What started as small talk at the coffee counter

What started as small talk while queuing for the coffee counter, turned out to be a big change in my life. That is off course, when you get an enthusiastic and inspiring person as Maria van der Heijden, talking about Women on Wings over a cup of coffee. Her stories of the work, the life and the people of India captivated me, so I decided to try and join Women on Wings as an expert. And fortunately, in September I was flying to India. On my way to a company called Avani. And to a part of India which was described as a ‘remote corner of Kumaon…’. Which was no exaggeration. The journey took me 7 hours by train and then 7 hours by car. Avani is snugly settled in the mountains of the lower Himalaya, of which the view was just an extra bonus.

At home I had read that the founders (Rashmi Bharti and Rajnish Jain) had a dream: “To leave the earth a little more beautiful than they found it”. At their campus they use solar lights, pine needle gasification and wastewater recycling. Later I learned that they have a zero waste cycle. This promised to be an inspiring visit.

I got to meet Rashmi, who initially started Avani to provide a small source of income in two mountain villages. Together with a loyal team they built Avani into a movement that sells handcrafted products of the Kumaon community. The handcrafted scarves and shawls are of high quality and truly beautiful. Thousands of women in over 100 Himalayan villages now have an income, because of Avani. It’s all about self-respect and financial independence for these women. Now they are even able to pay for education for their kids.

We had a three-day workshop with Rashmi, Raju, Rajnish and Prachi. They have a good operating handicraft business. But they produce and sell more than scarves: natural dyes, soap nuts, toys, etc.. Using the CANVAS business model we identified the opportunities of their new natural dye plant. This new plant will produce three kilo’s natural dye a day. In a world dominated by chemical dyes this is a real USP.

Rashmi, Raju, Rajnish and Prachi, thank you for the hospitality you have given Ronald and me. Thank you for the constructive work we have done together. And last but not least thank you for inspiring me! You really make the earth a little more beautiful.

Helene van Zutphen