Ten years is a long time. Your whole life can change in ten years. Ten years is a long enough time to grow up and in be in 4th grade already, right? They even have a name for when ten years passes – a decade. For wedding anniversaries, ten is the year for tin and aluminum gifts. Go figure! That requires some creativity for gift giving – maybe we should change it to sari blankets, instead.
Sari Bari is approaching the ten year milestone this month on February 20th. It is not lost on us how important this anniversary is, and we want to mark and celebrate it well. We love to celebrate at Sari Bari, so a party was always going to happen. Even so, we also need to thoughtfully mark the miracle of still being in business.
Ten years is a significant milestone for a business. Did you know that 96% of businesses fail in the first ten years? That means only 4 out of every 100 business successfully make it past the ten year mark. I am curious to know what percentage of those are social enterprises. Since social business has been relatively new in the last 10 years, there is not much out there in terms of data for tracking this emerging business type. However, we are beyond thankful to one of the lucky 4%.
So here are a few reasons we think we made it this far. We must also clearly state that we have had more than our fair share of serious doses of miracle, mystery, and magic that made a way when there clearly was not! So here we go with the tangibles:
Cash flow: Inc.com indicates that those who manage cash flow well are the ones that make it. And we would have to agree on that one, but it’s not the only thing that made the last ten years work.
Collaboration: This is the big one. I mean really big. Instead of competing with other local social businesses in Kolkata, we have shared, and they have shared. We are all share-y and generous together! We have also had a lot of help from groups like Justice Ventures International, Freeset, Passion 2012, and a few individuals that taught us how to do business better.
But for us, collaboration is not just outside the office with other businesses. Collaboration is practiced within our walls and key to our ability to grow and be sustainable. The women of Sari Bari are not receivers; they are collaborators in the business for their freedom and the freedom of others.
They have buy-in, and as a result, Sari Bari is theirs not only in spirit but in tangible and practical ways. Women at Sari Bari are invited to become shareholders after completing 5 years of employment. Currently 14 women are shareholders and another 19 women have been invited to become shareholders., In 2016 we will also see two women from Sari Bari appointed as Directors in the company. When we say collaboration, we mean it. We also believe that collaboration means Sari Bari will be able to continue to tap into the profound potential and capacity for growth in the women themselves.
Capacity: As a rule, there is never enough capacity in a social enterprise; there is too much work, too many dreams to build, and not enough people to do it. And yes, capacity is a challenge at Sari Bari as well. But we have a beautiful gift in the capacity we do have because of the women who have risen to leadership. The women of Sari Bari themselves are leading as strong, compassionate, and empowered managers. Any business would be lucky to have them!
Cool Hardware: Okay not really…well maybe! Alright, yes, we do have cool hardware, but the important thing is why we have really cool hardware. It’s because we care about the product being something we want to buy ourselves. We care about beauty, and we care about quality. So yes, maybe cool hardware is a key component to making it ten years J
Compassionate Community: The bottom line is this: we are a community committed to embodied hope, lived out with friends. And we are in it together. No one rides solo on this train!
Ten years matters because it means we have a laid a good foundation for the next ten years, a foundation on which to continue to build a business and a community that creates freedom and opportunity for women have been exploited in the sex trade or women who are vulnerable to being trafficked.
At Sari Bari we can only step back in awe and with gratitude and say thank you to each other, to the hundreds of volunteers and interns, to the expat and Indian staff, to the women themselves for believing they could do it and then doing it, and to you our customers, cheerleaders, and supporters. We want to say a HUGE THANK YOU!
To the next ten years, or as Buzz Light Year would say….to infinity and beyond!
Walking through the doors of freedom from Sari Bari on Vimeo.
The flurry of Christmas is over. You’re full of turkey, you’ve hit the malls for post-Christmas sales, and the whirlwind of family gatherings are coming to an end.
In a few hours, you’ll say goodbye to 2015, and a whole new year will begin, filled with hopeful vision for what lies ahead.
But before the next 365 days start their course, take a moment to stop.
