Notes from Skype conference with Belaku Trust

The Belaku Trust is a women’s co-op which operates in rural Karnataka, about 40 miles from Bangalore, India.  UPHA will sell Belaku products December 10 & 11, 2008 at the GSU Link.  If you’re able to help out, please email us at upha@bu.edu.  The following is a summary of a Skype teleconference with Saras, the Executive Director, on November 23, 2008.

Women’s situation pre-Belaku

  • Most women are wage laborers who work on other people’s farms.  Men, though, are paid these women’s salaries.  Alcoholism among men is a big problem in the communities which Belaku serves.
  • Other jobs available to women are road-building, being a community health worker for educated women, or silk-worm rearing, in which it is again the men who sell the final product and receive the income.
  • Saras went to Karnataka to try and improve locals’ health, only to discover that this entailed providing education and essential government services, and fighting against discrimination towards women.

What Belaku does

  • Belaku helps women create garments, stationery, etc. (see photos of products here) to sell at nearby markets (Bangalore) and abroad in order to help women achieve financial independence.
  • Belaku doesn’t simply allow its co-ops to sell at local markets without assistance to guard against manipulation.
  • The lowest paid women in Belaku make about 10% more than they would working in the fields; the best paid, about twice as much.
  • Women in Belaku can work independent of droughts and harvest seasons, and the work at Belaku is preferrable to working in the fields.
  • Many women gain strength, self-esteem, and a sense of independence from working with other women at Belaku.

Belaku’s future needs

  • Belaku would be able to sell so much more if it had someone on-board knowledgeable in marketing and operations management.
  • The next step is to bring volunteers with MBAs to help Belaku improve and scale-up their programs.
  • Due to limited space, only a third of all women who want to work at Belaku can.
  • More education is needed in order to have the women perform more complex administrative tasks, and eventually, run Belaku Trust.

UPHA’s involvement with Belaku

  • On an IHP trip, fellow UPHA member Alex Bazazi came upon Saras and Belaku, and decided to help by selling their products at BU during holiday season.
  • In 2007, we raised about $1000 for Belaku, or about one-tenth of their total annual budget.
  • We hope to make this an annual fundraiser, and we are selling Belaku products this year at the GSU Link December 10 & 11.
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