A photo of a cheerful woman in a bright yellow saree sitting beside her husband weaving a basket, adorns the walls of the Ujjivan Head Office. Her smile is infectious, but not many know of the story behind that smile.
Just recently, she – her name is Rangamma – visited the Ujjivan branch office to avail of her 6th cycle loan of Rs.100000 (USD 1800). All the other group members present at the branch look up to her and say, "She is so successful and happy."
Along the Mysore highway, 50 kilometres from Bangalore, is the district of Ramanagara where Rangamma who has never been to school, developed her entrepreneurial spirit. Rangamma, a mother of 4, hails from Maddur. She moved to Ramanagara after her marriage and has lived there since for the last 30 years.
Before Rangamma joined Ujjivan, life was harsh for her and her family. Just after she got her elder daughter married, she was diagnosed with cancer. Family and financial troubles led to her husband becoming an alcoholic. The exorbitantly high interest rates charged by money lenders added to the financial burden. Her miseries did not stop there. A few years later, she had a severe accident where doctors told her that she might not live. But Rangamma says that with the grace of God, she is still alive and living a healthy life.
Journey with Ujjivan
Rangamma has been with Ujjivan since 2007. She availed of loans from Ujjivan to develop her business and improve her lifestyle over the years. Rangamma comes from a family of basket weavers and she and her husband continued the tradition which became their source of livelihood. She initially took a loan of Rs.8000 to buy more raw materials for her business. She purchased bamboo from Shimoga, Belgaum and Maddur, as bamboo grows extensively along the Western Ghats.
As her business grew, there was not enough space to house all the material. The finished items could not be exposed to excessive heat and rain hence they needed a closed shed for storage. She availed a housing loan of Rs.30000 to construct a shed for that purpose.
Rangamma and her husband initially started by making products for silk rearing. But they soon realised that they should not restrict their target customers to only silk rearing professionals. They soon diversified into weaving baskets, mats and fans, by availing of a higher business loan from Ujjivan and expanded their customer base.
The couple employ 15 piece rate workers who are paid between Rs.100-150 a day. Apart from making her own weaving products, Rangamma, using her business acumen, decided to increase and trade her stock. They purchase readymade weave items from Kerala, which she admits, are of much better quality. Sales of some of the items are seasonal. For example, huge baskets are bought during festive seasons. They are used to keep flowers and sweets as well as to carry the Hindu bride as part of Hindu rituals. Ujjivan's festival business loan provided an opportunity for Rangamma to finance her business during the festive season. She availed of a festival business loan of Rs.30000 to cater to the increase in demand.
Basket weaving to new business ventures
Rangamma's sons eventually caught the business bug. The enterprising nature of Rangamma and her son encouraged them to avail Rs.40000 from Ujjivan. They used the money to open a mobile juice store on the main road. Unfortunately, the venture was not successful. However, not deterred, Rangamma availed another loan of Rs.70000 and helped open a small provision store, which has been doing good business for the past year.
She replies, "Tea, coffee, bananas and cold water." She runs the shop along with her son providing him the much needed guidance and mentoring.
Realising the benefits of loans from Ujjivan, Rangamma's daughters also availed of loans from Ujjivan after their marriage. They use the business loans to keep the art of basket weaving alive.
Tradition versus modernity
Rangamma and her family who are loyal to the art of weaving, actively and wilfully passed it on to the next generation. She says that the demand for bamboo weave items will never come down. She is confident that nearby villagers and city dwellers will continue to buy products made from bamboo. She feels that despite the prominence of plastic products, the richness of the bamboo will never fade away.
When asked about her future plans, Rangamma confidently says that Ujjivan's financial support will help nurture her new business idea as she eagerly waits for the next loan.