are mostly project managers responsible for a particular area within Bihar. Each person in the team is full of energy and is extremely passionate about their job. It intrigues me to see that there are a lot of men among them and all of them want to create better lives for women in Bihar. After the introduction we asked the team members to make a SWOT analysis of the current process. They start heavy discussions and it’s obvious that they need help. I felt extremely happy that I could understand their discussions and communicate with them in Hindi. They seemed a bit surprised, but also proud that I was able to speak with them in their language. We had a fruitful first day. Ronald and I were satisfied with the results and we ended the day with a group picture.

The next morning on the way to the second day of the workshop, I saw so many people on narrow streets and people commuting in rickshaws. There was already so much happening in the early morning on the streets of Patna. We arrived at the office and were happy to see the same group again. The day started with a presentation from Devesh Kumar from Jeevika, who presented the value chain of the Agrabatti making process. The presentation was very good and Devesh had done a good amount of homework. We then divided the group in teams for a fun group building exercise. We asked them to build a pyramid with cards. It was funny to see that everyone just started building the pyramid, without discussing his or her strategy. They didn’t understand why their pyramid kept falling down, some gave up and others tried harder. Eventually they came to the conclusion that they had to build a strong foundation first and this meant they had to start discussing their strategy with their team members.

The day ended with a clear actions list on how to improve their processes. We agreed a follow up to evaluate the action list after eight weeks, which will determine the outcome of the action list, the areas of improvement and define concrete further actions.

It may have been ‘just’ two days, but it surely had a great impact. I was really surprised about the immense creativity and openness of the people of Jeevika. We left with a positive outcome of ideas and actions that the whole team agreed upon. And it was great fun to see them working so enthusiastically with the cards. They had never done anything like that. I hope that they will apply the learning from the workshop in real life. So, I really think we demonstrated to Jeevika, how Women on Wings adds value.

Ashna Bhawan