Urmy Palchaudhury of Astha

Medha Face of the month features individuals who strive to achieve a balance in their lives while at the same time, making a difference in that of others….

Urmy

She always had the spirit to work for the greater possibilities. Life was never mundane for her. At every moment a challenge or an adventure kept her busy either through organizing college festivals, picnics, family get-together, social activities, teaching under-privileged children, going to cremation ground with friends or relatives (the latter not usually considered appropriate for women). Much to the chagrin of wiser people she led a life quite different from many. She always had in her mind the desire to bypass the ordinary, to broaden her vision for the benefit of many, and to evolve as a better human. {xtypo_quote_right}She always had the spirit to work for the greater possibilities. Life was never mundane for her. At every moment a challenge or an adventure kept her busy either through organizing college festivals, picnics, family get-togethers, social activities, teaching under-privileged children, or even going to cremation ground with friends or relatives (the latter not usually considered appropriate for women). Much to the chagrin of wiser people she led a life quite different from many. She always had in her mind the desire to bypass the ordinary, broadening her vision for the benefit of many and to evolve as a better human.{/xtypo_quote_right}

The thought of a mundane routine life did not appeal to her and led her to form something new, something which had vision, innovation and verve. She gave up her scholarship, her medical seat and an MCA degree that might let one conjecture that she was restless in her mind, but in the long run she has shown that she has farsightedness to contribute to society on a much larger scale. She is a risk-taker. In order to learn corporate culture she joined a leading advertising agency. Soon after the birth of her first child, she decided to give up her career in the corporate world.

After meeting the man of her life, marriage and then children followed. From then on, her life took a different turn. But somewhere deep inside flowed the current of lateral thinking and writing, which waited to find its outlet. She knew that whether it was documentation, analysis, case studies, or annual reports, her flair for writing and creative thinking produced high quality content. It was also through her passion for writing that she made many friends.

So, Urmy Palchaudhury, all of 35 years, a mother of two children; took the initiative along with her like minded friends to form an organization named Salt Lake Astha in Feb 2007. This organization was formed with an objective to help create micro entrepreneurs in marginalized communities, especially amongst women.

Urmy's work through Astha

'Astha', means ‘Trust’, and was formed in 2007 and registered as non-governmental organization (NGO). Astha's goal is one of creating self-reliance for marginalized people through its efforts. Astha functions primarily in West Bengal, India. Astha is an umbrella organization, bringing several self help groups together. Astha has a dream of creating livelihood for the marginalized people, especially women. Astha is achieving this dream by identifying local resources, local skills, creating proper linkage between them. They study market demand and harness local skills accordingly. Astha help them by designing products, training them in proper packaging skills, and also facilitates it's networks to help them effectively market these products. The following picture depicts how Astha plans and follows up-

Of the many projects envisioned by Astha, there are two currently functional projects, Astha Vojon (building self reliance through food) and Astha Kutir (building self reliance through handicrafts).

Astha Vojon

Astha Vojon is Astha’s first endeavor and came up as a chain of food outlets aspiring to meet demand of food in the IT industries of Salt Lake, Sector 5 (Kolkata, India). The aim has been to utilize the marketability of a skill whose scope has largely been constrained inside the four walls of kitchen. The business is entirely run by women with the aim to address the following issues.

• Ready availability of healthy and hygienic food; to ensure healthy and hygienic food. Here, dieticians and other medical professionals are consulted.
• Revival of old and lost traditional recipes passed down via mothers and grand mothers. A team of mothers and grandmothers has been formed.
• Maintenance of a appropriate price point for the products and services.

High quality service is provided by an organized group of women and this is achieved through their diligence, efficiency, and the affordable prices being set for the food. Astha Vojon has already become a popular brand name in the IT sector of Kolkata, West Bengal. There is involvement of self help groups, Panchajanya, Sanghati, Sabyasachi in the Astha Vojon project. Through this project 19 women and 13 men have become self reliant by operating food stalls. Astha also utilizes product of other self help groups such as Tulai Panji Rice of Raiganj, Gohona Bodi of Tamluk and Mango Pickle of Malda. These groups are indirect beneficiaries from the Astha Vojon projects.

The current estimated income from monthly business is around INR 5 lacs (500,000), approximately 700-800 lunch boxes (plates) are served daily, that benefits 32 micro entrepreneurs and the average monthly income per person is INR 3500.
These women are now running their business by selling food from stalls, mobile vans or office canteens.

Mobile Van

Furthermore, a mobile van is a self contained micro enterprise linking women directly to the formal economy. A group of three women are given a loan, which is invested in purchasing a vehicle, remodeling of the vehicle and also used as working capital. The mobile unit is operated through three women and a driver distributing lunch, dinner and snack boxes. Products from other self help groups are also mobilized through Mobile Vans.

Introducing The Decentralized Kitchen

Mobile vans introduces the concept of a Decentralized Kitchen, which enables people to operate irrespective of their location. The idea is to help housewives to operate from their own kitchen, enabling them to work from home and as well as earn from it. Astha Vojon has provided them basic training on health, hygiene and packaging.

The Network

Marketing of product is critical in any business. Marketing can be most efficiently achieved through proper networking. Astha plays a role of a facilitator in establishing the network for those entrepreneurs. Networking is done in three ways- by forming network between individuals, facilitating network between institutions, and between existing networks. The following diagram shows networks that already exist or networks that can be formed.

Dreaming Big

Astha Vojon was initially started keeping in mind the food demand in the IT sector. However, the sprawling residential area in and around Salt lake has a huge potential inherent in a captive market. The Rajarhat New Town, which is in the making and is expected to be completed in the next 5 years, will be housing residential complexes as well as Corporate and Govt Offices. This offers the bright prospect of a large customer base. This place may also serve as a hub for micro entrepreneurs that Astha plans to develop from the many other individuals that have an aptitude and interest in this enterprise.

Market Potential and Projected Business Volume

Astha are hoping to establish and realise a dream of the marginalized people by creating a brand name "Astha Vojon" through quality, efficiency and affordability. Astha hopes that it will help the larger population of other self-help groups of West Bengal, and they can open outlets in their own local areas using the trusted brand name of Astha Vojon.

Astha anticipate touching, and making a difference in the lives of larger and larger group of people! They see that this is a mammoth task, and a long journey ahead, which can be achieved through patience and confidence.

You can support Urmy and Astha by visiting Astha’s website- http://www.astha.org.in/

SL Scope Heads(approx)
1 IT Professionals 55,000
2 Upper Middle Class, Salt Lake 150,000
3 Employees in Govt Offices 50,000
4 Newtown Rajarhat 250,000

How one can help Urmy to grow:

The Astha women now understand the need of their customers. They now understand the business potential of a product and the concept of a quality customer service. Leading multinational companies are now approaching Astha Vojon to operate in their office canteen. However, one rented small central kitchen cannot cater to all this increasing demand. And this demand can be met through a Centralized kitchen and help creating 5000 more micro entrepreneurs.

Astha is hopeful that those interested, i.e potentially You, can help Astha Vojon grow through your generous contributions as grant or soft loans!

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