Information Technology Units
Kudumbashree IT and ITES (Information Technology and Information Technology Enabled Services) units are centres providing information and communication technology based services. Starting with a small unit in Kumarapuram in Thiruvananthapuram, which was the first initiative of Kudumbashree Mission in enterprise promotion, the IT Units have spread across the State; now there are more than 60 units working in the State.
IT and ITES units are run by women with +2 level educational qualification and of age up to 40 years. Initially these units started with data entry and slowly diversified into desk top publishing (DTP) and several other related services.
The first IT unit, which was set up at Kumarapuram in Thiruvananthapuram started functioning on 15th September 1999 with five personal computers (PCs), a dot matrix printer, and a 3kVA online uninterrupted power system (UPS). The unit opened at the space that the district mission provided at their office.
- The project outlay was Rs 2,90,000
- Of this, Rs 1.5 lakh was a loan from Syndicate Bank, which the district mission facilitated, under SJSRY scheme
- Kudumbashree provided a subsidy of Rs 1,25,000.
- The ten women members of the group pooled together Rs 15,000 as their share
“When we mooted the idea of setting up computer units, even our well- wishers were sceptical. But the initiative became successful and led to the setting up of a large network of IT centres run by poor women across the State”.
- S. Sreekandan Nair, Former Programme Officer, Kudumbashree; was in charge of IT units during their early stages.
Other than the support in setting up the centre, both financial and through capacity building, Kudumbashree Mission took up the key responsibility of mobilising projects for the unit. This turned out to be an instant success with the units getting an order for the data entry of Provident Fund (PF) credit cards for the Directorate of Panchayats. The project cost was Rs 6,28,000. The Mission supported the unit through work planning and monitoring to ensure successful completion of the project.
With the successful completion of the PF credit card data entry, the unit started gaining acceptance and visibility. It got orders for data entry from government, quasi-government, and private agencies. The unit, with the support of the Mission, diversified into more areas such as desk top publishing, web site development, web-hosting and maintenance, and computer training.
Seeing the progress that the first unit was able achieve, the Mission started promoting more units in Municipalities. Within a short time, by March 2000, a total of 48 units were set up in 34 Municipalities. By December 2004, there were 78 IT (Information Technology) and ITES (IT Enabled Services) units across 54 Municipalities and eight Gram Panchayats. The units also became larger in size, infrastructure, and resources. Most of the centres had 10-20 computers and accessories.
“The chain of events that led to the setting up of the first IT unit for poor women started with a small event. Sometime in an afternoon in July 1999, Vasantha, a poor widow with two children walked into my office and asked for a job”, remembers T.K. Jose, former Executive Director, Kudumbashree.
What Vasantha wanted was at least the job of a part time sweeper, which the Mission was unable to offer her, as the Mission already had a sweeper, who was a destitute. “We made several attempts to place here somewhere as we understood her plight. I sent her to Thiruvananthapuram Corporation for computer training under the People’s Plan Campaign. But the Corporation did not have any scheme for self-employment”, says T.K. Jose.
It was while this search for an employment option for Vasantha was on that the Kerala High Court pulled up the Directorate of Panchayats for not complying with the court order for issuing Provident Fund credit cards to its employees. There were more than 10,000 employees working in 991 Gram Panchayats and the 14 district offices. Preparing all the credit cards manually would have been practically impossible; the Directorate had to go for computerisation of the data.
The Directorate first approached Keltron, a public sector undertaking of the Government of Kerala. Their estimates were quite high which the Directorate was not in a position to meet. Enquiries outside government also turned futile as the rates quoted were too high.
“It was this opportunity that we seized for our women”, says T.K. Jose. We formed a group of ten women, trained them and set up an IT unit at a space provided by the District Mission. Then we convinced the Directorate of Panchayats to entrust the work with the unit. We also put in place monitoring systems to ensure successful completion of the project”.
The real shock to the IT industry of the day was when the Kudumbashree IT units won the bid to computerise the electoral list for the Election Commission. The Kudumbashree network won the bid quoting Rs 2.8 crore against private players who quoted close to Rs 7 crore. This led to a win-win situation for both Kudumbashree IT units and the Election Commission.
With this, the Kudumbashree IT Network announced its arrival.
IT and ITES units in the Kudumbashree network that made it to sustainable enterprises took different routes. Some of them took up hardware assembly, sales and maintenance while some others focused on computer training. Data entry, desk top publishing, copying, development of simple software applications – all these were taken up by different units. There have been units that diversified their activities when faced with challenges in the activities that they had started with.
