"Koi humein nahin janta tha (No one knew us)," smiled rural entrepreneur Surubari Hans of Saspur village, Musabani block, when speaking about the lives of women like her.
Now, everyone in Saspur knows that Surubari runs a successful tent business from home and heads a self-help group.
Five grassroots achievers shared their success stories at the three-day 5th National Conference on Social Entrepreneurship in XLRI that started on Friday. Over 100 delegates have come to take part in the meet, the theme for which is "Innovation in livelihood promotion and skill development".
For Surubari, who was a rural homemaker, it was teaming up with NGO Seeds in 1999 that made all the difference. Like her, four other women entrepreneurs, also from Saspur, shared their stories. Their common refrain ' the izzat they get in their village for being business icons.
"It is great to see many young faces taking keen interest in social entrepreneurship. This year, we have foreign delegates from the US, Philippines, Spain and Singapore. We at XLRI have continuously emphasised on the social sector. We are also very serious about Parivartan, the rural visit programme for freshers, that acts as an eye-opener and sets the tone for the involvement of students in social entrepreneurship," said XLRI director Father E. Abraham.
In fact, what sets XLRI apart from other top-notch business schools of India is its social commitment.
From rural visits to kiosks for rural entrepreneurs in their big-ticket MAXI fair to the proposed e-shopping portal Createkaro for products made by artisans, the commitment goes beyond seminars.
But an event like this sharpens strategies for livelihood programmes and skill development. Stalwarts such as senior rural development specialist associated with World Bank Sriramchandra Macharaju, Pradan executive director Manas Satpathy and ITC operations manager (social investments) Vijay Vardan and others are interacting with grassroots entrepreneurs such as Surubari.
Together, they will also bounce off ideas for future course of action.
"Social entrepreneurship is not a very popular term about five years ago. Today, people know about it. In this conference, we will focus on unique methods of livelihood programmes, which may not be very popular but can be a great start. We have also created groups so that like-minded people can sit together and discuss pros and cons," said conference chairperson Madhukar Shukla.