This is a great story of women empowerment. What makes it more inspiring is that the player is not a city bred woman, but one from a rural background and it happened 25 years ago, when things were worse than it is today.
She is a household name in Punjab today. She is Gurdev Kaur Deol, counted as a star entrepreneur in Ludhiana.
Gurdev Kaur was married off when she was pursuing her BEd degree. Though she gave in to the marriage, she resisted all moves to confine her to the home―and ventured into a unique profession.
The idea of working women was frowned upon back in the nineties in rural areas, especially so in her married home in Ayali khurd, a tiny hamlet in Punjab’s West Ludhiana district. The situation was more oppressive in lesser privileged households, like the one in which she was married in the year 1995.
Even as a child, honeybees held Gurdev’s interest. She studied them closely and found their life fascinating. So, when she mulled with the idea of working rather than staying at home, the first profession that came to her mind was that of a beekeeper.
Unique, it was, indeed. For, Gurdev was the second-ever woman in the entire state of Punjab to take up this vocation in 1995, soon after her marriage.
Today 25 years later, she has carved a niche for herself as a trailblazer, training hundreds of women coming from backgrounds similar to hers. She has employed more than 350 women, who once struggled to make both ends meet and now are income-earners for their conservative households.
Gurdev has set up, the Global Self Help Group, to give wings to her labours.
Over the years, she has diversified into organic farming and food products that are processed from this activity. Gurdev’s honey, pickles, jams, eco-friendly detergents, and biodegradable sanitary napkins are popular not only in Ludhiana households but elsewhere in Punjab.
She began small and started with five boxes in her backyard. Within four years, she owned 450 boxes, with each box yielding about 20 to 25 kilos of pure, unadulterated honey.
She grew into a seasoned beekeeper and trader of honey. But she still lacked business sense. But after a while business acumen to came to her, and, she realised that the retail market often offered much less a rate than the actual worth of pure honey.
So, she fortified herself to venture out on her own and started bottling and selling honey on her own. Her entrepreneurial foray paid off, which emboldened her to venture into products like honey, pickles, jam, sherbet, jiggery, papad and spices, among others―reaching a grand total of 32 products.
It was in the year 1997 that she began selling her honey under the brand name ‘Apni Mandi,’ which soon expanded to ‘Apni Kisan Mandi’ and encompassed several agro-based products. She had no hesitation about selling anywhere―at makeshift tabletop stalls at fairs, exhibitions and even on the roadside.
Gurdev started sourcing her raw materials from local farmers and her organisation became integrally engaged with over 500 farming families across Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, all of whom do 100 per cent organic farming.
Gurdev didn’t shy away from help and so undertook rigorous training at workshops organised by Punjab Agricultural University to learn techniques of processing various food products without any chemical additive. Armed with the knowledge, she felt confident to venture out on her own.
Gurdev believed in the motto that sharing is growing. So she started giving free hands-on training in food processing to the local women from underprivileged families. She formed a self-help group with 15 women, and enabled them to taste financial independence. She suggested that they deposit Rs 100 every month into the business.
It was a Eureka moment, and it happened within six months―the bank in which the money was being deposited approved a business loan to the group; and the operations of Global Self Help Group were kick-started.
As business grew, Global Self Help Group was officially registered as an organisation in 2008. Today, over 350 women are working at the group, which often works in close collaboration with the Punjab state agricultural department.
Diversifying beyond food and honey, she is now a name to reckon with in the domain of all sustainable products.
Today, she cultivates pulses, peas, baby corn, sweet corn and a wide variety of seasonal vegetables and fruits, all through organic farming, which she feels is the need of the day.
A true prophet of women empowerment, Gurdev who has received several awards by government and non-government organisations, is also the messiah of sustainability goals for the entire state of Punjab.
Gurdev’s success story shows us that sheroes are as powerful as heroes!