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How Himalaya is fuelling an entrepreneurial wave among rural women

Himalaya Wellness Company has positioned itself as a brand that cares about not only enriching people’s lives, but also safeguarding the environment. With their “head-to-heel” range of products, Himalaya aims to provide a holistic solution to everyday ailments. Today, Himalaya has successfully been able to harness the science of Ayurveda through cutting-edge research to become a brand that is safe, gentle, and trustworthy. The pandemic and the strain in our economy have accelerated women’s need to work and earn to support their families. To address this pain point and facilitate rural entrepreneurship with training and creating micro-enterprises for women, Himalaya Wellness Company set up Project Lakshmi in 2017.

Through Project Lakshmi, the aim is to empower rural women who aspire to be self-employed, but face difficulty accessing entrepreneurship training and finding opportunities. The company has connected with local NGOs and intends to engage more women in profitable income-generating activities by providing them with livelihood opportunities and training on selling more and earning more. ‘Lakshmi’ is a sincere effort to give each woman in rural India and their family a chance to lead a better life.

In an exclusive conversation with Adgully, Rajesh Krishnamurthy, Business Director, Himalaya Consumer Products Division, speaks at length about Project Lakshmi, on women being key change agents in ensuring socio-economic progress and sustainable development, how the company is nurturing the entrepreneurial mindset of rural women, and more.

Please tell us more about Project Lakshmi, the initiative from Himalaya Wellness Company. What is the objective of the project and how is it going to benefit brand Himalaya?

We believe women are key change agents in ensuring socio-economic progress and sustainable development. Even after years of developmental programs and initiatives driven by several organisations, setbacks like limited access to education, social norms, and gender disparity around economic opportunities still exist, particularly in rural India. Therefore, apart from ensuring education for girls from a young age, one of the most effective ways to sustainably empower women is to provide vocational education and entrepreneurial training.

Through Project Lakshmi, we aim to empower rural women who aspire to be self-employed, but face difficulty accessing entrepreneurship training and finding opportunities. We have connected with local NGOs and intend to engage more women in profitable income-generating activities by providing them with livelihood opportunities and training on selling more and earning more.

Himalaya Center for Excellence (HCE) curates customised content and organises training programs in local languages, covering topics on product knowledge and selling skills, negotiation skills, and objection handling to prepare them for their business. The benefit here for Himalaya is that just by welcoming Lakshmis to the Himalaya family and providing them with the needed support, we help them help themselves become independent, uplift their families, and ultimately enhance the overall economic productivity of their communities.

When was the project initiated, and what is the duration of the project? Is it a part of the company’s CSR?

This initiative by team Himalaya BabyCare is an ongoing initiative launched countrywide in 2017. Beyond CSR, Project Lakshmi intends to nurture the entrepreneurial mindset of rural women by offering equal opportunities backed by vocational training. This helps in empowering them to achieve improved livelihoods and better standards of living for themselves, their families, and communities.

How has this project progressed, and how do you plan to measure its success? Is there an end objective or any expectations set?

Considering the challenges in rural areas, Project Lakshmi has had a steady start, with numerous rural women showing a willingness to sign up for the training programs through local NGOs. So far, we have organised over 700 training programs, trained over 2,000 women across Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Odisha, and helped over 1,000 women become self-sufficient. Our momentum slowed down during the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, we are at full throttle again.

Of course, the success of this project in terms of numbers or statistics does matter, but what is important and motivates us the most is how we have touched people’s lives and the degree to which we have enabled them to improve their standard of living. While we aim to better the numbers and statistics in the years ahead, our ultimate objective is to play our part in bringing about a progressive change in society by empowering rural women.

How does this project work? What has been the planning process? What methodology has been followed to identify the right women for the training?

Team Himalaya works in association with local NGOs for this project as it involves voluntary participation of rural women. While anyone and everyone eager to become self-sufficient is welcome to participate, our objective is to get more and more women to take their first step toward financial freedom. Based on the number of participants we receive through NGOs, we line up weekly/ monthly classroom training programs in local languages imparting product knowledge and skill training on selling, negotiation, and objection handling. Besides, we provide marketing andpromotional inputs, product samples, and conduct interactive sessions with Lakshmis to resolve their queries and apprehensions.

You have trained over 2,000 women across 13 states so far. How do you plan to extend this to other states, and what kind of numbers you are targeting in the next 3 years?

Over the next three years, we plan to expand our reach to 20 states with the help of our NGO collaborators. We aim to further extend our coverage of Lakshmis to 10,000, with a target of achieving 100% self-sufficiency for Lakshmis through income-generation opportunities. We are working on ramping up our training team, introducing reward programs for performers, and strengthening our Lakshmi team by adding Super Lakshmis (supervisors/ managers) towards boosting participation and the performance of Lakshmis.

What kind of role has technology played in engaging with the women population? How do you plan to grow Project Lakshmi and make it bigger in the years to come?

While technology has become the essential facilitator in urban setups, organising live online training programs is quite a challenge in rural regions due to roadblocks like lower usage of mobile phones/ smartphones, connection issues, and network constraints, particularly in remote and hilly terrains.

Considering these challenges, we are in the process of developing short, engaging training videos that are easy to download and can be viewed and shared anytime, anywhere. By expanding our Lakshmi training force, focusing on training Super Lakshmis, and introducing exciting rewards/ incentives for top performers, we are set to maximise our reach and optimise the project’s success in the years to come.

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