Meet Parvathi, the glove manufacturer from Tamil Nadu
With three children, one employee and a fast-growing business, Parvathi is the archetypal Hand in Hand entrepreneur. There’s just one difference: more than anyone we’ve met, the 52-year-old proves that it pays to invest in your children’s education. Literally.
Parvathi joined Hand in Hand and quickly set about establishing a knitting and embroidering enterprise. It wasn’t wildly successful, she says, but it earned enough to help put her children through university. Business was humming along fine when, a few years back, her son got his first job as an engineer – and along with it his first pair of protective gloves. And his second. And his third. Shocked at the quantity of gloves his workplace devoured, Parvathi’s son suggested she start a new line of business: manufacturing protective gloves. The switch wouldn’t be easy. For one, she would need to import an INR 500,000 (US $8,300) machine from Japan. But as a Hand in Hand Self-Help Group member for eight years, Parvathi knew where to turn.
Women entrepreneurs face huge barriers in India. According to the International Labour Organization the country ranks 120 out of 131 in women’s labour force participation. Rurally, barely one in three women work – 19.5 million fewer than just five years ago. The numbers are borne out in Tamil Nadu, the southern India state Parvathi calls home. More than 20 percent of residents here live below the poverty line, most of them rural. Access to credit can make all the difference.
Breaking the thatched ceiling
Parvathi borrowed the money from her group, imported the machine from Japan and got to work. Although her expenses had grown – materials had to be in ordered in bulk from Coimbatore almost 500 km away – so too did her profits. Parvathi now owns two knitting machines yielding INR 176,000 (US $2,900) a month, INR 54,800 (US $912) in pure profit. Loans to buy two more are pending.
“Ten years ago, I was even scared to go out of the house and speak to anyone,” she says. “Now I have even learned how to speak with bankers.”
Parvathi’s self-confidence isn’t the only thing to have improved. Where once they shared a one-room thatched-roof hut, Parvathi’s family now live in a brand new concrete home. For the first time, the future looks bright.
“I want to safeguard the future of my children with this business,” says Parvathi. And indeed she has. Only a year after starting his career as an engineer, Parvathi’s son is coming to work for the family business. The opportunities, he’d told her, are better.
“I worked hard and they rested,” she says. “Now it is my turn to rest and theirs to work”.
Next case study: Meet Gloria, the former refugee growing crops – and profits