Hill women work on creating better futures for their daughters

On Saturday December 3rd, my journey as an expert for Women on Wings started. Off to India, where I was going to do two assignments. The first was a workshop at Mahila Umang, at the foothills of the Himalayas. Hill women knit the most beautiful products in complicated patterns which are being sold by Umang. Being a knit expert myself I am really impressed by the quality of their work.

By knitting women earn an additional income. This increases their financial independence and self-confidence, because they contribute to a better livelihood for their family and to the education of their children. The company Umang was founded by the hill women who are organized in 78 Self Help Groups (SHG) in various villages. Umang supports these SHG’s with e.g. design, sourcing materials and selling the products. Jointly, they take the decisions in the SHG’s and in the company. The women support each other in many issues, also non-knitting related. Powerful women!!

In the two day workshop at Umang, we started working on the business plan for the hand knit, using the business model CANVAS which enabled them visualize their company and the plan for the future. Umang mainly sells knitted apparels and accessories for the entire family which find their way to the domestic market. Umang’s big dream for the long term is to go international! For the short term Umang will focus on a high end collection for the domestic market and improve its internal systems & processes in order to make their dream come true: Go International!

Umang’s team and fifteen SHG leaders participated in lively discussions. It was good to hear that they already started so many good things which will help improve their results. The team needs a proper system to help them focus on their goal.

We also met some women in the villages who do the knitting for Umang. By listening to their stories we learned how important it is that Umang can make a step forward and creates work for more women. Their income provides a better future to themselves and their families. Educating their children seems their main goal. One of the women told us that her daughter is studying but she’s also very much involved in Umang. The next generation will do better but at the same time appreciate the work of the company of their mothers. Maybe they will become its future leaders.

I tell them that I am the first generation in the Netherlands that is free and independent in making choices of e.g. marriage, study and work. My mother was not allowed to study and she was fired from work when she got married. I got all the opportunities to study and start my own company while raising my kids. And here I am, sharing my knowledge about the fashion industry, totally free and independent. This happened in one generation! This will certainly happen to their daughters!

So women of Umang: Thank you for working together for a better future and for sharing all you stories. We worked on an inspiring plan for Umang’s future growth and I wish that will help realizing your dream: go International, go go go!

And India?? I will be back. For sure.

Joan den Exter