Who hasn’t heard the name of India’s famous Lijjat Papad? Many of us still remember the melodious jingle – ‘Karram Kurram, Kurram Karram’. Not only the taste and jingle associated with Lijjat Papad are special but also the unheard yet inspiring story of how the venture was conceptualized.
With the only desire to make a sustainable living, it is inspiring how seven women came together to create one of the most successful companies in India. Employing more than 43,000 women, Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, popularly known as ‘Lijjat’, has touched the lives of many Indians across the globe.
Here’s how seven women built such a successful cooperative that grew from Rs 80 to 800 crores.
In the 1950s, seven Gujarati women from Bombay wanted to create a stable source of income for their families. The only skills that they had was cooking. And, it was then the idea of Lijjat papad was conceptualized.
These brave souls borrowed Rs 80 from Chhaganlal Karamsi Parekh, a social worker, who was a member of the Servants of India Society. With those 80 rupees, these seven women took over a loss-making papad venture. The seven women were Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat, Parvatiben Ramdas Thodani, Ujamben Narandas Kundalia, Banuben. N. Tanna, Laguben Amritlar Gokani, Jayaben V. Vithalani, and 1 more whose name is not known. They bought the necessary ingredients and the basic infrastructure required to manufacture papads. What these determined and dedicated women did next is history.
Showing the world, the best example of women empowerment, these women created a successful venture established and run by women for the empowerment of women.
Lijjat Papad’s Early Days Struggle
It was 15th March 1959, when these inspiring and courageous souls gathered on the terrace of their building and started making Papads. On that very day, they created 4 packets of papads. Like many other businesses, the early days weren’t even easy for them. During the initial days, on various occasions, the team’s faith, patience, persistence, and determination were put to test. While struggling during the initial days, they refused to accept any monetary help in the form of donation.
During the first year, the women struggled during the rainy season. They had no choice but to stop production for at least four months as the rains won’t let the papads dry. But determined to make their venture successful, they solved the problem next year. They bought a cot and a stove. They would keep the papads on the cot and the stove below the cot so that the process of drying could take place in spite of the rains.
Chaganbapa: The Mentor
As they say, a mentor not only empowers you to see the possible future but also makes you believe that it could be achieved. And Chhaganlal Parekh, popularly known as Chaganbapa, became such a mentor for these inspiring and courageous souls.
It was Chaganbapa who advised these women to stop making the inferior quality of papads to be sold at a cheaper rate. He suggested to make standard papad and told them to never compromise on the quality. Not only he gave them the lessons on Product Quality but also emphasized the importance of running the venture as a business enterprise and hence, maintaining proper accounts.
How Lijjat Papad Became An International Brand
In the first year, the organization’s annual sales were Rs 6,196. The women decided to distribute broken papads among neighbors. This value-driven group received considerable publicity through word of mouth and articles published in the newspapers. This publicity helped the firm to increase its membership. By the second year of its formation, 100 to 150 women had joined the group, and by the end of the third year, it had more than 300 members.
After the immense success with their papads, the company began producing various products like khakhra, masala, vadi, wheat atta, and bakery products. In the 1970s, Lijjat set up flour mills, printing division, and polypropylene packing division. The group also faced some unsuccessful ventures such as cottage leather, matches, and agarbattis. But the spirit of the group was also unbattered.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Lijjat started exporting its products to the United Kingdom, the United States, the Middle East, Singapore, the Netherlands Thailand, and many other countries. Its annual exports accounted for more than US$ 2.4 million in 2001.
Lijjat marked its 50th year of existence on 15 March 2009. As per sources, it had an annual turnover of more than Rs. 800 crore in 2018. It provides employment to 43,000 (in 2018) women across the country.
The Values That Drive Lijjat
With the core philosophy of Sarvodaya (the economic and social development of a community as a whole) and collective ownership, Lijjat accepts all its working employees (also known as ‘sisters’) as the owners and an equal partner in profits (or loss, if any).
All the decisions are based on consensus and any member-sister has the right to veto a decision. Unlike sisters, men can only be salaried employees (accountants, drivers, or security guards), and not the owners.
No one could deny how this venture is an ideal example of women empowerment. At IFORHER, we are so proud of this venture and the core founders who gathered the courage to establish this cooperation and help so many women in earning a stable livelihood for themselves and their families.