Some ventures are started purely for self advancement; some for the benefit of others. But, for Uma Raj the combination of the two is what makes a successful entrepreneur. Wishing to be more than a homemaker and a mother, Uma decided to turn her small ideas into income-generating self-employment opportunity. Taking a fancy to jute, she trained in making bags out of the material. But, it took five years for her to plunge headlong into the business. Fear of failure was one reason, lack of finance another. “I was scared of taking risks. I needed to be sure that I could recover whatever money I put into the business. My husband was in a government job and we could just manage the family with his income. The little money he would give for running the home, I used it to start my business.”

She sent the first set of bags with her husband to his office and the response was overwhelming. Slowly orders started pouring in.

It was at an exhibition in Kanchipuram that Uma realised that she could make profit while serving others. Under the women empowerment programme of the State Government she was asked to train women from village of the district in jute product-making. She conducted five programmes. “I was happy that I could make a difference in these women’s life. They could be self-employed and have a stable income. This sparked in me the want to contribute to women’s empowerment.”

In 2004, she registered the Sugha Public Welfare Association, a conglomeration of 300 women’s self help groups, and offered training in jute bag and jewellery making, tie and dye, screen printing, doll making. She also offers beautician and culinary courses. “I charge a minimum fee for the training. People will not take it seriously if I offered training for free; moreover I have personal needs to meet. I tell every woman who comes to me for training to use what they have learnt here. If you put money into something you should be able to make it back.”

For Vinodini, the training has helped build self-confidence in her. “I attended a week-long training in jute product making and now have started making it at home. I am planning to start a unit soon.” Uma has trained 3000 women so far. She regularly conducts eye camps, cancer awareness programmes and exhibition of products made by her students.

Sugha Welfare Association is at Bharathidasan Colony, 5 Street, K.K. Nagar. Ph: 94443 41194.

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