Tag Archives: India

The Dutch Woman Who Wants to Create 1 Million Jobs for Women in Rural India

Ellen Tacoma

Ellen Tacoma

Ellen Tacoma is a co-founder of Women on Wings, and is based in the Netherlands. She, together with Maria van der Heijden, started this organization in 2007.

Ellen’s journey began in the field of Advertising.  After working with an advertising firm and with a telecom giant, she decided to take the reins in her own hands and became a freelancer in the field of customer relationships and marketing.

While she thoroughly enjoyed her work, her inner voice questioned “How am I contributing to society?”, this served as a wake up call.

In the year 2006, she received an invitation for an event detailing an exchange program with existing social entrepreneurs from India. She attended this event with her friend Maria van der Heijden, as they both share a common love for India. They left this event having both enrolled for the exchange program- this was the beginning of “Women on Wings”.

Their goal: “to create one million jobs for women in rural India”.

To achieve the said goal, they work with Social Entrepreneurs in India. The outline of their work in a simplistic sense is that they work with organizations that need to outsource their production process. Women on Wings connects these organizations to rural women; who then go on to make the product by hand. The products are usually, jewelry, pottery and in some cases sericulture too. It is flexible work that women can do at or near their homes.

Currently 182,000 women have been provided with jobs, they are looking at touching 200,000 jobs at the end of this fiscal year. They have been doubling their achievement every year.


When asked about their experience, Ellen said, that it was not easy to give up a comfortable life and begin this organization; funds were a huge question mark, they didn’t know if they were good fund raisers themselves, and they were unsure of how things worked in India etc., yet in the summer of 2007 they decided to take the plunge. They were sure of having sleepless nights but the thought of working towards their goal filled them with excitement.

They didn’t have funding to begin with, so they finally began work with their own savings, and for a while in the beginning they had absolutely no income.

Why only Indian rural women?

Through their experiences in India, they have found that Indian women have an inner strength and pride, and this they believe is a common trait shared among all Indian women irrespective socio economic differences. They find Indian women to be resilient, and this touched them, prompting them to think of how they could enrich the lives of these women and provide them with beautiful experiences which would also translate into monetary benefits.


They have faced many obstacles in their ongoing journey, for example, in the year 2013 they faced a major funding crisis, at one point they decided to take a step back and called for a staff meeting to discuss the current scenario and the best possible plan to move forward. During the course of the discussion, to their absolute surprise and delight they found that their staff was willing to forego their pay in order to achieve the goal they had set. The company was able to make payments to the staff only by the month of December. The staff members all lived in uncomfortable situations for that period of time. This was the most trying time and yet, it yielded the most touching experience.

She also mentions that the difference between Dutch and Indian culture, is an ongoing learning journey. For example, sometimes they feel a meeting is going great, but their Indian counterparts are silent, which leads to confusion.

Role Models:

Ellen says she doesn’t have any one role model, as, over the journey of her life she has encountered many people who have influenced her way of thinking and her outlook to life. She also mentions that she has had two very strong and independent grand-mothers. They managed their families perfectly yet were very fiercely independent ladies. She was truly inspired by them.


She is inherently a person who trusts facts and figures, but over the years; she has learnt to trust her intuitions. She believes in silence, morning exercises to keep herself centered, she loves nature and she tries to spend all her free time in her garden. She dislikes external noise (like in the cities) , she needs peace to introspect. If she does not get these, then she literally falls ill and feels that she makes wrong decisions.


“What has helped me strongly is to have set a very clear goal. For example my goal is “To set up 1 million jobs for women in rural India”, the clear points are: 1 million jobs, rural women and India.  This clarity comes from deep inside and must guide you over time. The path you take towards your goal may change with time, but your goal must be clear, not necessarily something fancy or something that sounds good, it must be something that is true to you. Strongly listen to your heart.”


Branding as a Strategy for SMEs

By Nandakishore Padmanabhan

What is a brand? Among the numerous definitions I have come across, the one I like best is this – it is a quality which ensures that consumers ‘desire’ a consumable product or service being offered. Put simply, a brand gives an irresistible IDENTITY to a business. Consumers ‘buy the brand’ and NOT the product or service!

