The New Modern Garment Store

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Thirteen HIV+ women from 3 separate towns, eleven of them widows, all mothers, and all from economically weaker sections of society, wanted to earn a living and support themselves. To do this, they formed a self-help group (SHG), and tried to open a savings account. But the bank turned down their request. The strength of an SHG is homogeneity, with members living in the same street or neighbourhood. In this case, with the women living in separate towns, they posed too much of a risk for any financier.

It was at this point that PWN+ offered a solution, and by backing the group, gave the venture credibility in the eyes of the bank. In doing so, they paved the way for HIV+ women everywhere.

The Challenge

The 13 women had been learning how to deal with their common HIV+ status, as part of a support group organized by PWN+, with the assistance of the Tamil Nadu Aids Control Society (TNSACS).

There was another question plaguing them though: How could they earn a living for themselves and give their children a future?

An Answer
Drawing inspiration from SHGs around them, they came together on 2 February 2006 to form the Holy Mother Teresa Women’s Group. Their pledge was to save Rs. 55 every month, with the idea of lending money to one another as their savings grew. They hoped to link themselves with a bank, get credit and start a micro-enterprise.

An Obstacle
Unfortunately, the women came from three separate towns (Tindivanam, Ulundurpet, and Madurai), and the manager of the Indian Bank that they approached was concerned that they would lack cohesiveness; it seemed like to much of a risk to back them. Consequently their application for a savings account was turned down. This was a blow to the women, for without a bank, there would be no access to services like Revolving Funds, for credit and skills training - services that an SHG needs.

A Solution
Meanwhile PWN+ had launched Project Seed, aiming to create SHGs of WLHA, build capacities and train them to initiate business initiatives. The Holy Mother Teresa’s Group’s passion impressed PWN+, who offered them a loan of Rs. 10,000. The women, used it to trade in sarees, and when they paid it back it was followed by another.

At this point PWN+ offered them Rs. 1,00,000 loan, with the condition that each member add money of their own to the initial investment. The women contributed Rs. 1000 each. This stake ensured that the women were even more closely attached to the venture.

Capacity building began. Among many other things, Buds of Christ helped them develop a business plan, organize their budget and conduct a business review. Meanwhile the Villipuram PWN+ organized a two-day training workshop.

Now, the loan agreement stated that the women needed a bank account. So they had to approach the bank again! This time round though, in light of their growing capacity, and the vote of confidence from PWN+, they were given their savings account!

A launch date for their new shop was set, and things swung into motion. But even as the store opened, they hit their first set-back. It became apparent that the designs on offer were not what the customers were looking for. With the momentum generated by the campaign, it seemed like it could be over before it actually started!

The women reacted well. They exchanged their existing stock for a new set of garments, and altered their sales strategy. Rather than wait for people to come to them, they took their goods to the market. By locating target groups to whom they could make a direct sale, they managed to turn the tide of events in their favour and had tripled their sales in a matter of three months.

The women continue to learn from their experiences and grow, which is why more than a year later, they are still in business, with a promising future ahead! Their dream is well on its way to becoming a reality.