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When Work of Worth founder Barry Morehead travelled to India in 2012, he found himself confronted by the poverty and lack of positive economic opportunity in the rural areas. But, through the Business Development Center (BDC) in Bangalore, he also had the chance to meet some truly amazing entrepreneurs who are transforming their communities all across India through business. This is the story of one of those world-changers. Meet Asha:
“My husband and I used to work for a charity called Neerekshe, a family-run trust started by my husband’s parents in their home village of Muranpur in Karnataka,” says Indian entrepreneur and Business Development Center (BDC) Bangalore graduate Asha Sangster. “I [was] the principle of a school that provided quality English medium education for six to eight villages in and around Muranpur, and my husband was a church planter and social worker.
Tucked away in the state of Karnataka in southwest India, Muranpur’s approximately two thousand residents live in abject poverty, surviving entirely on livestock and seasonal agriculture, dependent on rainfall in a drought-prone area. Rampant malnutrition, lack of economic opportunity, and absence of medical facilities make it a poverty trap in need of the empowerment and training that Asha, her husband Sangster, and the Neerekshe Trust sought to provide.
“One of the struggles I encountered as a teacher was the regular attendance of students, especially girls,” says Asha. “Most of the children [in Muranpur] work for their parents looking after cattle or herds of sheep and goats, or working in the fields… Education was a luxury, especially for girls. I always had a dream to provide regular jobs for parents and part-time jobs for students. This way we thought they would have the opportunity to attend school and continue their education.”
“We had ten acres of land, [so] we wanted to [utilize that resource for] an income generation project. I started keeping few goats and sheep in the farm. We asked a young lad who had dropped out of the school to help graze the goats. When the time came we would sell our goats and earn some extra income for the charity.”
Asha and Sangster wanted to expand the business, but had neither the capital nor the knowledge of how to start and run a successful farm. But the dream remained.
Then pieces started falling into place. From 2008-2011 Asha and Sangster had the opportunity to work with friends in the UK who ran a dairy farm, and they learned a bit about farm management from the experience. Then in 2012 the director of BDC Bangalore asked Asha if she would like to join their 3-month Entrepreneurship program.
“I was thrilled,” says Asha. “Because this was a short, part-time course, even as a homemaker and mother I was able to attend the evening class. BDC equipped me to plan and prepare a detailed financial cash flow for the first two-years [of the business]. This helped me to start putting each piece in the puzzle for our dream to start a business.”
“BDC was a stepping stone for me. It gave me an opportunity to meet other business owners and business teachers [skilled] in marketing and planning, which helped me [further] develop a passion for business. It also helped me to understand the value of entrepreneurship and the great need [in] India for honest business and providing employment where every customer and employee is valued.”
“When we worked in the rural Karnataka, I noticed the way the rich farmers exploited the laborers,” says Asha. “[Workers] were treated like slaves: minimum wage and no days off. They never felt they were created in the image of God like their masters… [But] I also noticed that the laborers did not work hard and [had no commitment]. They were unskilled and dishonest, and there was a lot of wasted time and energy. The work place was very inefficient… We wanted to have a business where the employee is respected and he or she can earn a good income, and also be invested in the farm where they work.”
“Only God could change people,” she adds. “We want [our employees] to know that God created them and He loves them. We are hoping and praying that the way we treat our workers… will be a great witness.
At the end of the 3-month training, Asha’s business plan for the goat farm ultimately won the BDC’s business contest, and she was awarded a monetary prize for start-up capital. Equipped with newfound knowledge, confidence, start-up capital and 10 acres, Asha and Sangster were ready to begin. Taking the final plunge, Asha used her wedding jewelry to get a loan from the agricultural bank, and in June 2013, she and her husband started STARS Farm in Raichur.
Since then they have met with tremendous success and attention. That initial investment enabled them to fence an acre of land and build a shed for 60 goats. Asha and Sangster networked with the local agricultural college and have begun an ongoing, collaborative research project on the farm, which itself enabled them to build a bio gas unit and compost system, and develop a fodder cultivation scheme. As they grow, profits are continually poured back into the farm, allowing further growth. Further growth creates more jobs for individuals in the community, more economic development, more positive, personal relationships, and, back to the starting point, more girls afforded the opportunity to stay in school.
“Our vision for the Farm is to have a team of men and women from India, seeking to empower and transform our lives and community through Christian discipleship, training and income generation through modern scientific farming,” says Asha. “We are developing the farm as a model farm for the local villages so we can train local farmers too.”
There seems to be no end in sight, and Asha dreams big: plans are in the works to expand to 150 goats. They will need an electricity line, lights, a borewell for constant water supply, surveillance cameras, fencing for the whole property, and more trained workers. For the more distant future, Asha aims to develop a brand for future meat processing capabilities, goat milk cheese, and goat milk handmade soap…. She even hopes to create a craft unit and a children’s storybook based on farm life.
“As a Christian I had grown up thinking that business is for those people who love money and not for those who want to serve the Lord,” Asha adds. “Seeing the corruption in business and politics in India, I did not believe that economy and wealth belonged to God. BDC helped me to think that economy of this world belongs to our God our maker and [that business too can be] an opportunity to be in the world, not of the world.”