We’re taking a moment to look back and become thankful for all that’s happened. We’re not sure about you, but it’s seemed like somewhat of a chatoic, but amazing, year. We’ve welcomed more women into our family, launched new product lines, and pursued an opportunity to buy a new building. We’ve seen women regain their confidence as they’ve graduated from training, and we’ve seen others step out into leadership roles.
At times, it’s felt like we have had to overcome some daunting feats… like raising $250,000 to open a new building. Such a huge target, and yet through generous support, we made it! Now, in 2016, we’ll welcome more women into freedom.
We just wanted to take a small moment to say thank you. Thanks for being such amazing customers, advocates and friends. Without you, this year would not have been what it is.
Here’s to 2016… may it be filled with bigger dreams, clear vision and uncontained freedom.
Every family has their Christmas traditions, and Sari Bari is no different.
Each year, there’s a myriad of color and activity as the women celebrate this important time of the year. Out come the balloons, streamers, music, presents and food… lots of food. There’s dancing and joy in abundance.
We do Christmas Indian-style over here.
Christmas is not that big of a deal in Kolkata because it’s usually seen as any other festival. In the West, Christmas decorations go up at the end of November, and there’s always a buzz around the season, which crescendos into a big celebration. But over here, decorations go up only a few days before Christmas Day. It’s a quick event – you set up the decorations, you have the celebration, and then you take it all down.
Sari Bari is closed for Christmas Day, so the Sari Bari units have their own festivities in the week before Christmas. The night before the party, the women will stay back late from work to hang streamers and blow up balloons on their own time.
The parties usually start with the women sharing ‘cha’ and snacks in the morning, often while singing Bengali Christmas carols. Managers lead the women in a time of reflection about the meaning of Christmas.
And there are gifts… no Christmas is complete without an exchange of gifts! Each year, there’s a different gift selected for the women, whether it’s a bracelet or shawl. But most years, managers hand-select a beautiful new sari for each woman. It’s a special time where the women are individually presented with a gift that’s been chosen, just for them.
One year we gave the women two silver bracelets, and many of the women kept one bracelet for themselves, but gave the other one away to a close friend or a daughter. It’s amazing to watch these women live such generous lives. And if you visit Sari Bari, you’ll notice many of the ladies wearing their bracelet each day!
In true Christmas form, after gift giving, we eat. Everyone lines up to fill their bellies with food served from big silver pots, overflowing with food. And then it’s dancing time. Our prevention unit hosts the most lively dance party… they roll out the sound system and EVERYONE joins in. There’s so much laughter and joy. What a way to celebrate!
Merry Christmas from the Sari Bari family! We trust you and your families celebrate with full bellies, big smiles and thankful hearts.
Written by Nicole Peck
Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve taken the first step on a path, but you have no idea where it ends up. You’ve heard rumours that life is better at the end, but you’ve never seen it for yourself. Would you take the risk?
That’s what it’s like for the women who take their first, trembling step into freedom, and become trainees at Sari Bari.
For some of these women, they have never held a pencil and can’t read or write. They’ve never sewed anything in their life and even if they could, they can’t see well enough to thread a needle. Their families talk them out of starting a new job, and each day, people tell them they won’t succeed… that they’ll be back on the line by the end of the month.
And yet despite all these challenges, our trainees muster the incredible courage to start afresh and begin a six-month training process with us.
“One of the biggest struggles for women transitioning out of the trade and into a different sort of work is learning to look at themselves in a different way,” says Melissa, Sari Bari’s Director of Aftercare (outgoing). “The general cultural message is that they’re ruined; that they’re damaged goods and there’s nothing for them beyond the life they’ve come from.”
“It takes such incredible courage and self-determination for a woman to stand in defiance to what everyone is saying about her and believe that there is something else for her,” Melissa says.
“You see this shift in the women from, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it’, to slowly believing in themselves and that they can do it. The women of Sari Bari reach out their hands and encourage the trainees. They say, ‘I was there once, I know it’s hard, but if I can do it, so can you’.”
Sari Bari’s training involves many facets: job skills, education, mental health, life skill classes and health checks. The first three months of training is part-time to allow the women to adjust to having a work schedule.
