A trailblazer, indeed!
The story took place in Bangalore15 years ago. Diwia Thomas from Kochi was holidaying in the city, wandering the crowded streets , as a footloose, scanning the shopping malls, eateries and the holiday spots. She was literally enjoying her Bangalore days. One fine morning, she came across an interesting advertisement in a local daily. The ad was about a paper bag workshop, which was going to be held in the city. She decided to attend the workshop just for fun as there was nothing serious to attend to that day. Of course, she was curious too. The workshop was interesting and a thought flashed across her mind, “Why I should not start a business?” And that was the beginning of a trailblazing business project—the Papertrail.
That was the time of a global recession. The media were full of news of business downturns and retrenchments across theworld, which affected some of her own friends. It made her thinking of being financially independent and empowering economically weak women around her. Profit making was not in her thoughts. She shared her idea with some of them and the response was lukewarm. Some of them came forward to involve themselves in the project.
The first thing Dewier did was collecting old newspapers in her native Thevara in Kochi. She and her friends made a huge collection of newspapers in a short period and started teaching women, drawn from needy families who were in trying times, the art of making paper bags.
“I did not intentionally start a business, it happened by chance. I started out as a nonprofit venture, to help a few friends who fell on bad times. I saw their difficulties and began with making newspaper bags. Today, we have progressed into a social enterprise and make a range of products from newspaper bags to premium bags and other products”, says Diwia Thomas.
Papertrail is now a full-fledged organisation with seven branches situated in different parts of the city where women make bags and a lot more individuals work from home. Her strength, she says is the enthusiastic and dedicated women working with her.
Realising that the first priority of the venture is to empower women, Diwia believed that if anyone wants to empower a woman, the initial step should be empowering her financially. Papertrail still maintains this as the core objective and many of the bags brought out through the organisation are made by women who are physically unable to leave their homes.
“As a woman I found it miserable when I saw women going through tough times. I came across women who were brutally abused, thrown out of their homes even with little babies. I thought about their difficulties to put their lives back on the right track when their financial status did not help the situation. So I thought of this revenue model for them,where they need not worry about material, capital investment, marketing etc. All they need to do is to make a bag and we will buy it back from them” says Diwia with contentment.
Diwia is very much satisfied and delighted with the support she gets from her family and friends. She says that at times her mother used to wonder looking at the hard work and dedication she put for Papertrail. Her friends used to call her crazy, but help out wherever they could, she says.
Diwia goes on talking passionately about Papertrail. When asked her about the challenges she just smiles and says, “there were no challenges that we could not surmount. I believe if you walk closely with God, He will help you climb every mountain. He brings the easiest solutions and in a timely manner. Sometimes we face a lack of quality materials, so we began importing it. Sometimes some of the women working with us are depressed, suicidal, then I go down to wherever they are (some are in jail, police shelter, convents, homes etc) and bolster their spirit with lots of love and encouragement.”
Diwia’s marketing strategy is to make great looking, unique products that the market wants. So the customers will beat a track to their door. Papertrail now supplies its products to some of India’s best corporates, and exports to countries like Switzerland, Germany, the US, Greece etc. As a step to further flourish Papertrail is going to make its products available online with its own e-commerce platform.
The ladies engaged with Papertrail will get a piece wage for the bags they make. Some of them make from 4000 to 10,000 a month, depending on their skill and productivity.
Diwia strongly believes that Kerala needs more social entrepreneurs to be a helping hand to many people in need of help but don’t have the exposure or platform to make it.
She says to the young generation: Even when you go through the most hazardous time in your life, don’t ever give up. Walk closely with God, He will never fail though the road may look devastated. Believe God is the only one who can make everything new. Always practise prayer, perseverance, love, innovation and discipline. Be compassionate of heart, sharp of mind and loving in character. Then success will definitely come your way.”
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