Breaking Biases — Employ to Empower
Manish Jain, co-founder and COO of Kinner gets candid about his vision for Kineer, ‘People saw threat, a social norm: I saw opportunity — I saw manpower, jobs and unemployment.’ He falls back on his three-bones philosophy to keep chasing for change, and assist the transgender community.
Looking back, he says the only thing he would have wanted to do differently would be to begin earlier. Looking forward he prides on how the transgender team would soon be independent dealers of packaged drinking water: with talks of setting up factories in Mizoram and Chandigarh in process.
Wishbone to dream your dreams
The idea for Kineer was sowed on the fateful night of December, 2017. After persistently following Laxmiji for several months, Manish finally met her. A meeting which was supposed to end in ten minutes, exceeded not just in time but in expectations. Fresh remains his first encounter with the co-founder. Fiddling for words in her presence, finally Manish gathered his thoughts and spoke about the employment opportunities for the transgender community. Patient listener and a native insider to the community, co-founder Laxmi Narayan Tripathi responded in a tone both determined and experienced: ‘This will not be an NGO but a social enterprise for profit organisation. One which can sustain itself, a company that can expand and grow: to provide a sustainable livelihood option.’
On reaching the point of product they unitedly chose water. They ofcourse saw the commercial benefits in their pick, but also a metaphorical layer. Her words still ring in his ears, ‘I am like water, you pour me, my soul — into any shape and I will take that shape, just like water and I am gender fluid.’ She was the one to come up with the blended name Kineer with roots in Kiner(another name for transgender) and neer(meaning water in hindi). Today, their Kineer is manned and managed by the transgender community.
But they weren’t Kineer when they got their first order. The founder explains how.‘We had a ‘Reverse integration model’ so we started small. We wanted the proof of pudding, someone willing to buy this concept of ours, a purchase order.’ Luckily his friends connected him to Vistara airlines, a TATA group company, and soon he was in talks with the Head of facilities, Mr. Kamal Satsangi. Manish remembers the summer of April 2018 vividly, the passing of those long 45 minutes without reaction by Mr. Satsangi, a phone call and Kineer’s first purchase order. Talking about the way it happened, leaves him amused even today.It was only in July of 2018, that Kineer got registered as a company. By then the deliveries had already begun under another company. Chugging on, work started to roll in, registration and licensing happened, vendor codes were shifted, team was getting hired, and water was being delivered.
Much before it could be understood, Kineer had started acting as a bridge between the larger transgender community and the employing market. Companies began to approach them, for hiring workforce under diversity inclusion. Such incidents highlighted the need to train the community before placements. Collaborating for this initiative, Kineer found support in both — Diversey India, one of the largest cleaning companies, offered a 3 day capsuled-certified training program for employees, and Essar Foundation paid the transgenders 600 ₹ for each day they attended the training. Fostering these trainees, Sodexo was one among the hiring companies to employ 80 recruits in one go.
Backbone that makes you relentlessly pursue it; make it happen
Smiling indulgently, Manish soon begins to speak about his closely-knit Kineer team.‘I think the Kineer family is like an anthill, people don’t know but there are so many things happening beneath.’ Even the founder had failed to see this in his starting days, and confesses how he is still learning. He feels their interconnectedness produces an unmatched and untapped potential — something that interplayed in the early COVID-19 days.
‘In trying times, our efforts have only grown and so have our wings…’ The pandemic that has affected the entire nation, has also left Kineer packaged drinking water unsold. Once that hit a halt, Kineer started cooking meals, tied up with colleges for online classes and also donated dry ration kits. During such challenging times, they pride themselves on being associated with the Robinhood Army. Asserting their choice of direction, Manish explains, ‘We can’t have them stereotyped, they can’t say Kineer is only water, they(transgender members) will live a life of dignity… they will become what they want, they will be everywhere.’
For persistence does pay off and what better way to understand this than the founder’s everyday hacks. So Manish Jain chooses a slice of self motivation every morning, and he does so before his mirror, encouraging his reflection. Reflecting, he feels it’s also a matter of perspectives — and every threat will be an opportunity. Begin with looking at it differently, he asserts; to find the way others haven’t been able to. Then go behind it persistently — for it to become an opportunity.
His closer to home advice is — like Kineer be liquid. Don’t stay stuck with something being the only way you want to do it. His ideas on no single entrepreneurial path, resonates with the other founders. Speaking from his own journey he emphasises on his clear vision — to help the trangenders: this he pursues by selling water, setting up factories, distributing ration kits, indulging in skill development and more. Such clarity he feels, keeps him anchored as a founder.
Funny bone to laugh out the lapses
Laughter is something he chooses for expression, and believes his elder brother to be the best audience for his humour. Translating this into his entrepreneurial role, he practises having a funny bone for all those efforts that failed to float. Visibility, he feels, is still a major challenge. Struggle is working in a society which has ‘self-inflicted itself with a blindfold’ towards identities: towards the transgender community.
He believes, ‘To be a gamechanger, you need to have the bigger players. — if they watch you, work with you they can bring the change much faster.‘ On his decision- making approach, I profoundly remember the analogy he makes of swimming with the bigger whales. Bigger whales will always cover the distance faster, and their impact will sweep the smaller ones paddling around it, in the same direction: if they say they are hiring transgenders, then the change is set in motion for others to follow, that too much quicker. Highlighting Kineer’s customer milestones he recounted the unveiling by the Head of Barclays, India. Starting with a sensitisation program, the concept was unbottled for the members, and so was the packaged water.
’50 years down the road, people should be astonished by the fact that transgenders used to beg, they should find this reality ridiculously funny.’ And the organisation — with its members, directors, and volunteers has the same vision — for which they are selflessly working. The entrepreneur in him defines this as success: when the person who works for the company, stands for the vision, and by the founders. He aspires to be like the founder-role model Ratan Tata with a team that sings of his humility, and with working partners that revere him. He feels, ‘Doing business isn’t the challenge, working with a heart is.’
His parting words leave me, with not just his journey as a founder but also its perfect metaphor, ‘You need three bones — firstly a wishbone to dream your dreams; then a backbone that makes you relentlessly pursue it and make it happen; and since it won’t workout always you need a funny bone to laugh out the lapses.’
This is why Kineer happened, isn’t it…
Based on our interviews: By Shrishti Abrol
About the Startup:
Kineer is an initiative to Empower the Third Gender and other sexual minorities with Employment opportunities. In this regard, Kineer has set up Packaged/ Spring water factories which are managed by the members of the sexual minorities. Kineer is also working with NGOs towards upliftment of individuals undergoing socio-economic crisis by training them on various aspects of facilities management and providing equal employment opportunities.