Meet Savitah from Kanchipuram, who’s gone from paper dreams to paper plates

By Shivani Kochhar

Savitah’s paper-plate business was making no profit at all. The 26-year-old newlywed had little experience of business. But she did have a drive to succeed.

A woman on a mission

Savitah was inspired by her friends in Bangalore to go into business. Most of all, she admired the bravery of these female entrepreneurs for breaking the status quo: just 27 percent of women participate in the labour force at all, compared to 79 percent of men. Savitah initially attended a Self-Help Group to finance a paper-plate-making machine. One thing led to another: she completed bookkeeping training and realised that 85 percent of her total costs went on raw materials, preventing her from making a profit.

Savitah put every effort into sourcing cheap materials, knowing they could make or break her business, searching as far afield as Delhi (2,200 km away). In the end, she managed to find a supplier much closer to home in Chennai.

The secret to success

Today Savitah consistently undercuts her competitors – and watches her sales soar. With her savvy sourcing, she maintains a healthy 27 percent profit margin. This is boosted by the sale of off-cuts to paper merchants who use them to make recycled paper. It’s business-smart and environmentally sustainable. Her monthly net income, once zero, is now 21,500 rupees (US $350).

Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu

Independent woman

Most of Savitah’s income has been reinvested in the business, but she keeps a little for herself so she can feel more independent in her daily life. “When I leave the house now, I don’t need to ask my husband for money,” she says.

Her husband questioned the need to buy a second machine but Savitah’s reasoning was as simple as it was compelling: “Anyone who buys a paper bowl will also need a paper plate, so let’s buy that machine, too.” Although she’s an entrepreneur at heart, Savitah says, “Before joining the Hand in Hand group, I would not have been confident to make a decision like that on my own.”

Team leader

Savitah exudes a quiet confidence and determination, and since she first joined the group she’s persuaded five new members to join. Her peers chose her as their group leader, a role that entails managing meetings, teaching basic business skills and encouraging members to start their own businesses. A fast learner herself, she observes: “Sometimes it takes members so long to get up to speed with the concept; you have to be patient until they understand the approach.”

A working mum

Now 31, Savitah is expecting her first child but is confident that she will continue on her path as an entrepreneur and group leader. “I enjoy being independent and helping others to be independent, too,” she says.

Savitah’s results

Earns 21,500INR (US$ 350) net income per month

Voted to be the leader of her Self-Help group

Has financial independence