Very often, small and medium businesses that are in their early days of growth and evolution tend to view branding as an aesthetic cost-exercise – one that involves creating some or all of the following things:

  • Name (of the company, product or service)
  • Logo – a visual trademark that gives it a unique identity
  • Tagline – (a catch-phrase that explains the offering)
  • Colours
  • Shapes (of the product)
  • Sounds (A unique tune or notes used in advertising the brand)

Once they’ve gotten themselves this kit, most of them tend to forget all about branding and focus their energies and spends on infrastructure and processes, in their quest for greater business results.

There a few exceptions, though, which believe in the power of branding and the continuous evolution of the brand. History has shown us that, more often than not, such businesses grow to become industry behemoths both in terms of business value and by the immense ‘soft-power’ they wield over consumer behavior. Such brands tend to become synonymous with the product or service they offer. Consumers tend to use them as a benchmark against competitive offerings and therein lies the power of branding!

There are examples galore in India – Parle-G for biscuits, Chik Shampoo for ‘sacheted’ grooming products, Godrej for ‘Steel Almirahs’… the list goes on for iconic brands that became synonymous for the products they stood for.

We’ve heard about brand strategies and plans for branding but can branding in itself be a strategy? In other words, can branding be USED as a STRATEGY for the growth of the company?

  • How can branding enable SMEs to stand out in the crowd and attract FDI or grab the attention of big MNCs that will set-up shop in India, sooner rather than later?
  • With internet access facilitating wide and direct reach to consumers across the world – can branding help SMEs bridge the digital divide and reach out to untapped customers?
  • In fact, can branding enable SMEs to realize the maximum value for their offerings and then go on to create sustained, breakthrough business results?

Many interesting questions pop up given this new approach to branding. This article aims to answer some of these and along the way explore 5 SIMPLE yet POWERFUL, MUST-Dos for every SME. In doing so, it is hoped that these SMEs will be able to use the full potential of their brands as a strategic tool to power the growth of their businesses.

1)      The ‘equal-to’ Mantra for IDENTITY

DO NOT claim to solve generic problems. Period. Your customers have specific problems and they’re looking to you for solutions. Answer them with specificity. This is perhaps the most powerful way for you to establish early credibility and mindshare that can sustain. Keep it simple. Let your product or service be ‘equal to’ a specific solution.

Hero_Honda_Splendor_2007 pulsar_320x240

For example, if one goes by consumer perceptions in the motorbike segment over the past decade, Hero = Mileage whereas Bajaj (Pulsar) = Power. This ensured clear segmentation of the customer base. Every other new entrant had to fight them for this slice of the market-pie. Proclaim, upfront, clearly, what your brand is ‘equal to’ and capture a market segment that ‘belongs to your business alone’. Mind you, your business model must enwrap your brand and get tied-in!

Marketing is often said to be capturing a large slice of an identified/ existing market. I’ll go one step further. If your product or service offering is new then go forth and ‘create a new market’ for it by simply playing the ‘equal-to’ game. You can then merrily watch competition play catch-up for a long, long time!


2)      The ‘WHY-HOW-WHAT’ mantra for CONSISTENCY

Now that you’ve figured out your ‘equal-to’ platform, it is necessary to ensure that the communication is clear and sustained across channels. Mind you, it is far more important for your team to have clearly understood your brand and speak about it in one language, than your advertising. Not to say that is not important. At the start, your brand’s attributes must resonate with your company’s values and purpose. This will reflect as your company’s culture, imbibed and displayed by your employees. They will then speak the same language to the outside world.

image for blog post

Again, keep it simple. Answer, clearly, the ‘Why-How-What’ of your brand, to borrow from Simon Sinek’s famous TED TalkBy that I mean, find answers to the following questions:

1)      Why are you doing what you are doing as a business?

2)     How are you planning to achieve your desired goal?

3)     What will you create/ offer to achieve this goal – create a product or offer a service?