Training, financial support, and support in mobilising projects in the early stages, and the systems that were put in place for ensuring successful completion of projects.
‘Nature Fresh’ is a project that aimed at supplying fresh cow milk directly to customers avoiding processing and storage.
Kerala’s dairy sector has been characterised by the ironical dichotomy of milk producers failing to get a reasonable price on the one hand and consumers suspecting the quality of the milk available to them. This pointed to the need for developing a new business model.
Nature Fresh emerged out of the quest of a veterinary doctor committed to working in the rural areas of one of the least urbanised districts of the State to find a solution to the dichotomy faced by Kerala’s dairy sector. The exploration was to develop a model where dairy farmers could directly sell milk to the consumers; and consumers do have an assurance on quality of milk, which the existing nature of the industry failed to do.
Nature Fresh, through a model involving small scale decentralised production and direct supply of milk to consumers through an organised locally developed channel, tried to address this need. The first pilot project was implemented in Idukki district.
The project design involved the following.
- Formation of five member joint liability groups (JLGs) of women
- Formation of a five member marketing group
- Decentralised cattle rearing at the households of the members
- Construction of cowsheds by households using a standardised design suitable for feeding, milking, and upkeep of animals
- Project finance (Per group of five members):
- Bank loan: Rs 230,000
- Beneficiary contribution: Rs 20,000
- Innovation fund – Grant: Rs 100,000
- Subsidy: Rs 50,000
- Total: Rs 400,000
- Separate project support to the marketing group
- Veterinary support in collaboration with the Animal Husbandry department of the State government
- Fund disbursement in instalments for cowshed (Rs 30,000), two cows (Rs 20,000 each, with six months’ gap between two animals), and accessories (Rs 10,000); total Rs 80,000 per household. Women have to buy milch animals, during early months after delivery.
- Marketing group to keep a vehicle as well as trays and bottles for handling milk.
- Producers to sell milk to the marketing group, who in turn sell it to a set of consumers within a reasonable geographical area ensuring safe supply of milk.
- Sales at pre-determined prices so that producers and marketing group make a margin.
- Consumers buy coupons for a month and enjoy a limited flexibility in day to day buying volumes.
Nature Fresh Protocols
“Nature Fresh project can succeed only with a high level of commitment from the farmers”, said Dr Madhu, who was responsible for implementation of the project.
“Protocols are very rigorous. For instance, in case a farmer notices signs of the cow having mastitis, she has to drain out the entire lot of milk. This is a loss that she has to suffer to ensure consumer loyalty and growth of business”.
Presence of elaborate and rigorous protocols that demand a high level of commitment from farmers is the highlight of Nature Fresh project. Protocols have been laid out for every aspect of the project.
- Design of cattle sheds
- Special ‘Nature Fresh’ model cattle sheds have been developed for the project. The shed has a system for hygienic collection of urine and cow dung. The shed design allows the cows to remain clean throughout the day. Shed made as per the standard design is part of the project. Farmers have been advised to keep the cattle shed floor dry always.
- Mastitis care and related actions
- Farmers are directed to keep veterinary aid box and mastitis kit inside the cattle shed. If any change in the colour of milk is observed the kit is to be used. The milk of mastitis affected cow or cow being treated with antibiotics are not sold. The milk of cows undergoing any other treatment is allowed only with the permission of a veterinary surgeon.
- Standards for milk quality
- Nature Fresh milk should compulsorily have 12% SNF and 3.5% fat as a compulsory criterion.
- Vessels and utensils
- Steel vessels of standard shape are used for milking.
- The protocol also tells the farmers the exact process to be followed in washing and keeping bottles to maintain high level of hygiene.
- People have to wash their hands with soap and water before milking.
- Post milking care of the cow
- Farmers are trained and advised to keep the cow safe from infections.
- Feeding of cows on green grass is highly encouraged; however, there are clear protocols on nutritional supplements and additional feed as well.
- Handling of milk and bottling
- Farmer has to keep the properly filtered milk in glass bottles and capped and sealed. The sticker on each filled bottle should have the number of the farmer as well as the cow to identify the farmer and the cow (The nature fresh unit follows a particular numbering system for each farmer and cow). Mixing of milk from different cows is prevented.
A unique feature of Nature Fresh project that adds significantly to consumer’s confidence in the milk supplied is that each bottle is identified to the cow from which that milk comes from.
This is done through a sticker system. Every bottle of milk has a sticker containing a number denoting the farmer and the cow. In case the milk in a bottle has a quality problem, the milk gets rejected and the feedback directly goes back to the farmer.
