I love being a staff writer for 3BL Media/Justmeans on topics - Social Innovation, Social Enterprise and Social Entrepreneurs. When I am not writing for 3BL Media/Justmeans, I wear my other hat as owner of Serendipity PR. Over the years I have worked with high-profile, big, powerful brands and organisations within the public, not-for-profit and corporate sectors; and won awards from my industry....
Kalpna Saroj: One of the Few Women Social Entrepreneurs in India
Kalpna Saroj is an Indian social entrepreneur whose rag to riches story reads like a Bollywood script. Born into the caste of an Indian 'Dalit,' where she was formerly an "untouchable" and bullied at school; forced into marriage at the age of 12, and then fought social pressures to leave her husband; finally, overcoming poverty and physical abuse, she becomes CEO of a multi-million dollar company: a true heroine!
Ms Saroj is at the helm of Kamani Tubes, a very successful company, rubbing shoulders with prominent businessmen, and has won awards for her professionalism. When she first came to Mumbai she had nothing; today this social entrepreneur has two roads named after her company.
Her struggle with the adversities of life began at birth where she was held back by India's caste system, an ancient social hierarchy which places people into different categories by birth. Those born into the lower castes have historically faced discrimination. Kalpna Saroj says, "Some of my friends' parents would not let me in their homes, and I was not even allowed to participate in some school activities because I was a Dalit." This social entrepreneur was forced to marry at the age of 12, then moved to Mumbai to be with her husband who was 10 years older, but was shocked to find herself living in a slum. However, she escaped and left a violent relationship with her husband. Leaving a marriage is frowned upon in Indian culture; she was able to do so thanks to her father, who took her back home.
Kalpna focused on getting a job and learnt tailoring to make money. At the age of 16, she moved back to Mumbai and continued working as a seamstress, earning less than a dollar a month. Her entrepreneurial spirit saw her take a government loan to open a furniture business and expand her tailoring work. Working 16 hours a day, her reputation led to her being asked to take over the running of a metal engineering company, Kamani Tubes, which was in massive debt and by restructuring the company, this social enretpreneur started to turn things round.
Now, Kamani Tubes is a growing business, worth more than $100m. Ms Saroj employs hundreds of people, from all backgrounds and castes. In 2006 she won a prestigious award for her social entrepreneurial spirit. She has not forgotten how she started off in life and wants to give justice to the people who work for her; she understands her employees and their need to put food on the table for their family. As a Dalit and a woman, her story is significant in a country where so few CEOs are from such a background. She says, "If you give your heart and soul to your job and never give up, things can happen for you."
Photo Credit: Kalpna Saroj's Official Website