Kalpna Saroj: One of the Few Women Social Entrepreneurs in India
Friday, June 15, 2012
Kalpna Saroj is an Indian social entrepreneur whose rag to riches story reads like a Bollywood script. Born into the caste of an Indian ’Dalit,’ where she was formerly an “untouchable” and bullied at school; forced into marriage at the age of 12, and then fought social pressures to leave her husband; finally, overcoming poverty and physical abuse, she becomes CEO of a multi-million dollar company: a true heroine!
Ms Saroj is at the helm of Kamani Tubes, a very successful company, rubbing shoulders with prominent businessmen, and has won awards for her professionalism. When she first came to Mumbai she had nothing; today this social entrepreneur has two roads named after her company.
Her struggle with the adversities of life began at birth where she was held back by India’s caste system, an ancient social hierarchy which places people into different categories by birth. Those born into the lower castes have historically faced discrimination. Kalpna Saroj says, “Some of my friends’ parents would not let me in their homes, and I was not even allowed to participate in some school activities because I was a Dalit.” This social entrepreneur was forced to marry at the age of 12, then moved to Mumbai to be with her husband who was 10 years older, but was shocked to find herself living in a slum. However, she escaped and left a violent relationship with her husband. Leaving a marriage is frowned upon in Indian culture; she was able to do so thanks to her father, who took her back home.
Kalpna focused on getting a job and learnt tailoring to make money. At the age of 16, she moved back to Mumbai and continued working as a seamstress, earning less than a dollar a month. Her entrepreneurial spirit saw her take a government loan to open a furniture business and expand her tailoring work. Working 16 hours a day, her reputation led to her being asked to take over the running of a metal engineering company, Kamani Tubes, which was in massive debt and by restructuring the company, this social enretpreneur started to turn things round.