‘You can do well by doing good’ is a mantra I learned during one of my first visits to India as a volunteer for Women on Wings. These words were uttered by William Nanda Bissell, the chairman of Fabindia, a company that connected rural craftsmen, weavers, and artists from across India to urban markets. The meeting with Bissell left a profound impact on me and helped connect the dots between my life as a management consultant in The Netherlands and as a volunteer consultant (‘expert’) working with community owned companies in rural India. It helped me understand that these are not two separate worlds. It helped me understand I was not in India to ‘help’. I was there to work together with my Indian colleagues craft a better future for all of us. My connection with Women on Wings grew into an enriching experience. An experience which benefits myself as well as my clients in India, The Netherlands and across the globe.

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Women on Wings: a social enterprise

Women on Wings is a social enterprise which was started almost 15 years ago by Dutch female entrepreneurs Ellen Tacoma and Maria van der Heijden. Ellen and Maria’s drive to start Women on Wings was born with the single idea “to take families in rural India out of poverty through sustainable economic development”. Their reasoning was that if they could share their business know-how with organizations on the ground, they could speed up job creation and break the cycle of poverty in rural India. The aim of Women on Wings is to co-create 1.000.000 jobs for women in rural India. The organization’s efforts contribute to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Focus lies on business partners in food and agriculture, textile, and forestry.

The net, not the fish

The name Women on Wings is inspired on the notion of giving women in rural India wings to support themselves and their families. In addition, the ‘wings’ are a metaphor for sustainable business and jobs growth. The mechanism deployed by the organization is to recruit voluntary experts in The Netherlands and match them with partners in India. By exchange of knowledge, experience and hands-on work, the experts and their Indian counterparts create sustainable business value. They strike a deep connection on their mission to drive business growth which in turn drives growth in jobs. Experts and their partners collaborate on the ground in India and through virtual cooperation by means of Zoom, Teams, and other online meeting tools. The Indian partners are not funded by Women on Wings. They are given the tools to build their own sustainable businesses. By doing so, they safeguard their long-term survival and improve the livelihoods of the people working with them.

Realizing growth

Rangsutra Crafts is one of the first partners working with Women on Wings. Rangsutra is a company of artisans from remote regions of India: the deserts of Rajasthan, the regions of Varanasi and Manipur in the East. Rangsutra works with various producer groups and each group is skilled with unique characteristic and traditional techniques like embroidery, weaving and printing. Traditional motifs and products are developed in contemporary style for the domestic (Fabindia) as well as the international (IKEA) market. India’s rich craft heritage is represented in top-quality hand made products. Rangsutra and the Women on Wings experts have been very successful in expanding the company’s customer base while maintaining its social mission.

The story of Rangsutra is one of many. Over the years, we have seen Women on Wings’ impact grow to a point where we can now report close to 300.000 jobs co-created.

Showing resilience in difficult times

At the time of publishing this blog post, India reports the highest peak in COVID-19 deaths. Due to a devastating second wave of Coronavirus in April and May, Indian hospitals are out of beds and life-saving oxygen equipment. People literally die in the parking lots outside hospitals and in their homes. Given the bureaucratic complexity in India, we can only guess the official number of cases and deaths. We can be sure the reported 30 million cases and 360.000 deaths is an underrepresentation of the real situation.

Many of our Indian business partners are affected by COVID-19. Everyone is dealing with loss and despair. Yet, they show great resilience in face of this grave situation. The way our Indian colleagues deal with this situation is sobering for us. At the same time, the air bridge between India and The Netherlands, facilitated by Women on Wings, provides another way of building value. In a recent expert meeting, Ronald van het Hof, managing director at Women on Wings, explained that the Indian entrepreneurs feel and experience a great deal of support from working with Women on Wings. It helps them cope with the situation on a personal and professional level. Much of today’s interactions focus on how to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on our businesses. Similar to our experiences here in The Netherlands, this is always a mix of personal and professional accounts.

A logical partnership

My personal connection with Women on Wings dates to the start of the organization. I have been involved with the organization as an expert since 2008. With a short period of absence, in which I spent more time focusing on my growing family, I have contributed to the growth of various businesses in India. My focus on driving sustainable growth for businesses has put me in a logical position to apply for the expert position with Women on Wings. Much of the thought leadership we have developed within RevelX applies to the business of our partners in India. The principles of realizing growth are universal across geographies and industries. While we are all trying to get a handle on the new normal in remote working, we pushed ahead in India. Delivering countless online consultation sessions as well as running webinars to keep everyone inspired and on top of their business challenges. With our network of experts, we offered our insights in how to drive growth in a world which is rapidly transforming into a digital society. As mentioned above, my experience of working with our Indian partners has helped me be a better business partner for our RevelX clients. It is nothing short of a win-win situation.

A long-term commitment

Driving sustainable growth is not a sprint. It requires endurance and commitment. I feel inspired and enriched by my experiences from working with our Indian partners. At RevelX we are committed to support Women on Wings for years to come. If you are interested to learn more about how you can contribute to our work in India, drop me a line. I am more than happy to share my experiences with you! Let’s grow!