“The women come to us with all different educational backgrounds. Some women have had no education and don’t know a single Bengali letter, while others have had a 4th or 5th Grade education, but they’ve forgotten most of what they knew. And then very rarely, we’ve had women who have an education almost up to a high school standard,” Melissa says.
Sari Bari offers daily education classes that cater to whatever educational level the women have. So, for some who have no literacy, we teach Bengali letters and basic math. For women who have had access to education, we do reading comprehension or basic English. In the past, we’ve also taught basic computer skills.
“Our goal is that every woman can write their own name so they can sign for their salary,” Melissa says.
Once a week, the women participate in a group mental health session, where they can build community with the other trainees. “We help them understand their emotions and rebuild self-respect,” Melissa says.
During training, the women also receive specialised classes on topics like women’s health, diabetes, nutrition and basic budgeting.
Health screening is another important aspect of training. “After a month, we take the women to have their eyes checked and then pay for glasses if they need them. At the end of training, we do Well Woman Check Ups, where we find all sorts of conditions like HIV, other STDs, cancer, thyroid issues and high cholesterol. Once we do the preventative check-up, the women can access any treatment through our company health insurance,” Melissa says.
But a major part of the training process is celebration.
“At Sari Bari, we believe in celebration. In this reality, where there are many things to grieve and many things that break our hearts, celebration reminds us of hope and that transformation is possible,” she says.
In the first week of training, we celebrate the women’s freedom birthdays with a cake and a ‘Happy Birthday’ song. “We continue to mark that for every year. It’s a sacred time, as we call everyone together and look back. It gives them a chance to reflect on their own journey, which becomes a great source of encouragement to women who are newer on the journey.”
You have a chance to get involved in a trainees’ transformation. A $30 donation will help us support a trainee for one month, and a $180 donation will support a trainee during her entire six-month training. If you’re in a position to give, we’d value your generous support!
Written by Nicole Peck
Gita was only 17 years old when she stepped into the small room where Sari Bari started, on the first day our doors opened. She was there to teach our first three heroes how to sew.
Gita has always done things her own way, by her own rules. She’s strong, stylish and willing to take on new challenges. Whatever hardship she endures, Gita takes it on.
It’s only a lady with these sorts of attributes who as a teenager could risk visiting the red light area to teach women how to sew, for a business that was only just starting.
“At the beginning, I was very scared because I’d heard a lot about the red light area and I was afraid that something would happen,” she shares. But Gita persisted, determined to face her fears to help the women of Sari Bari.
“I was doing vocational training, and from there, I was introduced to Sarah Lance [Sari Bari’s Co-founder]. I started as a trainer, teaching the women to sew. And then I gradually took on more responsibility – I became a Production Manager, then the Prevention Unit Manager, and now I’m the Human Resources Administrator. I’ve been doing this for about 6 months,” Gita says.
“Every day, I pray to God, asking Him that if this job is for me, and if this title is for me, then please prepare me so that I can fulfil this job. If He thinks I’m good in this job, then He’ll grow in me in this process.”
Gita is excited about being a leader, but says sometimes there are hard times and struggles she must deal with. “At those times I can be worried, but I carry on anyway. I make it through. At present, I need to be prepared all the time for whatever kind of challenge comes my way.”
Her favourite part about working at Sari Bari is supporting the women and being a champion in their lives. “I love listening to them and talking with them, and sharing life with each other. I love helping them with any needs, whatever way I can. If I am able to help them, then I’m very excited and very happy.”
Gita has made lasting relationships at Sari Bari – and found mentors that will forever change the course of her life. “Sarah has become like my second mother. She’s taught me from step to step. While I was growing, Sarah was always behind me, supporting me – she even did all the arrangements for my marriage! I’ll never be able to forget Sarah because she made me who I am.”
A mother of two beautiful girls, Gita has dreams to get a college education one day. And with her resilience, there’s nothing stopping her from reaching that dream!
“Sometimes I get in a situation where I feel like I have broken down and I don’t think it’s possible for me [to press on]. But I cheer myself up and say if everyone else can do it, then I can do it too.
Written by Nicole Peck