This start-up by young woman is empowering rural women in rural Maharashtra

Manjari Sharma is the Founder of c, a foodtech startup that aims to empower one million rural women. The startup is just one year old but it has enabled over 1100 women entrepreneurs through an initiative impacting 40+ villages in rural Maharashtra. Spare a few minutes to know more about her work.

A line that resonated throughout Manjari Sharma’s travels through three districts of Bihar during her project while at IIM-Calcutta was ‘Sister, what more can we do?.

Five years later, this would be the impetus for establishing  FarmDidi, a tech-led food startup that is empowering women in rural Maharashtra to manufacture high-quality food products and make an income.

Manjari worked with Bihar government

In 2016, as part of her IIM project, Manjari worked with the Bihar state government to understand the state of women’s empowerment. She recalls, “I spent around a fortnight in the state, and for the first time saw the huge feminisation of agriculture in rural India. Men had moved to the cities for work, while women were driving the economy – be it agriculture, taking care of families, procuring potable water, working in the fields, or doing household chores. The amount of multi-tasking I saw was crazy.”

During the tour of Begusarai, Khagaria, and Patna districts, she interacted and interviewed women from different villages – conducting surveys, focus groups, and discussions to understand women’s empowerment.

Power of SHGs

And here’s where she saw first-hand the power of self-help groups (SHGs). Manjari was pleasantly surprised by the smooth functioning of the SHGs. “The meetings had a very strong agenda, the discussions were cut-to-cut with no waste of time. They were also taking actions based on these meetings whether it was a sanitation problem or how to utilise funds for different purposes.”

She was happy to see this empowerment wherever she went, but it clearly wasn’t enough.

Launched Didi Business
She launched a pilot for an app called Didi Business, where women entrepreneurs could list their products and directly sell to the consumers, and onboarded around 100 SHGs. But she found gaps when it came to quality of products, understanding food safety and hygiene, or upgrading infrastructure.

On the demand side, she tried to arrange B2B buyers like Horeca players, but found that SHGs were not being paid on time, were being disrespected, and realised that many were only interested in getting products at the cheapest price, without caring much about quality. Manjari soon started working on training the SHGs – with a kind of mini-MBA entrepreneurship programme that covered all food safety components and business aspects.

Work model

The Farm Didi process is simple. It begins by partnering with local NGOs who are already working with SHGs in the area, for example the Swades Foundation in Raigad. The NGO helps Farm Didi identify “ambitious” SHGs with a good background. Next, the women in these groups are trained and if their product is onboarded, they are also helped with recipes.

Successful venture
Farm Didi offers 20 SKUs that include pickles, papads, chutneys, and gift boxes. All products are preservative-free. The didis follow local recipes and methods of processing and preparation. For the festive season, they will engage in diya making and handicrafts. Manjari is the Founder and Chief Didi, and works with a 16-member team.

If she can do it, you can also do it. What’s stopping you? Share your comment in the comment section below and Chalgenius is always there to provide all kind of support to you. Be free to call us @8910430165

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