When you empower women they become an unstoppable force. Such is the true story of 7 unstoppable women behind ‘Lijjat Papad’. In 1959 seven Gujarati women from Lohana Niwas, a group of five buildings in Girgaum, Bombay (now Mumbai) wanted to start a sustainable livelihood for women. Those were the early days when women were confined to the kitchen and their homes and the mere thought of creating a livelihood was devilish. Nevertheless, determined as they were these seven women, Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat, Parvatiben Ramdas Thodani, Ujamben Narandas Kundalia, Banuben. N. Tanna, Laguben Amritlal Gokani, Jayaben V. Vithalani, and Chutadben Amish Gawade, borrowed rupees 80 from Chhaganlal Karamsi Parekh to establish a small home run business. Chhaganlal Parekh, known as Chaganbapa, a member of the Servants of India Society and a social worker became their mentor, who taught them everything from quality control to running a business enterprise. On March 15, 1959, they sold the first 4 packets of papads to a shopkeeper in Bhuleshwar, Mumbai.
Today Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, popularly known as ‘Lijjat’ is one of India’s oldest co-operatives employing 43,000 women. It manufactures fast moving consumer goods like papads, masalas, wheat flour, chhapatis, detergent powder, detergent cake, and liquid detergent. From a rupees 80 initiative, it has grown to rupees 800 crore women enterprise. Here is how the story of Lijjat papads rolls out..
Rolling from 1959 to 2009
- Within the first three months, there were 25 women making papads and in the very first year, they recorded a sale of rupees 6,196.
- The word of mouth and articles in vernacular newspapers led to an increase in members from 150 in the second year to 300 by the end of the third year. The kneaded flour was distributed among the members who would take it to their homes and make papads. When ready they would bring them in to weigh and package for sale.
- In 1962, Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad was formed and the papads were branded as Lijjat meaning tasty in Gujarati. The name was suggested by Dhirajben Ruparel, through a contest, in which she won the prize money of Rs. 5.
- The annual sales of papads touched Rs 182,000 in 1962-63.
- In July 1966, Lijjat was registered as a society under the Societies Registration Act 1860. In the same year, Khadi Development and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) granted them a working capital of Rs 8 lakh with certain tax exemptions.
- The first branch outside Maharashtra was set up at Valod, Gujarat in 1968.
- 1970s led to increasing the product line. New products were introduced – khakhra (1974), masala (1976), vadi, wheat atta, and bakery products (1979). It also set up flour mills (1975), printing division (1977), and polypropylene packing division (1978).
- A registered office was set up at Kamal Apartments, Bandra in July 1988.
- In 1988, Lijjat introduced Sasa detergent and soap.
- By the late 1980s and 1990s, Lijjat started exporting its products to USA, UK, the Middle East, Singapore, Netherlands, Thailand, and other countries. In 2001, its annual exports reached Rs 10 crores. It had 42,000 people working from 62 divisions in India.
- In the 1990s Lijjat Papad further took its brand image a step higher by launching their most effective ad campaign featuring a muppet bunny with the jingle ‘Karram Kurram Kurram Karram’.
- In 2003, Lijjat is awarded the ‘Best Village Industry Institution’ by KVIC.
- The cooperative received the PHDCCI Brand Equity Award in 2005.
- On 15 March 2009, Lijjjat celebrated 50 years of women empowerment with an annual turnover of Rs 800 crore.
How is Lijjat the co-operative managed?
The women’s co-operative works on Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of Sarvodaya, meaning economic and social development of a community as a whole with collective ownership. All members are the co-owners of the company who enjoy equal decision making powers and are equally responsible for both profit and loss. The appointed Managing Committee of 21 members, take care of the overall business, while the appointed Sanchalikas handle various branches and divisions. Men employed as accountants, drivers, security guards, etc. are only salaried employees, and cannot become members of the co-operative.
The registered office in Mumbai was earlier in charge of all activities of Lijjat. But, with the All-India expansion, the authority was decentralized to branch coordination committees in terms of work, transparent accounting, and sharing of profits at the branch levels and state levels the final products are regularly tested in the Lijjat’s laboratory in Mumbai. The committee continues to conduct surprise visits to various branches to assure that production conditions are hygienic.
Learning from women empowerment
The most unusual feature about this co-operative is no fixed retirement age. Once, when the president Jyoti Naik was questioned about this anomaly, she said that there was no need to make provision for retirement age, as the emphasis was on earning one’s bread through daily work, all through one’s life. Livelihood for women was fixed, long-term, and guaranteed. Not only does Lijjat encourage empowering women by providing them a livelihood but it also undertakes various efforts to promote literacy and computer education for member-sisters and their families. It has worked with international bodies like UNICEF and participated in a workshop sponsored by UNESCO. The list of the strength and combined contributions of women is unending. Who says when women come together they can only gossip?
Continuing the Core Values
The main reason for its existence and continued growth lies in its core value. At Lijjat these values are,
- Ensure every process runs smoothly,
- Every single member must earn a comfortable profit,
- The agents must get their rightful share, and
- Consumers must always get quality products at an affordable price.
If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman