There is an old saying that when life give you lemons, make lemonade. This has happened in the life of Ahmedabad’s Manjula Vaghela. In 1981, she used to work as a paper picker on the streets of Ahmedabad for a living, earning a measly Rs 5 per day.
Today, at 60, she heads a cleaners’ cooperative with a turnover of 1 crore per annum.
She started the Shri Saundarya Safai Utkarsh Mahila Sewa Sahkari Mandali Ltd. (SSSUMSSML) with just 40 women but, now the organisation has 400 members. The cooperative offers services like cleaning and housekeeping to 45 institutions and societies in Ahmedabad.
Interestingly, a majority of cleaning women are former ragpickers, just like Vaghela. Saundarya Mandali was born after these (40) women came into contact with Elaben Bhatt-founded Self-Employed Women’s Association (Sewa).
A housing society in Ahmedabad
Vaghela said it took her five years to convince the local authorities to register their cooperative since they were not making any product sales. After the registration, the cooperative began with National Institute of Design as their first client. Since then there was no looking back for the Saundarya Mandali. Over the years the company has grown manifold, establishing its footprint across Gujarat.
It started by offering services to societies and then moved on to big-ticket events such as the Vibrant Gujarat Summit.
Women working under Saundarya Mandali can handle vacuum cleaners, high-jet pressure cleaners and carpet shampooing machines, scrubbers and extractors, to do a good cleaning job. Despite hitting the Rs 1 crore turnover mark, Saundarya Mandali still has some obstacles to overcome, particularly digital. The company is targeting to make illiterate women tech-savvy to ensure that they can crack the e-tendering process. Hemabhen Parmar, another associate with the cooperative (her mother was also a member, and her daughter works with Sewa), revealed that e-tenders issued by companies for contracts pose a technological challenge, but she was confident that eventually they would cross this barrier as well.
The story of Ms Vaghela gives us a clear message that if you work hard enough you can improve the chance of tilting the odds of success in your favor.