From orphanage to social entrepreneurship: LoC girls" mission "Happy Choice"

While Rah-e-Niswan aims to inculcate entrepreneurship skills and financial management to help in the effective development of the orphan girls, the reason behind opening ladies-only place was to provide womenfolk a safe and hesitation-free environment to shop for their requirements.

Mir Musharaf was 11-year-old and studying in 5th standard when she lost her father to blood cancer. From farthest northern corner of Kashmir, just next to Line of Control (LoC), in Keran Tehsil, Musharaf’s widowed mother found no other option but to admit her daughter to Baseera-a-Tabasum, an orphanage run by Borderless World Foundation in Kupwara town. As there was almost no income in home to provide for food and education of her four children for this single mother. 

“For me Baseera-a-Tabasum became not only my home but it provided me an opportunity to study and live my dreams,” says Musharaf, who passed her Class 10th in 2014 with more than 60 percent marks.   

And for Musharaf the dream was to become a businesswoman. “Alhamdulillah, we have embarked on that journey successfully,” she says, sitting next to her orphanage mate and now business partner, Mubeena Khan.

Musharaf and Mubeena are part of a team running a women social entrepreneurship centre in the outskirts of Kupwara town, which they call ‘Rah-e-Niswan’ – women’s way. 

With the mission women for women, Rah-e-Niswan is a concept of female-only business centre. 

Though the centre right now runs the computer aided embroidery design, tailoring, fabric paint manufacturing and training units but it is the dream project of Musharaf and Mubeena, the sanitary napkin manufacturing that is the main focus and attraction for the women of the area.  

While the centre aims to inculcate entrepreneurship skills and financial management to help in the effective development of the orphan girls like Musharaf and Mubeena, the reason behind opening ladies-only place mainly was to provide womenfolk a safe and hesitation-free environment to shop for their requirements.

“In the far-flung places like ours it is not easy for women to shop in regular market, where they have to deal with men.Gender sensitivity plays important role that is why our team decided to go for women-only centers,” says Mubeena.   

Manufacture and business of sanitary napkins was Mubeena’s idea and when she shared it with her other mates at Baseera-a-Tabasum, Musharaf not only liked the idea but dropped her own business plan to join hands with Mubeena.

“Since my childhood I was interested in paintings and had planned to do some business related to computer aided designing. In fact, I had already done a short course in CorelDRAW but when Mubeena shared her idea with me, I thought this is the best opportunity that I can contribute to my society in a much needed way,” says Musharaf. 

It is the upbringing in an orphanage that taught these young women hard way about the realities and needs of life, which they have to handle themselves without the support of their families.  

“When you are brought up in an orphanage as a girl without your mother being around to take care of your adolescent issues, you learn to deal with the things on your own. That is how the idea came to my mind,” says a confident Mubeena, who is quite aware of what she is doing and why is it necessary for the women in this border district, where huge population of economically backward and educationally unaware people reside.

“Research tells us there are number of girls and women in developing countries who miss up to 50 days of school or work per year because they do not have access to affordable feminine products, and our part of world is not any different” says Mubeena. 

“And resorting to unhygienic practices have dangerous health hazards, like infections and even risk of cancer that is why ours is a step towards awareness and affordability,” Musharaf adds.

However, they hasten to say that if it would have not been for the management of Baseer-a-Tabasum the idea would have never seen the light of day. 

The duo was sent for three-months training to NIRMA Industries in Solapur, Maharashtra. “We received training extensively in handling the machines, grinders and manufacturing by the experts running the same unit in Solapur,” says Musharaf.

Soon after training was completed and the machines were installed, the manufacturing was started at Rah-e-Niswan. “We have named our product ‘Happy Choice’ and is the most affordable in the market as we have priced it at lowest possible rate without making any compromise on the quality,” says Musharaf. However, it’s not available for general sale yet, as they are still searching for “environment friendly packaging material”.  

The effort of these two girls got initial recognition in December last year when ‘Happy Choice’ won the first prize in a business plan competition organised for the entrepreneurs of the Kashmir valley. Happy Choice and another business plan from Rah-e-Niswan, Computer Embroidery Unit were figured among the top 10 plans in the competition organised by CHINAR International, a Non Governmental Organization working on educational and socio-economic initiatives for children and youth in Kashmir, and Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. 

The award entitled them to Rs 3 lakh cash prize, and mentoring, training, marketing and R&D support. 

Though happy for the initial success, the duo says that they have a long way to go to reach a stage when there are many Rah-e-Niswans across the valley and they reach out to as many women as possible with their product in safe and uninhibited spaces.