I spot Shashikala’s house in a distance and the first thought that strikes me is the pink colour on the outer walls. Recently whitewashed, it stands out among the other two-room houses in the same row in the Vada Madurai area in Coimbatore. I note a satellite TV connection on the roof as I step inside to speak to Shashikala. Shashikala lives here with her son, daughter-in-law and grandson aged 36, 34 and 5 years respectively. Shashikala at 57, is stocky and her greying hair hints to a lifetime of experience. She speaks to me slowly and steadily in Tamil.
I learn that Shashikala was born and raised in Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Her parents owned a shop that sold silver utensils and her childhood was free of pressing financial issues. One of seven children, Shashikala completed her secondary education and soon found work in the government Taluka office. She got married a couple of years later at the age of 20 to her husband who hailed from Coimbatore. Soon after the wedding, her in-laws started pressurising her to quit her job and join her husband. Her parents also felt the same way so she quit and left for Coimbatore. Shashikala and her husband together started a glass design and supply business. They made glass doors for hospitals and other facilities; and also offered glass printing services.
After fifteen years of marriage Shashikala and her husband separated. She tells me she doesn’t like talking about it so I refrain from asking any questions. Shashikala took charge of the business and the responsibility of raising their only son. Her customers included hospitals and a few colleges from the outskirts of Coimbatore. Shashikala’s son has completed his degree in mechanical engineering and works at a factory close by.
Till about one and half years ago, Shashikala was running her glass business, exporting her material to states such as Kerala. She ran it from a rented facility with about 10 workers employed under her. Her average monthly income was Rs. 25,000. Old age caught up with Shashikala and she found it difficult to commute to her factory 15 kilometres away. Two years ago, Shashikala sold off the business to a trusted employee and started a small retail store closer to home. For capital, she used up her savings and applied for a loan from a microfinance institution (MFI). Few months ago, she was introduced to Kaleidofin and started saving with them to build a corpus for her grandson’s education. She had saved Rs. 6000 up until MayB but after the lockdown had to withdraw Rs. 5000 to meet household expenses.
Based on her experience in engaging with Kaleidofin, she has now taken up the role of a micro-influencer for the organization in her village. Shashikala has also advised her daughter-in-law to save with them.
Shashikala invests Rs. 20,000 as a monthly capital into the retail business and earns about Ra. 10–14,000 in profits. She purchases her stock on a weekly basis from retailers and wholesalers. Shashikala opens the shop early in the morning and works till late night. Her daughter-in-law supports her and they take turns working at the shop. Usually, her son makes trips to the wholesaler to replenish the stock; sometimes if he is busy at work, Shashikala goes instead.
The household spends Rs. 5000 towards groceries, Rs. 3000 on bills and utilities and Rs. 1500–2000 towards recurring health expenses. Shashikala pays Rs. 2300 as her rent for the retail shop. She is also paying Rs. 4000 towards loan instalments for the business. Shashikala’s grandson is only five and is yet to start with the schooling. Her son earns Rs. 15,000 and helps pay for a few expenses.
Shashikala owns a feature phone while her son owns a smartphone. She does not know what he uses it for — as for herself, she refrains from transacting online. She has a bank account and regularly invests in banking products such as Fixed Deposits and Recurring Deposits. She also owns some gold. While she has just started with the business, she has long term plans for it. In the next five years she wants to increase the asset size of the retail store. She is also considering relocating the shop to a better location and is saving towards it. Currently she feels she needs to work on increasing her customer loyalty and retention as it is critical to her business. She does this by taking home-delivery orders for vegetables and fruits for customers who live close by. Shashikala says she has no financial worries at present but her parents’ dismissal about her marital problems has left her with deep feelings of hurt and betrayal.
In a predominantly patriarchal society, Shashikala comes forward as a woman who is completely in charge of her household. She speaks about the satisfaction she feels from seeing her son well-educated and settled with his own family. She manages the family’s finances and also takes all the major decisions for the household.
Her story is of a woman who has managed to rise above her social role and expectations to become a successful entrepreneur.
This story has been developed in partnership with Kaleidofin. A portfolio startup of CIIE.CO. Kaleidofin is a FinTech platform that propels under-banked customers towards meeting their real life goals by providing intuitive & tailored financial solutions.
About the Authors:
Akhil.G is one of the young and bright account managers at Kaleidofin. He manages business operations across southern India and is passionate about working with leading institutional networks to enable goal-based financial solutions/digital payments for over 2 million low-income women entrepreneur-borrowers. He is a classic engineering plus management graduate with a great sense of social responsibility. As an “aspirational district fellow” he has worked on many interesting projects partnering with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India. He tweets @akhtlk
Valerie Mendonca is a Senior Research Associate at CIIE.CO, India’s foremost entrepreneurship centre housed at IIM Ahmedabad. Her research interests are women, entrepreneurs, society and storytelling. She tweets @ValerieHood17.
About Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII):
Bharat Inclusion Initiative (BII) is an incubator platform at CIIE.CO that provides entrepreneurs with the domain knowledge, training, financial support, mentorship, and market access they need to bring inclusive, for profit-business to life. BII’s core design is to promote technology-driven entrepreneurship towards the delivery of affordable services to the “Bharat Segment- the poorest 200 million households in India who survive on less than $5 per person a day” through programs, fellowships, and funding where possible.
The program focuses on solutions leveraging technology, especially the India Stack. It integrates financial inclusion research with entrepreneurship and training to transform these solutions into scalable, viable and high impact businesses. We are keen on partnering with entrepreneurs who are driven by building next-generation digital services for India. Reach out to us at email@example.com or ask your questions in the comments section below.