Lead Story

Do-gooders Inc

A new class of entrepreneurs are walking the tightrope between profit and social impact. And they are here to stay

Soumik Kar

Hidden behind the innocuous facade of a typical two-storeyed, small-town shopping arcade in Vapi is a classroom like no other and yet like any other: plastic chairs are arranged in rows surrounded by computer desks lining the whitewashed walls, the students rise in unison excitedly mouthing a sing-song ‘good morning’, their eyes shyly evasive, but these are not impressionable children waiting to be moulded into adults.

In fact, many of them have children of their own considering a significant number are housewives clad in dazzling saris, emerging out of a lifetime spent serving the household, while others are young girls of marriageable age chancing a lasting shot at self-sufficiency. Most of them are school dropouts while a handful are graduates. But what binds all of them is the indomitable spirit that has brought them to LabourNet and Hindustan Unilever’s (HUL) livelihood training centre for National Skill Development Council-approved two-month courses in beautification, workplace skills and retailing. LabourNet runs two centres around Vapi, one downtown and the other around 20 km away at Silvassa, the capital of Dadra & Nagar Haveli. The Vapi centre opened a month ago, while the one at Silvassa has been around for a year. 

The centre has around 75 students in total, more than half of them female. The centre’s employees have to counter socio-economic customs that often discourage female education beyond elementary school as under-educated grooms might be intimidated by educated girls.

However, these are not demure women who take things as they come. Mital Kansagra, a plucky 33-year-old, represents the go-getting attitude of semi-urban India. She is enrolled in the ‘Beauty and Hair Care’ course at the centre and requests me to ask LabourNet to translate the curriculum in Hindi since most students have only studied English for one or two years and aren’t proficient in it.

Many housewives in the course intend to become entrepreneurs and start their own salon or sewing business at home. “Around 70% of students from the tailoring cours

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