Written by: Tasneem Akbari Kutbuddin

Tasneem Akbari Kutbuddin has done her masters in Journalism & Communication and has consistently written for leading publications. She also runs a Bohra Women Entrepreneurs group on Facebook where she engages with female entrepreneurs from the Dawoodi Bohra community and encourages them to share their stories and spark meaningful conversations. In this piece, she talks about the entrepreneurial spirit showcased by women during Covid-19 lockdowns.

It has always fascinated me how women, in their own capacities, have paved a way for themselves regardless of their education and made the most of the opportunities available to them. Watching these women add to their family income, gain their own financial freedom and turn their skills and passions into a profession has been inspiring to say the least. My father always said, ‘If you want to make a difference, first start with your community.’

With this thought in mind, it has always been my mission to organise a forum on the grassroots level for community women where everyone has the opportunity to grow their work and business. Thus in 2012, I formed a members only Facebook group named ‘Bohra Women Entrepreneurs’ to bring women together in exploring their creative niches through interaction and advertisement. Today, the group boasts more than 7000 members and continues its mission of identifying and showcasing women’s stories so that they motivate and empower others from the community and beyond.

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, many businesses all over the world took a hit. Families and individuals were affected either financially or psychologically. Some lost close family members or friends, lost livelihoods and were even displaced from their homes.

But many also showed that in every adversity there is an opportunity. Home based women entrepreneurs showed a positive and courageous spirit utilising their skills and talents to produce homemade products like baked goods, food items, snacks, cosmetics, soaps, handicrafts, paintings, bags, clothes, jewellery, and home utility items to name a few.

Two particular ventures from Tamil Nadu, India, which emerged during the pandemic, caught my attention; one a comprehensive shopper’s stop and the other a foodie’s dream stop. Here’s a bit about the two:

MaheelaPower.com

Samina Lal and Zainab Akil of Chennai came up with an ecommerce platformcalled Maheelapower, an online shopping marketplace where handmade and homemade products made by women are sold. This was to help enable home based women entrepreneurs to grow and scale up their business as many had been struggling to make ends meet due to the pandemic.

Samina and Zainab formed a formidable pair to lead the venture. Samina has long been into community service as a part of the Burhani Women’s Association, a Dawoodi Bohra home Industry initiative, and had a know how of the talent pool around her. Zainab works with an IT firm in the city and brought her skills to the table creating a platform for online presence that looks to empower home based women entrepreneurs by reaching out to a wider customer base. That’s how ‘Maheela (woman) Power,’ a social digital venture was born.

Samina and Zainab

‘Our mission is to empower women through technology with our mutual collaboration of expertise in different areas. One being an experienced home entrepreneur and the other with extensive technology and product development background,’ says Zainab.

Currently, they have sixteen women entrepreneurs on their platform including two senior citizens. They have partnered with Burhani Women’s Association, as it also provides financial help to women for medical, education and home needs with the funds received from the sales of goods. The other organisation is Nandri Trust which trains underprivileged women in tailoring and making bags, gift items, cases and other utility items.

This platform has begun fostering the growth of technologically challenged women and looks to widen its foray in its mission to empower women.

The Kusni – Purely Bohri

The Dawoodi Bohra Community prides itself of its own unique cuisine. Many women and men today are running their own home based food ventures or cloud kitchens. The recent one to catch my eye was Coimbatore based ‘The Kusni – Purely Bohri.’

With the gloom of lockdown and ample time on her hands, Farida Kagalwala was thinking of ways to survive through the difficult times when her husband Hussain, came up with the idea to bring back the time when his father used to make the lip-smacking masalawala aloo (spiced potatoes) and chana bateta (chickpeas and potatoes), a Bohri staple.

Farida and Insiya

Farida started small and before she knew it, orders started pouring in. Gradually with emerging confidence, she added a few more dishes like dal (lentils), keema (mince meat) samosas, chicken 65 and many others.

Soon they had already moved from snacks to full course meals serving larger groups. They also started weekly lunch subscriptions with minimal signups.

‘Today we are sending across 15 lunch packs to different locations in Coimbatore. We are a team of three. My husband takes care of the marketing part. My sister-in-law Insiya and I decide the menu, cook, pack and make deliveries, says Farida.’

It is amazing that by uplifting each other, women can do wonders for an entire community and society at large. When we talk about women empowerment, it is this camaraderie, this sisterhood that we need to acknowledge. It is women like these who have shown leadership through entrepreneurship.