Farmers bring filled and marked bottles to the collection point before six in the morning.
The milk distributer reaches the collection point before 6 am with sufficient number of crates arranged in a vehicle. He signs on the quantity logbook kept by the farmer and proceeds for distribution of milk bottles to consumers on time. Milk distribution will be completed before 7.30 in the morning. The consumers are advised to boil and keep the milk as soon as they get it.
Nature Fresh has a system of advance payment by consumers. Consumers pay for a month’s milk for which they are issued coupons. Distributors hand over milk bottles after collecting coupons from the consumers.
The distributor has the responsibility of testing the quality of at least one bottle of milk of every farmer monthly. The Nature Fresh unit has to ensure this.
A general body meeting of Nature Fresh unit is held weekly to discuss and approve income and expenditure. Usually monthly settlement to farmers is preferred and if any farmer is in need of money in between, there is provision of advance. The meetings are convened between 11 am and 1 pm so that they do not affect the routine of the farmers.
The governing body of the consortium of different Nature Fresh units meets every month to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Representatives of Nature Fresh units are the members of this consortium.
President of the gram panchayat, CDS chairperson, and chairperson of development standing committee, convenor of micro enterprise subcommittee, veterinary surgeon / senior veterinary surgeon, dairy development officer, and representative of Kudumbashree district mission are ex-officio members.
Those farmers who do not follow Nature Fresh protocols are not be allowed to be part of the system. The unit president and secretary have the authority to rake decision in this regard subject to the approval of unit general body and governing body of the consortium. However, farmers can join the system once they understand the protocols and start following them.
Roles of Different Agencies
- Kudumbashree Mission: Project design, Innovation fund, subsidy, training support, facilitation
- Gram Panchayat: Supervision of implementation, calf-feed supply at subsidised rates, free supply of nutritional supplements
- Department of Animal Husbandry: Veterinary care, training; veterinary surgeon attends CDS meeting for providing advices, insurance, vaccination
- Department of Livestock Development and Dairying: Promotion of grass cultivation, provision of subsidy, support for quality monitoring, inputs for quality handling of milk.
- Banks: Providing loans
There are 396 micro enterprises run by the women of the Kudumbashree network producing and supplying Amruthamnutrimix, a nutritional supplement distributed to children under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
The distribution is through anganwadies. While for micro enterprises engaged in production, it is a captive market that requires extremely high level of quality assurance of products. For the State government, these enterprises are the sources for running one of its most critical social welfare schemes.
AmruthamNutrimix is the common brand name used for this nutritional supplement.
The Supreme Court of India, in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) directed State governments to ensure supplementary nutrition to children as well as pregnant and lactating women.
This was in 2004. The court specified the calories of energy and grams of protein that should be given as supplements to different categories of persons concerned.
- Children below six years of age
- Undernourished children below six years of age
- Adolescent girls
- Pregnant and lactating women
The court direction to State governments was to ensure supply of micro-nutrient-fortified food or energy-dense food through ICDS. In a subsequent order the Supreme court also directed the governments to ban private contractors from supplying supplementary nutrition and to encourage self-help groups and mahilamandals to supply these to anganwadies.
This landmark court order made in mandatory for State governments to put systems in place for supplying nutritional supplements to the needy.
Following the Supreme Court order, the chief secretary of the government of Kerala convened a meeting of the secretaries. Kudumbashree already had two or three units that produced a type of nutritional supplement. The chief secretary’s meeting examined the samples produced by the units and accepted it. The government asked Kudumbashree to set up enough units to produce adequate quantity of nutritional supplement and supply through anganwadies.
Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI), Kasaragod had developed a nutritional supplement, which could potentially replace the expensive baby food varieties sold by multinational as well as Indian companies. CPCRI’s objective was to produce high quality baby food that would be affordable to large sections of the society.
India’s baby food industry was huge and dominated by large corporations selling bottled baby-food, snacks, baby-cereals, and other products. The industry was marked by severe competition, catchy advertisements targeted at both children and their parents drove the sales.
CPCRI had collaborated with Kudumbashree mission to pilot their product. CPCRI trained the first batch of women from three panchayats in Kasaragod. A pilot units was set up in Bedadukka was tested and tried out on underweight children of the panchayat through anganwadis. The results were encouraging.
The Keerthinutrimix unit at Bedadukka became the first training centre when the opportunity for scaling up came through the court order of 2004.
Kudumbashree mission took up the challenge. The next programme review meeting discussed the matter decided to promote nutrimix units as micro enterprises of women across the State.