Have regular discussions on these three fundamental questions. Freeze on the answers and proclaim them, consistently, across channels/ media. Remember, this is ‘Who you are’ as a business. Be consistent. Get people talking about this mantra, within and outside. Chances are that your customers will align with your deeper ‘Why’, appreciate your ‘what’ and help you in your ‘how’!


3)      The ‘Whispering-voice’ mantra for EMOTIONAL Connect

Customers either think rationally (left-brained and data-driven) about your brand OR they can connect emotionally (right-brained, emotion-driven) with it. History tells us that it is the latter behavior that all ‘Brands’ desire from their customers – an emotional bond that translates into preferred purchasing patterns. With such customers, there is always an inner voice telling them to choose you over your competitors for no logical reason. And that is what you want to retain and nurture for a long period of time. Because, it doesn’t break easily.

Take ‘Salt’ for example – for decades, families in India have sought out and asked for TATA Iodised Salt with the firm belief that it was/is the purest / safest.


Salt meant TATA-Salt, back then in 1983 when it was first launched, it still does to a large extent even now! Even though competitors have presented consumers with seemingly superior facts about their products, TATA-Salt’s market leadership has remained pretty much unaffected.

There’s a powerful emotional connect between consumer and product established, in this case it made them feel safe and secure through its purity. It is the way the brand makes a customer feel that binds the two together.

Find that ONE emotional connection that can hook customers to your product or service and then proclaim this. Do you make you customers feel safe and cared for? Do you make life easier for them? Connect with your customers on these points before and after a sale. Even better, involve them in building an interactive community. State this boldly and confidently like you would to a loved one. Make them believe that you’re constantly thinking of them and listening to their needs and concerns. Engage on social media with your customers and answer their grievances/ concerns/ suggestions/ comments et al with full honesty. Before you know it, you won’t have customers – you’ll have brand ambassadors.

4)      The ‘Unwrapping-gift’ mantra for CRM

Once you are off on this journey, you will discover that these very brand ambassadors are doing a whole lot of brand-building and selling FOR you. These are customers who already love you and your product/ service! They are unabashed fans who sing hosannas to your offering in public!

First-up, put processes in place to ensure you recognize these true ‘friends’ as they come into your inner circle, acknowledge them and then reward them. Cultivating loyalty from these ‘early adaptors’ will not only ensure a steady stream of new customers, it will also mean a steady inflow of business earnings. All this with a little effort on your part!

Thank you card

For example, at Pragati Leadership, we generously give away ‘I thank you’ and ‘I appreciate you’ cards to all of our colleagues, vendors, well-wishers et al! Some prominent businesses incentivize customer loyalty with valuable gifts, takeaways, prizes and recognition. And get rewarded with ‘referrals’ in return!

Figure out your loyalty rewarding mechanism and keep in regular touch with your brand ambassadors. Be active on social media. Write to them. Ask them to write back. Seek feedback, suggestions and advice. Inform them about how you’re putting their ideas into action or otherwise. Reward them again. Soon, you’ll have more and more customers vying to be part of this inner-circle, waiting to unwrap a gift of acknowledgment from you. Keep your door always open for them. They’ll open many windows as ‘referral channels’ for your business!

5)      The ‘Elastic-asana’ mantra for FLEXIBILITY

In this rapidly changing economic, social, political and consumer scenarios, you must be ‘flexible’ in your approach to using branding as a strategy. Staying updated and evolving with times is a necessity. Speaking the language of the times, evolving your offering to suit changing needs and tastes is integral to a good branding strategy.


For example, look at how Marico’s Parachute Coconut Oil has reinvented itself as a brand over the past decade to stay relevant and create new markets through innovative product variations.

Mind you, the main product and its promise has remained true and consistent all through – pure coconut oil that is good for your hair! One of India’s oldest consumer brands, through innovations in packaging, branding and tamper-proofing alone, Parachute continues to remain a market leader in its segment, adding newer consumers to its burgeoning base of loyalists. And to think that the name and the product have no relation whatsoever in the first place just goes to show that consistent and powerfully potent branding can be a dependable strategy over decades!

