An Entrepreneur and Mentor

36-year-old Kasinathan Santhirathevi is happy that she earns more and mentors others in her village. Photograph: Oxfam

“Before I took part in Project Direct’s Training of Trainers program, my weekly income was around 10,000 LKR. Now I earn 25,000 every week by selling rice-based food products,”

36-year-old Kasinathan Santhirathevi explains with much delight how her participation in Project Direct’s (PD) Training of Trainers – ToT- program, held in 2015, has changed her life. Conducted by PD’s training provision partner, Affected Women’s Forum (AWF), the ToT program sought to develop the economic leadership of women like Santhirathevi.

Promoting Women Entrepreneurship 

While supporting the participants to enhance their entrepreneurial capacity, the program intends to facilitate the transfer ToT participants’ learnings and experiences to other women in their impoverished and conflict-affected communities. The ToT program provided new knowledge, awareness, and skills to Santhirathevi and other participants in her village drawing on five modules: women’s organizational development and communications skills; women as entrepreneurs; market strategies and women’s power in markets; women’s role in agriculture value chain; and networking and advocacy. As a paddy farmer, previously, all Santhirathevi did was to focus on paddy cultivation and her family responsibilities. During paddy harvesting seasons, she would take orders to make lunch for a limited number of people. But, the ToT program, Santhirathevi said, made her aware that she could be earning a higher income if she spent time and energy to make rice-based value-added food products. Immediately after, she put her learnings to good use.

“After the ToT program, I started to mill rice and sell rice packets and rice flour,” Santhirathevi says. “And I also started to make lunch packets every day. I also make fast-food items and take orders to make meals for special occasions. That’s how I have been able to raise my weekly income up to 25,000LKR, which I had no idea I would be able to make.”

Taking Charge of Business

Santhirathevi has studied up to tenth grade, and she could not continue her studies due to disruptions caused by the ethnic conflict and violence. In her 20s, she had also experienced more brutal and direct effects of fighting, such as forced recruitment, and multiple displacements. When she returned to her village Vaddipoddamadu with her farmer husband in 2008, after the fighting had ended in the Eastern Province, Santhirathevi’s main aim in life was to survive from one day to the next. But, after her participation in the ToT program, mentoring course, and agriculture focused exposure visits, Santhirathevi now lives a life filled with hope and aspiration for a better future for her family. And Santhirathevi’s family is already reaping the benefits of her enhanced economic circumstances, which she attributes to all the knowledge and training she received from PD.

“Earlier I saved around 6000 LKR once in six months,” she says. “Now I save 2000 LKR every week. I bought a milk cow for 65,000 LKR and I can sell each liter of milk for 65 LKR. Before, I helped my husband to cultivate 4 ½ acres out of our 7-acre paddy land, and we sold paddy and rice. Value-added food production training gave me ideas about how to increase my incomes. I am now able to spend money on our child’s education and invest some for improving my business activities.”

Book-keeping and business plan development that she learnt anew on the ToT program has enabled Santhirathevi to keep track of incomes, invest wisely and plan how to improve incomes.

“I now keep records of all transactions, incomes, and expenditures which I did not practice before. Business development plan process gave me all the knowledge and information I needed to know as a small scale entrepreneur. I have adopted good practices I learnt from the training in managing not just my business activities, but the overall household economy, too. I am also able to help other women I mentor to do their business development plans.”

Santhirathevi has been able to induce an attitudinal change in her husband, who had not previously helped her in household chores as those were deemed to be exclusively her responsibilities.

“At the end of each training session, I would come home and share what I learnt with my husband,” she says. “Gradually he changed. He has allowed me to cultivate three acres of paddy land on my own with hired labour and use that income for my business activities. He also helps me with household chores and tends to my milk cows when I am busy. We now share the workload which frees me up to do my food processing and production related activities.”

Sharing the Learnings 

Santhirathevi has conducted training sessions in her village community to share all key learnings and knowledge she gained from the ToT program among 25 other women. Already, 10 women who had previously depended solely on paddy farming for income generation have started new rice-based income generation small ventures or expanded farming to other appropriate crops production.

“Out of those ten some women have started to cultivate groundnuts, finger millet, etc., and some are making rice-based value-added products,” Santhiraveli says. “We have connected them with Oxfam supported BRIDGE market to sell their products. I am also sending my products to the BRIDGE market through them. After my training, women from my group have convinced their husbands to share the workloads at home, and they help each other in farming and business activities.”

She is also a mentor to poor women who lack both capacity and knowledge to establish and conduct value-added food production enterprises. Santhirathevi’s efforts in this respect have already come to fruition: a poor woman in her neighbourhood that she mentors is days away from establishing a value-added food preparation business.

Reaping Benefits 

Mid 2015, Santhirathevi received three bushels of seeds paddy enough for a one-acre cultivation. Harvest from that one acre has evidently increased from 19 sacks to 32 sacks. Santhirathevi  and other seeds paddy recipients in her village have registered themselves as a seeds paddy growers group, and they have sent their seeds paddy samples to obtain government Agriculture Department’s certification.

“Seeds paddy we got from Projects Direct gave us more harvests,” she says. “And rice plants from those seeds paddy proved to be less vulnerable to diseases, too. We have kept aside seeds paddy for the next season. I want to sell seeds paddy, which fetches 2000 LKR for one sack, and normally you get 1100 LKR for mixed seeds.”

For someone who scraped through life, weighed down by economic hardships, Santhirathevi has made quick progress thanks to all the assistance, training and mentoring she received from PD. Enhanced economic empowerment and nurtured leadership qualities have infused new confidence in Santhirathevi and strengthened her capacity to make savvy business decisions to achieve prosperity and progress for her and her family.

“I have worked tirelessly to achieve the results we are enjoying today. I was assisted by Projects Direct to uplift my economic situation. Nobody else gave me a helping hand before the project arrived in our village. I am now doing well, and I am happy I can help others to enhance their income earning capacity.”