Bringing sustainability into SRIJAN’s dairy business

Monday, November 24 my work as an expert for Women on Wings begins. I’m on my first ‘assignment’ in India and have no idea what to expect. Together with Supriya (business consultant Women on Wings India) I will work with Women on Wings’ new business partner SRIJAN. They set up a producer company (MAITREE) that collects, cools and sells milk in the district Deoli (Rajasthan). The shareholders and the board of MAITREE are all women.

To the country site
Monday morning I meet Supriya at the hotel in Jaipur. Ronald (Women on Wings India) and Stuti (SRIJAN) are there too. Unfortunately, her other colleagues of SRIJAN are stuck in traffic and arrive three hours later. Stuti starts her presentation about SRIJAN. I have to get used to the Hinglish (Indian English) and we all have to get used to each other. But soon we share a lot of humour. Late afternoon, we drive to Deoli (3-4 hours’ drive), a small town in rural India. At the hotel, Supryia and I work on our notes and prepare the next day. At 11PM it’s bedtime: happy with my earplugs!

Back to the roots and powerful rural women
On Tuesday, the alarm rings at 5:30AM. It’s still dark and cold. With Jitendra, team manager of MAITREE, we drive to the milk collection center that is open from 6:30 AM to 7:30 AM. Locals bring their milk. The milk is tasted, the fat measured, filtered, poured into a milk can, and then weighed. Everything is recorded in the household books.
Back to the roots. How to change from barter to a real economy? You buy a cow; what does it cost and what does it yield. But not just that; how to take care of the cow and how to keep proper hygiene. And again a step back: what is hygiene and why is that important.
We cannot imagine actually. I saw a UNICEF instruction map in the village with a picture of how to wipe a house. And some milk sellers sell milk that they ‘mix’ (dilute…) with water. That water can come from anywhere…
At 9AM we’re back at the hotel. Time to freshen up and go to the MAITREE office. There we meet 6 female board members. They don’t speak English but Supriya asks the questions in Hindi and writes her notes in English so I can understand. The chairman of the board tells how she fought against her husband and her in-laws, who wanted to marry off her young daughters. She took a loan for her girls so they could go to college first. What a special powerful woman.
On Wednesday, after two days collecting and processing all information, we present our first findings to the managers of MAITREE. They are all ears, ask good questions and understand what we mean: “You opened the windows in my mind.”
Meanwhile, the plan for the final meeting keeps changing from Thursday to Friday and back. But finally it is decided; Friday in Delhi. Wednesday evening, Supriya and I are back in Delhi. When arriving at Lutyens Guesthouse, I get a warm welcome; the heater in my room is already on.

In Delhi working on the next steps
Thursday, Supriya and I work on Fridays’ final presentation at the office of Women on Wings (Gurgaon). Unfortunately, my taxi is late and gets lost so it takes me almost two hours. In the evening I enjoy a nice Italian dinner with Ineke (Women on Wings India).
Friday we have the final presentation in the presence of the CEO of SRIJAN. We discuss our findings and recommendations and have good discussions. A few new issues come up. Everyone is happy with our approach and ideas. The MAITREE and SRIJAN team will make an action plan which I’m looking forward to!
So far, a good operation has been realized by MAITREE, but it is important that it continues to operate sustainably. Even without the support of SRIJAN. They need to work from a business perspective. I really believe these powerful women and hardworking managers with big hearts will succeed. I am happy to be able to make a contribution. The collaboration with Women on Wings is at least for 3 years so, jointly, we should be able to realize a sustainable business.
I’ve already bought two kurta’s, so I’m ready to go back any time definitely!

Anita de Hart