One of the most backward districts in India in terms of literacy and sex-ration, Rajasthan has traditionally been dominated by a strongly patriarchal, feudal and caste-centred society. However, a rise in entrepreneurship is paving the path for women empowerment.
The sex ratio at birth (SRB) has been on the rise every year since 2013, according to the Rajasthan State Resource Centre for Women. Complementing this growth are a slew of women who have broken the mould and achieved success in entrepreneurship.
Here’s a look at these women entrepreneurs from Rajasthan who have scripted success stories:
Princess Diya Kumari
Princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur started her philanthropic social outreach initiative Princess Diya Kumari Foundation (PDKF) in 2013. An active proponent of women’s rights, she aims to uplift the underprivileged in Rajasthan, with a strong focus on women and girls.
According to her, Rajasthan has a legacy of strong women who have overcome societal biases to prove their mettle right from the medieval times. The PDKF works towards empowering women to ensure sustainable livelihoods, improving their standards of living and creating a healthy socio-economic environment.
Recently, Airbnb partnered with PDKF to help rural women in Rajasthan to achieve financial independence, by helping them become hosts and opening their homes to tourists.
Surbhi Agarwal was involved in her father’s specialty hospital in Jodhpur before she decided to follow her passion for art and helping underprivileged women.
In 2016, she established The Art Exotica, a manufacturing and exporting startup of Indian handicrafts and textiles. The startup works with rural artisans from Rajasthan and Gujarat to manufacture Indian home décor products, and these exquisite products are exported internationally.
Surbhi started with an investment of Rs 27,000 from her garage; today, The Art Exotica operates on a B2B model and exports to countries like Germany, France, The Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.
Renowned as ‘The Gaultier of the East,’ fashion designer Rina Dhaka was brought up in a conservative household in Abohar, Rajasthan. Her father, a farmer, wanted her to turn ‘fair-skinned” after a certain age and get married early on in life. But Rina wanted the freedom to live life on her own terms. Her decision to venture into fashion designing in 1980s was fuelled by her love for freedom.
Over the last two decades, Rina has designed clothes for international bigwigs like Naomi Campbell and Uma Thurman. She has also showcased her work at The Louvre, Paris, and Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In 2008, Alka Sharma founded Aaravan to preserve the Rajasthani technique of Dabu (mud-resist block printing) known for its exquisite craftsmanship and legacy. A textile graduate from Jaipur, Alka currently resides in Udaipur and has been working closely with indigenous rural communities to manufacture garments, home furnishings and accessories.
Aaravan also has a menswear and children’s line, apart from a home furnishings range. All these products feature distinct motifs and designs that are created by a team of designers, and then executed by hand by the artisans. The process also involves the use of indigo dyeing that is practised in Akola near Udaipur.
Belonging to a traditional family from Rajasthan, Anuradha had shattered all stereotypes when she decided to turn entrepreneur. She recalls, “The idea of ‘working women’ was quite alien to my culture when I started off.” Her aim was to empower skilled, underprivileged women learn English for better employability.
Anuradha started out by posting interactive video modules on her Facebook page and received an overwhelming response. This led to the launch of an Android app in December 2016, which enables the users to learn English through Hindi and Bengali. Today, Multibhashi enables women to learn English through 10 Indian languages. It has been downloaded by over a million users until now.
Founder and CEO of Frontier Markets, Ajaitha Shah wanted to do corporate law after her graduation from Tufts University, but her interest in microfinance took her to the rural hinterlands in India. She realised that millions of people live without electricity in India, and decided to solve this problem.
In 2011, Ajaitha founded Frontier Markets to take clean energy solutions to every home in rural parts of Rajasthan, her home state. She has trained and transformed over 4,000 local women into entrepreneurs. By 2025, Frontier Markets plans to grow to one million women entrepreneurs to drive economic empowerment in the rural sector.
Purnima Singh and her husband, both from Jaipur, quit their cushy corporate jobs to start a papier mache handicrafts business a few years ago. They train and employ women from rural villages in Rajasthan, enabling them to produce baskets that are woven from grass, and a variety of terracotta products.
The duo started with an initial investment of only Rs 5 lakhs, and has clocked a turnover of Rs 1 crore this year. This B2B startup currently has a team of 35 skilled home-grown papier mache women artists from five villages and clients in Europe, Canada, North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Singapore.
Also Read: Women Power: These Entrepreneurs Are Torch Bearers Of Social Change
(Edited by Athira Nair)