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Lijjat Papad: The Spirit of Entrepreneurship Among Women

Papad is the Indian version of crispy bread. And today, Lijjat is a synonym for papad. Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, or simply Lijjat Papad, has been instilling the spirit of entrepreneurship spirit among women since 1959. On March 15, 1959, a group of women founded Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad in Mumbai. It is a cooperative which was started with a loan of Rs. 80 back then. Presently, it has a net worth of over 800 Cr and employs over 43k women.

Papad is the Indian version of crispy bread. And today, Lijjat is a synonym for papad. Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, or simply Lijjat Papad, has been instilling the spirit of entrepreneurship spirit among women since 1959. On March 15, 1959, a group of women founded Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad in Mumbai. It is a cooperative which was started with a loan of Rs. 80 back then. Presently, it has a net worth of over 800 Cr and employs over 43k women. But no empire is built in a day and so is the story of Lijjat Papad. The story is simple yet stunning.

The Origin of Lijjat Papad

The idea of India’s largest cooperative supporting women originated from the brains of seven Gujarati women living in Mumbai. They wanted to create a sustainable source of livelihood for women. So, they borrowed Rs. 80 from a member of the Servants of India Society and a social worker. Till then, papad-making was seen as a business that was bound to bring loss. But they opted for it anyway. They bought all the necessary ingredients and arranged for the necessary infrastructure. And on the historic morning of March 15, 1959, they gathered on the terrace of their building and started with the production of 4 packets of papads.

The Initial Growth Phase of Lijjat Papad

The cooperative system slowly and within three months, the team expanded to 25 women. Initially, they took in young girls as well. But later on, the age of 28 years was fixed as the minimum required age. The women then bought all the necessary pieces of equipment utensils, stoves, cupboards, etc. In the first year of operation, the organization’s annual sales were Rs 6,196. The broken papads which remained were often distributed among neighbors, friends, and family.

In the beginning, they sold the papads to a merchant in the Bhuleshwar in Mumbai. Their patience, faith, and determination of these women were tested several times. They had to stop production for about 4 months during the monsoon season. They relied on natural sunlight for drying papads and the rains blocked their ray of hope. But, eventually, they resolved this issue with improvised cooking methods and by buying a cot and a stove.

This initiative soon became the talk of the town through word-of-mouth publicity and articles in local newspapers. By the second year, the group expanded to 150 women and 300 women by the third year. Consequently, the terrace where it was started could no longer accommodate this budding cooperative of women. So, the kneaded flour was distributed among the members who would take it to their homes and make papads. They used to bring back the papads for weighing and packaging.

Expansion of Lijjat Beyond the Terrace

The name Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad was adopted in 1962. The annual sales of Lijjat touched Rs 182,000 in 1962-63. In July of 1966, Lijjat registered itself as a society under the Societies Registration Act 1860. At the same time, Khadi recognized Lijjat as a unit belonging to the ‘processing of cereals and pulses industry group’ under the Khadi and Village Industries Act. In 1966, KVIC granted it a working capital of Rs 8 lakh and was allowed certain tax exemptions.

After gaining huge popularity and immense love for their Papads, Lijjat expanded its product range to khakhra (1974), masala (1976), Vadi, wheat atta, and bakery products (1979). In fact, in the 1970s, the cooperative also set up flour mills (1975), a printing division (1977), and a polypropylene packing division (1978).

During the 1980s and 1990s, Lijjat even gained attention from foreign visitors and officials. It soon started exporting to the UK, the US, several Middle Eastern countries, Singapore, and many other countries. As the popularity continued to rise, they started facing the issue of fake Lijjat papads rolling out in the market. In 2001, three people went to prison in Bihar regarding the same. Also, the annual exports of Lijjat accounted for more than US$2.4 million in 2001. In 2002, Lijjat had a turnover of Rs 300 crore and exports worth Rs 10 crore. It employed 42,000 people in 62 divisions all over the country back then. Currently, their turnover is over Rs. 800 crores.

The Mantras for Success

Lijjat believes in the philosophy of Sarvodaya, which means the economic and social development of society as a whole. It also believes in collective ownership and equal responsibility. It takes in all the members as co-owners who have equal right over all the profit and loss alike. The members, which are all women, are co-owners and they fondly call them ‘sisters’. Men can work as salaried employees but they cannot become owners. This is what makes Lijjat a women-owned and women-led cooperative.

A managing committee of twenty-one members, including the President, the Vice-President, two secretaries, and two treasurers run the cooperative. Sanchalikas are in-charge of various branches and divisions. Lijjat has its Central Office in Mumbai and has 81 branches and 27 divisions in different states all over India.

The recruitment process and eligibility criteria are rather simple. Any woman pledges to adopt the institution’s values and who has respect for quality can become a member and co-owner of the organization. Accountants reside in every branch and every centre. They maintain daily accounts. All the members of that branch share the profit (or loss, if any), equally amongst themselves.

The Bottom Line

Everyone enjoys the ‘rags to riches’ kind of stories. But the story of Lijjat is beyond this line. This tale revolves around the hard work and determination of women who wish to have a livelihood for their own irrespective of their educational qualifications. Along with ensuring quality and fair prices for the customers, it also takes care of the income of its employees and co-owners. This is all because they function with utmost simplicity but unmatched determination.

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