Krishnan and Gowri quit their corporate jobs to start a social enterprise to design, stitch and market cloth bags in 2015 - the Yellow Bag story started that way. Soon they moved to Madurai and set-up an office in the middle of a low income area in the city, a location where they found women of lower income families willing to come to work with them, but, not necessarily where they can attract corporate clientele.
Going through the regular pangs of a Social Enterprise, they have seen the good and bad times, but unlike most other such ventures, they also created space for others to stay and work with them even as they took time to visit and help trouble shoot for other social enterprises. This created an informal network of friends sharing common ideas and aspirations to often 'hang out' together and the Madurai office became a special place.
Pandemic imposed on all enterprises the challenge of having to sustain manpower, cut down overheads and tighten expenses, so, informal network of friends pooled in their resources, skills and labour force and shared the space in Madurai to bring together 3 companies under 1 roof currently - Maker's Cart (the cloth bag company), Yaadhum (an Wellness products distribution venture for a community) and Shapers (a designing and packaging company). While the youngest among the 6 people team that manages these ventures, Gomani Rajan started off as an intern and stayed on to manage the design and packaging company, Palaniappan had already transited from corporate world to managing an Organic shop in Chennai for about a year, Purushothaman came from a corporate background and is a self-development teacher and Ramajayam is a Gandhi Fellow who looked to work with community institutions always.
In this episode, they share the story of how the place that Yellow Bag operated out of now houses 3 companies and many more in the drawing board, some of the unique aspects are apart from the shared workspace are -
1. Shared Responsibility - "I always felt there were skill gaps in my work and had to reach out, now I have people in-house who fill in some of these gaps for me and that is a relief" says Krishnan
2. Shared Work Force & Learning - "Enterprises reach a stage of auto-pilot mode in which they are automatically working, here we are not reaching that stage at all, everyone is learning. People who were only stitching till couple of months ago are today also entering accounts and following up with clients over phone", says Purushoth
3. Living with wants - "It is not easy, but, we are all drawing inspiration from each other and leading a simple life with minimal wants. we are helping the work force too to identify their wants and address them", says Ram
4. Evolving as a Community - "I am about to be married and already the team had identified an initiative that suits my fiance and she is interested as well, I don't have to think of everything", says Gomani
5. People and not Money matter - "Families understand that we are not making millions here, but, they recognize that there is a camaraderie that will support each other and this is important".
I am happy to bring this joint interview with this amazing team on their aspirations, ideas and challenges here. Perhaps another idea of Future Institution that is evolving in our midst while idealists are designing post-pandemic world and skeptics are sitting tight worrying.