So, if your plans and strategies aren’t working as well anymore, do not be afraid to change and adapt. Use that as an opportunity to go back to your customers and engage with them afresh! Ask them for direction and you’ll be surprised as to how they will show you a way out every time.

Multiple examples across the country tell us that those MSMEs that are flexible and resilient have survived macroeconomic challenges and came out stronger. Those that use branding as a strategy not only come through stronger but go onto become industry leaders once the dust settles and calm prevails. Will you be there too?



Organisations are much like humans. They grow, they forge and manage relationships, they play nurturers and yes, they want to live past a hundred. It would make sense for organisations to do another human thing – make New Year resolutions (beyond the financial goals they set for themselves every financial year!!)

Here are a few things that I would love to see organisations resolve to do, starting this year:

Focus on Strengths – Align people to roles where they can use their innate Strengths as opposed to roles where they are merely competent. This is what will move your organisation from “competent” to “Strong”.


At the very least, Employ a Competency based approach – Use Competency Based Interviewing (preferably in conjunction with Strengths instruments) and use Assessment Centres before promoting employees. The science will take the guesswork out of hiring and promoting, saving organisation the heavy costs that result from poor performance and rehiring.

Focus on creating “Interpersonal Wealth” – It’s a more equal world than ever before. Traditional

power roles don’t hold much importance any more. Employees are less intimidated by their bosses than they used to be. There is a plethora of options out there today.


Similarly, wives are not subservient to husbands and children are not to their parents (at least in the urban world). It is just not possible to pull rank, to get things done on the basis of hierarchy – there is no hierarchy. What is needed is excellent interpersonal skill – so good that it gets termed

“Intrpersonal Wealth”! From just getting along to forging deeper relationships to having enough personal power to influence outcomes, it is interpersonal wealth that will be responsible for making organisations thrive. The smart organisation will invest in helping their employees develop this because it will impact not only their relationships with their customers and peers but also impact how well they are doing in their personal lives. Just like some organisations are investing in…

The physical health of their employees – Repetitive Stress Syndrome, Carpal Tunnel, Blackberry

Thumb, Computer Vision Syndrome, neck and shoulder pain, Deep Vein Thrombosis, Insomnia, Stress, what not! The human body is more perishable a resource these days than it ever was! Mandatory Provident Funds and Insurance are not enough. Mandatory exercise and fitness levels, mandatory limitation on working hours, mandatory vacations, ergonomic seating, “optional standing desks” and counsellors in the office – there are some things that are being done by some organisations. Many more need to be still done by a lot more organisations. The definition of workplace safety too needs to be revisited.

Employee Engagement – For those organisations that are not measuring and improving engagement yet, please partner with organizations like Gallup, Mercer, Hay Group or us. It’s a vitally important metric and in an increasingly competitive and dynamic marketplace, it is set to become even more important. In fact, I would like to see it being discussed at shareholder meetings!

Ethical – We live in difficult times, corrupt times. Recent political events in India suggest that there’s a wave rising against (financial, if not yet moral) corruption. If this is a genuinely new India, it won’t be long before people start paying more attention to corporate corruption (eg. data manipulation or payoffs to obtain ISO or eSCM type of certifications; or corporate-politician nexuses). These are times to be exemplary leaders, to show other organisations and employees the way.


Environment – There are more reasons why these are difficult times. Industry and humanity are almost locked in a battle for our earth’s meagre resources – water, land, minerals etc. It’s an age where the words “more” and “consumption” are possibly heard more In conversations than “thank you” and “please”! No one knows the meaning of moderation or restraint (neither corporations, nor politicians, nor the affluent, nor the middle class, nor Phaneesh, nor Tejpal). In such times, it’s important to think about the impact of our actions on others now and on ourselves eventually.

We need to stop and think about how what we do affects those around us. Trees, tribals, minerals, mountains, seas, soil, air, water, fuel.


 CSR – Being responsible members of society. Ensuring the well being of the vicinity and the people we share this landmass with.Walking the path of the man who spoke of pursuing the greatest good of all.

About the Author:

Aman Zaidi, The author is passionate about employee engagement and facilitates a signature workshop called Creating Involved Employees