Joining us today is Jitna Bhagani, a social entrepreneur from London, UK.
Jitna is the founder of Shakti.ism | शक्तिवाद, a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers and employs disadvantaged women in India and beyond. Her social enterprise makes one-of-a-kind fair trade accessories and gifts made from repurposed and recycled saris, all of which are ethically handmade.
On top of that, she runs another entity “she will survive” with a focus on true gender equality and support resources for survivors of gender-based violence in every country in the world.
Jitna is making a tremendous impact on the lives of many women around the globe. Her passion and ambition are infectious. I hope you feel it too while reading her amazing story.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND THE BUSINESS YOU STARTED.
Hi, my name is Jitna and I’m the founder of Shakti.ism, a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers and employs disadvantaged women in India (and beyond), and shewillsurvive.com, a gender-equality advocacy project. I was raised in both the UK and the US with an Indian upbringing. I am happily married and the lucky mama of two lovely daughters.
I have a background in various entrepreneurial ventures and have worked for several big names in tech like Google, Hewlett-Packard, VMware and even a German tech start-up. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business Management, a postgraduate certificate in International Business, an MBA, and most of a Master’s degree in Economics which will probably never be completed. 🙂
I am passionate about advocating for and empowering women and girls, particularly those impacted by gender-based violence. When I’m not doing my day job as a Product/Project Manager, I love traveling (53 countries and counting!), working on my passion project, volunteering with local women’s organizations, learning new languages, habitually reading several books at once (including plenty of colourful children’s books with my daughters), and eating my way across London. I’m addicted to good coffee, even better cheese, and dreams of writing a children’s book someday!
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE AND HOW DO YOU STAY PRODUCTIVE?
I am a parent of two young children so my days start quite early because my eldest wakes me every morning around 6:30-7 am. Meals tend to be had together as a family because I think it’s really important to do so. And then I juggle my day job (which luckily I can do remotely), my kids, and my startup (which usually comes last). I work a lot of evenings. I schedule all the time-sensitive or fixed meetings so I make sure I work around them. The rest somehow falls into place, although my to-do list is neverending.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
PLEASE DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF LAUNCHING YOUR BUSINESS.
I started networking like crazy when I had my initial idea. I just started emailing contacts which I thought might be useful, particularly NGO contacts, and just told them what I wanted to achieve. I think the term ‘fake it till you make it’ fits really well – this is a great tool for every entrepreneur. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes, but believe in your message and your goal, and people will see that you are genuine.
Once I had some solid contacts and partners in place, I crowdfunded to raise the money I needed to get started. I ended up smashing the goal, and it basically kicked off from there. I did all of it on my own, particularly in the evenings when I had “me time”, which still tends to be the case. The thing is if you want something badly enough, and you care about it enough, you will make it happen.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT AND YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE SINCE YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS?
My biggest achievements are:
Seeing the benefits of women’s empowerment firsthand, especially when you speak directly with the women you work to empower – you can’t put a price on that,
Crowdfunding to purchase new sewing equipment and to train 10 additional women for one of my artisan teams in India,
Providing menstrual hygiene training to a tribal group (roughly 80 women and adolescent girls) on a recent visit to India, and Shakti.ism was able to sponsor a 6-month supply of compostable sanitary products for all the women,
Sponsoring menstrual hygiene workshops and provisions of sanitary napkins to 300+ school children in a rural area outside Nairobi, Kenya.
WHAT STRATEGY DID YOU USE TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS? AND HOW?
Goal setting is important, and I find that scheduling is my biggest ally. If you schedule it, it will happen. It’s hard to balance all the things we have to juggle each day. But if you put the time in your calendar and treat it like a real appointment, you can and will commit, and you can achieve incredible things (even when you are stretched for a time like I am).
I also think storytelling is incredibly powerful, and I am learning that this is particularly important for running a social enterprise. Finally, effective marketing matters. For both Shakti.ism and she will survive, I had a decent following and lots of content ready to go before I launched.
I also optimized well for SEO, so I get a lot of organic traffic, even as a start-up. I’ve got more growing to do, but these tactics have served me well and I will continue to invest my time this way. I also plan to start utilizing OKRs as soon as I have time to implement them!
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS?
I hope to empower and train additional women. Ideally, I will be able to expand the business, employ more women and get them out of poverty. I’d also like to expand into other income-generating areas to diversify and make the business more sustainable (again, to empower more women and girls).
RECOMMENDATIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS
WHAT OR WHO HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCE IN BUSINESS AND WHY?
Muhammad Yunus, Hans Rosling, Leila Janah – people who realize the power of work and the huge positive impact that we can all have on reducing poverty and inequality if we just try.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
Make fast decisions – you can always make changes later. Launch even if you aren’t ready, and then iterate, iterate, iterate!
WHAT BUSINESS IDEA DO YOU HAVE THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE WITH OTHERS?
Lots of other social enterprise ideas in mind. Watch this space ☺
Welcome to the Biz Ladies interview series!
If you’re new to these series, I interview women entrepreneurs on how they started their business, what was the idea behind it, how they got where they are, the struggles, the reality and more.
By sharing their stories, we want to inspire other women to get started.
If you are interested to share your own story on the Biz Ladies LET ME KNOW!