A financing model was proposed for the units:
- Total investment: Rs 2.2 lakh
- Of these, bank loan: Rs 1.6 lakh
- Kudumbashree support: Rs 50,000
- Contribution of entrepreneurs: Rs 10,000
The proposal was presented to the state level bankers’ committee for encouraging banks to provide loans to the units.
The mission went forward with implementation on a war footing. District missions took up the responsibility to identify entrepreneurs for setting up new units.
Mission identified appropriate personnel for the work and conducted training of trainers at the State level. This was followed by training at the regional level.
Training for the first batch of women entrepreneurs started at KeerthiNutrimix, Bedadukka in December 2005. The mission with Eksat’s support developed a six-day training package for women.
“There were questions raised about quality assurance”, said T.K. Jose, former executive director of the mission. “The product was for children and quality assurance was of highest importance. The mission took it up as a challenge. We wanted to prove that poor women were capable of doing this; our point was that our women were only poor, there was no intellectual poverty! So we developed rigorous protocols for production, designed and conducted rigorous training programmes, and put in systems for monitoring”.
The project faced a setback when Kudumbashree units could not win the tender floated by the State government for the take home ration (THR) programme. However, the mission continued with the setting up of units, focusing on training, production protocols, and monitoring. In 2006, Kudumbashree got government permission to supply nutrimix to 59 ICDS blocks in the State.
“There was no looking back since then”, said T.K. Jose. “Our women rose to the occasion; they proved us right through their ability to produce nutrimix strictly by the protocol. Several nutrimix enthusiasts also came up among the officials of the district mission. Our multi-disciplinary teams comprising people from different departments including health and social welfare proved to be a huge advantage in pushing the programme”.
Kudumbashree mission developed the production protocol aligning with the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) system. HACCP provides process control guidelines applicable to organisations engaged in food business.
Once the systems were in place, monitoring became the critical element. District mission officials, ICDS staff, staff of health department, and CDSs were involved in the elaborate monitoring system that was put in place. Periodic sample testing in private laboratories was also part of the arrangement.
As more and more units started production, Kudumbashree started working on the supply side as well. It collaborated with the civil supplies department of the State government for bulk purchase of wheat, which helped the units improve their margins.
Subsequently a consortium of nutrimix units was formed with the following objectives.
- Working towards better economies of scale
- Establishing distribution channels for improving efficiency
- Organising centralised purchase wherever it made economic sense
- Ensuring quality of the products
- Attempting product diversification
Nutrimix units became successful through the working together of several agencies and departments.
Capacity building , liaison with government and other agencies, production protocol, quality control
Selection of entrepreneurs/groups, capacity building, periodic monitoring
Infrastructure support, facilitation, quality check
Department of social welfare
Client, distributor, protocol checks
Department of health
Department of civil supplies
Supply of raw materials
Private and government laboratories
Nutrimix recipe and production protocol development
While the units have an assured market through the ICDS blocks and anganwadies, managing supply side is a challenge. As the price is fixed by the government, fluctuations in raw material prices can adversely impact the units. Maintaining quality standards is the most critical factor in running the nutrimix units. This requires an integrated approach covering the entire value chain starting from quality assurance of raw materials, through production as per the protocols, and safe distribution.
In order to maintain the high levels of quality warranted by the nature of the business, production processes have been improved through the introduction of better machinery. These included pulverisers, roasters, weighing scales, and packing machines. Kudumbashree has also supported the units in upgrading the technologies and processes.
Santhwanam is a joint effort of Kudumbashree, Health Action for People (HAP), and the State Bank of India. It aims at using an enterprise model to address a critical gap in Kerala’s health sector by providing door to door diagnostic services through trained personnel. The gap that the enterprise addresses was the lack of services available on demand for patients who cannot regularly visit clinics of pathological laboratories.
Santhwanam entrepreneurs are educated women from ‘Kudumbashree families’; it is not necessary that the entrepreneurs themselves are members. Graduates and those who have passed Class XII in science stream are given preference during selection. The entrepreneurs undergo a seven day intensive training programme which consists of technical sessions by Health Action for People and sessions in personality development.
Santhwanam enterprises are supported through the Yuvashree programme of Kudumbashree. Project outlay is Rs 50,000, of which the loan component is Rs 40,000, subsidy is Rs 7500, and beneficiary contribution Rs 2,500. The entrepreneurs have a motor bike and mobile phone at their disposal. These provide for easy access of services.
The services offered by the entrepreneurs include a one-time screening of individuals at their homes and follow up check-ups. The screening tests include measurements or estimation of height, body weight, body mass index, body fat, blood pressure, and blood glucose. Procedures have been standardised and made part of the seven-day training programme for entrepreneurs.
