Blog Post

Sonar Bangla: Women’s Self-Empowerment Group Canteen, by Anupam Das (West Bengal State Coordinator)

Sonar Bangla

Eating is way for people to gather together, relax, and enjoy themselves. This is what ten women from Munshiganj Red Light Area in Kolkata thought. These women formed a Self-Empowerment Group (SEG) with the help of Apne Aap Women Worldwide after many years of hardship working in red light areas. The ten women who formed “Sonar Bangla,” which means Prosperous Bengal, in 2009 were asked to think what they could do to earn a dignified and sustainable livelihood.

During one group meeting, the women agreed that they love to cook and that this might be a way to earn a livelihood.  The next step for them was deciding where to sell their food. They knew that there were many offices in the Khidderpore area of Kolkata and that the people in those offices would be able to be regular customers for them. The women decided to open a canteen business, where they would supply tasty lunches to the various offices in the area. The group had said, “If people get clean and tasty lunches they would come back to the canteen again and again.” Apne Aap has taught the women how to keep accounts for their business and earn profits and establish a bank account

In January 2012, Sonar Bangla cooked for the first time for an Open Mike Session training workshop called That Takes Ovaries. The event brought about a lot of enjoyment and fun into the group and as such also made them become closer to one another and further believe in their business idea.

Sonar Bangla had another chance to provide their deliciously cooked food during at an internal workshop of Apne Aap in Kolkata in May 2012. The group again took responsibility for cooking and supplying all the lunches for the various participants of the workshop. Once again, the job was done in a fantastic way and all participants in the workshop were very happy to be able to eat such mouth-watering food during the four day workshop. Sonar Bangla made an inspiring profit which made all the women very happy again about their business venture. They used the profits as capital to enlarge their canteen activities. The women have also started to supply Apne Aap employees on a regular basis in the Kolkata office since the end of May.

This group wants to see itself as being a renowned food supplier through their canteen and have people crave more of their food. The group still faces a few challenges, one of them is to expand their business in Kolkata, for which they have already started to look and advertise for a larger clientele. Sonar Bangla is on a positive track to becoming a fully sustainable group in order to have a good livelihood for each of them for the future.

“Apne Aap gave us the confidence to start something on our own.  The organization has taught how one can achieve even what one hasn’t dreamt off if we act in a group.

Initially the group didn’t have any idea how to start with the venture and were even speculative about how to distribute the profits among themselves. At the beginning, the group was a bit hesitant about starting the initiative because they were worried about getting a sufficient number of clients. The high price of raw materials hindered them initially as the cost per plate would be too much. In spite of all these challenges the group kept their motivation high and have ultimately been successful in starting the business.

Sonar Bangla 2