MSME SuperPower:

Women can change the world

Aruna Dara

Founder & CEO, Apna Green Products, Hyderabad, Telangana

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The entrepreneurial journey is not easy, especially for women. My business partner and I met in 1996 at Maharishi University, where we were the only two women in our MBA class. We talked about developing a business then, but after graduation, we went our separate ways—I went into a corporate career in telecoms—and we both raised families. It was great to meet again in 2016.

We were both in a comfortable and happy place in our lives, but we were ready to do something together, and we wanted to give something back to society. I believe it is up to women to change things and to not just talk about dignity but to implement it in a real way.

We recognised that biodegradables were very much the need of the hour. Coming from Andhra Pradesh, we also both knew that banana fibre is an agricultural waste product that is normally burned. Putting the two together, we had the idea to use this agri-waste to make biodegradable sanitary napkins that are good for women and for the environment.

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Investing in R&D

We researched for two years. We looked at how plastic sanitary napkins impact women’s health and stay in landfills for hundreds of years.

With the blessing of our husbands, we invested our own savings to travel around India to study raw materials, machinery and new technologies. But, as women, it was often a struggle to get support from the people we met.

Finally, we developed a prototype and production process for an economical, safe and biodegradable sanitary napkin. But that was only the beginning.

Building awareness

With the subject of women’s health gaining increasing traction, we realised that a considerable amount of education was needed on the issue. We started an awareness program for the next generation, going into schools and colleges to talk to young women about the alternatives to the sanitary napkins available on the market.

As awareness spread, demand for our products grew. We were able to invest in machinery and go into production in 2019. We also began to encourage women to join our supply chain as producers, and we continue to work with self-help groups and offer programs for female entrepreneurs. We started working with farmers, too, to show them how to use the fibre extraction process to manage the waste from their plantations and earn another income stream.

Gaining traction

Over the past couple of years, we have started to get some recognition. In 2019, the Telangana government invited us to work with them to empower rural women in around 32 districts, and we helped local women set up their own production units there. We serve as mentors, supply the raw materials, and provide training and machinery setup.

We are now working across many districts in Jharkhand and setting up programs in other states, too. Separately, we have signed MoUs with several colleges and placed in-house kiosks in colleges and schools.

Going further

Recently, I joined the Walmart Vriddhi program. It’s been very helpful and provided much-needed information. I’m also thankful for the introduction to Swasti, Arogya and other NGOs.

I have learned about the importance of eCommerce to business and how it can help us build our brand presence and manage business inputs. Going digital has made logistics and supply chain management easier and allowed us to register on Flipkart and grow our presence on different channels.

I still have ambitious plans. My wish is to establish an incubation centre where I can mentor and train women across India to prepare to launch their own enterprises. On the business front, I’m going to focus on eCommerce platforms; online sales now contribute around 10%, but I hope to see this rise in the future. And I’m in the process of completing my studies to become a Chartered Accountant—a lifelong dream!

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