Published: 02nd June 2021
Auroville's latest women-only innovation centre is the spark that your ideas need. Meet the 30-year-old who's leading the charge
Do your ideas not let you sleep at night and are you bursting at the seams with unrealised potential? Head to Auro Women's Innovation Centre at Auroville and realise them all in the best way possible
Women telling women's stories
Women uplifting other women
Women looking out for women
Women being there for women
There is so much women can do for each other so that, collectively, the glass ceiling that cages us can be broken to bits. One of the most definitive ways is nurturing their ideas with all the resources they might need and then, stepping back to see them grow and bear fruit. Sahithi Divi is one such force of nature who has been amplifying the voices of women through Impact Scientist, a rural innovation programme that has narrated the stories of female weavers in Malikipuram, Andhra Pradesh and helped them sell their wares as well.
Sahithi Divi doesn't expect everyone to become Indra Nooyis, but if they are able to find a sustainable and economic solution for themselves and realise their full potential, then it's a success, she feels
It is this unquenchable search of stories that led the 30-year-old to Auroville, the experimental township in Tamil Nadu that attracts people from all over the world, last November. "It's truly a paradise for social entrepreneurs. It is the path of self-discovery, of wanting to do more, that led me to this place," says the Eluru-born changemaker. But it was when she reached the doorstep of Mohanam Village Heritage Centre that she concluded her journey — only to begin a new one, right then and there.
The start of something new
Mohanam has a rich legacy, spanning over two decades, of bridging the gap between Auroville and its surrounding villages while helping preserve its inherent tradition and culture. Their work in the region is well-known and respected. Sahithi is now, technically for the past three months, a part of their legacy as the Director of the Mohanam Village Heritage Centre. "They have been working in the space of women empowerment for over ten years and I felt that my vision aligned with theirs perfectly," shares Sahithi, who has worked on a gender equality project in Sri Lanka as well. Their Auroville centre, started seven years back, is full of life with workshops on absolutely everything you can imagine. Add to all this, the Auro Women's Innovation Centre this youngster helped establish and you know why it's a knockout.
Let innovation lead the way
"There are several incubation centres already, but it's not just about the journey of your idea after its germination, it's also what you do prior to it that counts," says Sahithi, who pursued her Master's in Social Entrepreneurship from Hult International Business School, UK. So the doors of Auro Women's Innovation Centre are wide open for all women, age no bar, nor is there any educational qualification needed — if you've got a will to start-up, then they've got the space. You don't know where your interests lies? No worries, Mohnam runs a bamboo centre, a café, a sustainable cloth pad-making collective and so much more that you can afford to work everywhere and test the waters for yourself.
At the centre
Have an idea but need to chart a detailed course of action towards it? Sahithi herself will be your guide and confidante. It's just about having the will, the way can be discovered. It's just like what Sahithi says while delivering talks at various colleges. "Villages are the future. India is a skill-based country and villages are the answer to our economy's problems. We need to aggressively promote localisation. This shift in mindset will come when they are beautiful products from villagers competing, neck-to-neck, with the gleaming products of the market," she says with full conviction. Plus, there cannot be a better marketplace than Auroville, where residents from 50 different countries visit.
Hemant Lamba, Trustee, Auroville Trust; Parvathy Krishnan, Data Science Lead, UNDP India; singer Chinmayi Sripada; director Tharun Bhasker are part of her advisory team
While it is true that there are many who are at Auroville only briefly, for them the centre offers a flexible plan where they can take a campus tour and expose themselves to all that the centre and the township itself has to offer and join the community online to stay connected. For others, who know in which field they want to work, but don't know what's next, one-on-one with the Director herself follows and together, you will find the direction you want to head in. This worked for Twisha, a sitar player and chef from Delhi, perfectly. After a long, soul-searching conversation, it was decided that Twisha will use their kitchen at the Auroville Bamboo Centre and set up her trial there — the trial to offer economical food options to guests and tourists, especially at dinnertime.
Don’t even set limitations
Then there are hybrid projects that are not defined or limited by any field. For example, the underutilisation of women — their wealth of knowledge when it comes to indigenous plants and recipes, for example. Utilising their own existing advisory network, the team at Mohanam will actually help them set up their own businesses, like they are doing with a group of five women who have come together to start the Auroshakthi Steam Cafe. Along with being a speciality café run by rural women alone, it will offer inclusive recipes made from indigenous plants using traditional cooking methods. "We are going to help them create project reports from scratch and help with every aspect of innovation and connectivity as needed," informs Sahithi. They have a repository of over 20 years on offer and are looking for women who want to make the most of what they are offering. In this way, their categories are not just designed for urban women who know about investments and breaking even, but also for those women from the surrounding villages whose passion implores them to venture out on their own.
The centre offers volunteers on request, artisan network leads, space and common amenities, market linkages, brand strategy, partnership with social enterprises and a whole lot more
We draw Sahithi's attention back to the 'no limitation' clause when it comes to age or even period of 'incubation'. It's all on a case-to-case basis, she assures us, which is exactly the kind of flexibility that a woman needs — especially a woman from a rural area with a fierce entrepreneurial spirit which is, perhaps, partially tied down by household responsibilities. "Limitations are barriers. I believe that it's the craziest people who are the most disruptive," says the youngster. Or in other words, as Steve Jobs would say, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
Method to the madness at Auro Women Innovation Centre:
- First, a basic registration process follows including a team introduction session
- Women who join are introduced to the ideology of Auroville and its way of life
- They will be exposed to all the projects and programmes running already
- Personality analysis, profile creation and more are worked upon
- Mentorship in the form of sessions and learning is hands-on
- Continued connection with the community even after the idea takes off
For more on them check out their Instagram page @mohanamcentre