Meet Mageswari, the toy shop owner bringing joy to Pondicherry’s children

By Shivani Kochhar

Mageswari, a toymaker’s daughter, had always dreamed about owning a toy shop. But with no secondary school education and few assets to her name, her dream was destined to never become reality.

That’s life in India, where two out of three working households earn less than 1,000 INR (US $15) per month. Mageswari’s was one of them. She also had a son to worry about.

It runs in the family

Inspiration struck Mageswari’s brother: they could team up to open a toy shop together and sell their father’s hand-carved wooden toys. After all, in business two heads are better than one. But Mageswari’s brother also lacked a credit history or assets, and even microfinance lenders would not consider giving them a loan.

Pondicherry, India

A helping hand

That’s when Mageswari heard about Hand in Hand. The 40-year-old joined a Self-Help Group five years ago with the intention of securing a loan to bring their business idea to fruition. After completing her training, she pooled what little savings she had with a microloan from Hand in Hand India, bought the necessary equipment and rented a shop in the centre of Pondicherry.

The dream team

The toyshop was a huge success, reaching a monthly turnover of 57,000 INR (US $880). Brother and sister employ four of fellow Self-Help Group members, spreading their success around the community. “Other toy shops in Pondicherry only sell plastic toys – they are cheaper than our wooden toys but they also last less long,” says the soft-spoken but self-assured Mageswari. These toys leave a legacy.

Mageswari’s brother, a born entrepreneur, took the initiative to reach out to local schools using a mail marketing campaign and the local press. The schools now place large orders for their toys. “I couldn’t have done this without Hand in Hand’s training and support,” he says. The siblings have even expanded the product range to include specialist Montessori toys.

A fairytale ending

Today, Mageswari has a degree of financial independence she could never have dreamt of before, along with a television and refrigerator to prove it. Most importantly, she can pay for her son’s college education. Before the toy shop, annual fees of 75,000 INR (US$1,166) made college unthinkable. Today, her son is in his second year of electrical engineering.

“We plan to expand our business by buying our own premises and additional machinery,” says Mageswari. Watch this space: maybe one day this brother-sister act will build their own toy shop empire.

Mageswari’s results

Toy shop earns 57,000 INR (US $880) a month

Able to put her son through college

Employs 4 staff from the community