Clean Kerala Business
Solid waste management had been a serious problem especially in the urban areas with urban institutions of local government finding it difficult to find the right solutions. Kudumbashree women utilised this as an opportunity by trying out entrepreneurial model for waste collection. That was how ‘Clean Kerala Business Groups’ were born across the cities and towns of Kerala.
Kudumbashree mission’s understanding of the opportunity that the problem offered and the training programme that it developed and administered helped the women in overcoming early resistances. The mission formed groups of ten women for solid waste collection and transport. Each group was to take a bank loan of Rs 1,25,000 to claim a subsidy of equal amount.
Starting in Alappuzha municipality first, the clean Kerala business spread at a fast pace across the cities and towns of Kerala. Groups had to face certain social issues initially, but there has been a growing realisation on the value of the services that these women offered. There were cases of anti-social elements disrupting work, as in the case of women cleaning the beach in Kozhikkode. It was the collective spirit of the women that overcame these difficulties.
The work included six hours of work in most cases; but the groups had to work on all seven days in most places. These enterprises proved to be saviour to several women who were trapped in the margins of the society – women with alcoholic husbands, widows, and those without any other source of income.
Apparel units came up as special projects in various locations in the State. A consortium called KADAMBARI (Kudumbashree Apparel Design and Manufacturing Business Alliance for Revival and Incubation) with nine apparel units as members.
- Kadambari Apparel Park, Bedadukka, Kasaragod
- Kolothuvayal Garments Unit, Kalliassery, Kannur
- Sparsam Garments Unit, Marad, Kozhikkode
- Mukkam Garments Unit, Kozhikkode
- Mokeri Garments Unit, Kozhikkode
- Kuruvattoor Garments Unit, Kozhikkode
- Vadakara Garments Unit, Kozhikkode
- Nedumpana Apparel Park, Kollam
- Marari Garments Unit, Mararikkulam, Alappuzha
Kadambari Apparel Park, Bedadukka, Kasaragod
Twenty-five women tailors from 17 wards of Bedadukka gram panchayat in Kasaragod district joined together to set up an Apparel Park producing undergarments.
When Kudumbashree mooted the idea of an apparel park, the gram panchayat offered all support including space for setting it up. The units started with direct selling of products through Kudumbashree network. Subsequently they made arrangements with a commission agent for selling the products in textile shops in towns.
The project outlay was Rs 32 lakh of which the gram panchayat contributed Rs 18.5 lakh for building. Kudumbashree mission provided a support of Rs 8 lakh. A nominal beneficiary contribution of Rs 3000 per member was insisted on.
The apparel park started with 21 sewing machines of different types. These included
- 14 single needle sewing machines
- One double needle machine
- Two zigzag machines
- One flap lock machine
- Three overlock machines
The members are given training in sewing practices and techniques at established agencies. The training programme included
- 45 days of training at ATDC, Kannur
- 45-day training programme at Isha, Bengaluru (the agency that supplied the machines to the unit). Technical training for maintenance of machines was part of the training.
- Three-day Entrepreneurship development programme conducted by MECs
- Exposure visit to Kitex, a leading manufacturer of textiles
Competing with branded products has been a challenge. Now that the apparel park is directly selling in the open market, there is a need to keep abreast with the trends in the industry. The apparel park may have to re-orient it to take up the challenges posed by the market.
The unit is not managed as a professional business. It runs in a tentative way, with adhoc responses to unforeseen situations. It needs to go a long way to run as a professional enterprise.
Catering services and small restaurants have been common among the enterprises promoted by the Kudumbashree network. Ranging from roadside tea stalls to canteens of hospitals and public institutions, this portfolio has been quite diverse. Café Kudumbashree was born out of an attempt to professionalise the catering and restaurant services in the Kudumbashree network.
Café Kudumbashree was initiated in 2009-10 and has been developed as a brand for the restaurants and catering groups. The highlight of Café Kudumbashree is the professional management style adopted. A professional training facility was set up in Thrissur under the leadership of the District Kudumbashree Mission. This facility is called AIFHRM. AIFHRM provides training and supports groups in setting up restaurants and catering services under the brand name Café Kudumbashree.
Based on the success of the Café Kudumbashree model, similar restaurants are being set up in States where Kudumbashree NRO has been working on enterprises projects. The first of this kind was set up in Gaya, Bihar; it is named ‘JeevikaJalpan’. Similar initiative is being taken in Jharkhand as well.