What does a social enterprise mean? A client vs. The Yellow bag team

A rather serious photo of our women working at their tables.

We had posted this photo at many places and have proudly said that this is our “Social enterprise”. A magic word that seems to take everyone by surprise, off-guard. We have been telling this to our friends, well-wishers and prospect customers, thinking this would explain everything we do. In reality, it seems to have added to confusion and our clients like Ms. Sarabhai looks completely lost in thoughts, wondering if the bags made in a social enterprise is any different. And the explanation continues, and we depict a picture something like this.

Even in this picture, only Krishnan looks happy, not so much the tailors..

This is a happy picture!

All said and done, the question keeps lingering. Is this all a social enterprise means, where we celebrate occasions together? Many corporate companies celebrate festivals, announcing an ethnic wear day (what an idea though!). Lets see what does Great Google says.

‘A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders’. Looks like a wonderful definition. But our client is still looking lost. So we thought we will ask ourselves.

“Our production unit has got a fixed working costs, which includes the wages for women, apart from the resources spending and running costs. We generate enough revenue to keep the production unit running and cover all these costs. That is why ours is a social enterprise,” said one of the managing staff. “But that is how all companies run, generate revenues and cover production costs, is this all a social enterprise do?” Ms. Sarabhai is not convinced at all.

Krishnan wants to jump in and save the situation. “We believe in a minimalistic lifestyle and we recommend only eco-friendly products. We would like to connect conscious customers with sustainable products. That is why ours is a social enterprise.” We thought we had won Ms. Sarabhai’s confidence. “In that case, a cloth bag is now manufactured by a hundred vendors. So anyone making a cloth bag or a similar eco-friendly product is running a social enterprise?” quipped Ms. Sarabhai, putting us back to square one.

“We run a production unit in a low-income community that provides livelihoods to the women around. We have a responsibility to make more profits and share these profits equally with the women, so that this company grows positively,” said Gowri, our Co-founder. Ms. Sarabhai had a little smile, partly convinced. “So providing livelihoods is the sole purpose of a social enterprise? Even a power mill that works in a village provides livelihoods to people in vicinity. So, is a power mill or a oil mill also a social enterprise then?,” questioned Ms. Sarabhai. We are in complete loss of words. As a final resort, we went to our women and asked them why do they continue to work here, given the dearth of garments unit in the vicinity.

“I had joined here only because it was an all-women working environment and felt safe enough to come to work. The work environment here gives me respect and to me earning money with dignity is the sole reason to continue working here,” said one of them. ” It is not just work, but also the workplace that has made the difference. Although I spend many sleepless nights worrying about my children’s schooling, the moment I get down at the nearby bus stand I feel my worries ebb away. I want the company to grow much bigger and wish to see 100 more women like me to come here and earn with happiness,” said another.

“Now that looks like an enterprise that is making a positive difference in the society. I would like to order bags next time too.” Ms. Sarabhai got up with a warm smile, shook hands and left.

Thank you Ms. Sarabhai for helping us understand why we do what we are doing in the first place. We hope to meet more Sarabhais in the future!

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