A housewife from a village in Satara (Maharashtra), who wanted to do something for the Mother Earth. She picked up beekeeping. Initially, she would sell 25 to 50 bottles of honey among her relatives and friends and now she sells close to 500 kilograms of honey in a year. This is the story of Rohini Sandeep Shirke.
She attended a ten-day course at Khadi Gram Udyog, Mahabaleshwar, on how to raise and sustain bees. But she felt she needed to know more before she invests her precious time, energy and money into it. Then she turned to Google for help. Through their educational program, she learned to first use the internet, and then went on to learn how to establish and operate a honeybee plant. Rohini had a lot of questions. But she did not give up, learning more and more, and eventually establishing a successful business.
Rohini was a panellist during the discussion on “Entrepreneurship at The Roots” at Digital Women Awards 2017, along with Neha Barjatya (Head-Biz Marketing, Google India) and Nishat Mukaddam (Founder, WedLista) moderated by Shaili Chopra (Founder, She The People TV).
It was an engaging session on how access to the internet is letting women, from urban and rural setups alike, gather information and confidence required to start their own ventures.
Neha explained that increased internet access and programs like the ‘Internet Sathi’ are making sure that there is no barrier to the amount of information and skills you can acquire. This transcends the language and cultural barriers which discourage many women from acquiring new skills.
“Women who hadn't touched a smartphone, are now making a living by learning off the internet”, says Neha Barjatya, Head of Business Marketing, Google India about the #internetsaathi initiative helping women entrepreneurs in rural India at the #DigitalWomenAwards. pic.twitter.com/c3OXxa4zOU
— Google India (@GoogleIndia) November 19, 2017
There was a time when women had access to limited business avenues. Like running a beauty parlour or a lunch house. Social and cultural restrictions made it impossible for them to pursue business studies or any specific set of skills. They were not given financial support or emotional backing they needed to start something on their own.
We have all known or have heard of women who excelled in academics but were married off at ‘right age’ because the parents could not afford the girl’s interest in higher studies. Most of them knew they had the potential to make a difference in the society, but they were bound.
The cost of higher education was too much. Hence, many such women took up careers as school teachers or ran a small business out of their homes.
Today, women are using the Internet to not only learn new business skills, they are also using social media to promote their ventures. They are googling their problems and finding both technical and emotional support they had been looking for.
Google is more than a search engine. For crores of Indian women, it is a weapon to break the patriarchal shackles and acquire knowledge to stand on their feet.
Rohini says, “I was selling honey to my neighbours, friends and relatives. I started using Facebook and WhatsApp and that expanded my business. Earlier I used to sell 25 to 50 bottles but I sold 500 kg honey this year.”
If you are craving some of that naturally produced golden sweet syrup from her bee farm, over your pita or in your green tea, you are out of luck. Her stock has sold out for the season.
Life though, has a come a full circle for her. When asked about how she has used her knowledge of the Internet, she says, “I have taught four women from nearby villages, how to operate phones – right from how to switch them on, and make calls. And to use the internet. I help seamstresses in my village learn new designs and patterns by showing them pictures on my phone. The local students turn to me, if they need help with grammar or school projects. I, in turn, teach them how to use the internet for learning”.
The new-found liberty and spirit have opened Rohini’s eyes. ‘When I went to nearby villages, I realized how much was yet to be done in terms of development in my village. I went on to fight the election for the Sarpanch’s post in my village, so that I could do something good for the women in my village. And intend to pursue it again next year,’ she said.
Guess how she chose to run her election campaign!