by Laura Shelton – Smith
As we began the SocialStarters programme at the end of last month, I was a bit hesitant about meeting our first client (Evergreen Spirulina) for the first time. What would they be like? How easy would it be to communicate? What would they expect of just a few weeks working with their business? All I knew was that it would definitely be a long way from my experience working in a management consultancy in London!
This much I did know – Evergreen was a small farm growing the green algae Spirulina – a high protein superfood – that can be easily grown in hot countries like India. Evergreen itself was set up by Kamala, who started the farm to provide employment and empowerment to women from her village. She also wants to use profits from the business to supplement the diet of local malnourished children with free or very low cost Spirulina. Lourdes, an education ambassador for the village, was to be our main contact as he looked for help in spreading the sales network of Evergreen and growing its sales independently of the “middle man” who saw most of the product’s profits.
Well I was definitely right about it being a long way from London consultancy – and I think I can safely say that my worries about working with the Evergreen Spirulina team dissipated pretty quickly. In fact I think our first meeting was probably the most uplifting day I have had all year – especially in a work context!
The day started in the slightly bizarre and adventurous fashion in which it intended to go on – with a drive to the village in an old yellow school bus (obviously with a stop on the way so that some passing local woman could insist on trying on our sunglasses and striking poses for our cameras). We arrived at the village of the Evergreen farm to not one, but TWO handmade welcome signs (a second had hastily been remade when our hosts discovered that some other members of our group were waiting with us for an hour). We then sat down with Kamala and Lourdes in the shade of a neighbouring mango tree to find out some more information and to get a feel for the company. This feel swiftly became even more positive than it had started out as one of the women, Vimala, unbeknownst to us or her employers came over to bring us a bucket of chai tea that she had made of her own volition with milk from her cow. Such thoughtfulness and generosity from someone who had very little by our western standards was truly touching.
After being given a tour and explanation of the farming process, business quickly degenerated as the women came on to their lunch break. A bombardment of questions at both myself, my client partner Kris and Anna – the SocialStarter’s Programme manager – quickly turned into a circle of chairs and translated inquiries about our names, children (or absence thereof!), marital status and country of origin. It seems they had never met anyone from a different country before (let alone 3 different countries!) and their excitement was definitely apparent!
After a truly authentic Indian lunch served on banana leaves Kris and I got thrown in at the deep end and needed to work through the finances and translate a poster from Tamil to English urgently needed for an impending exhibition. Our notebook scribbling swiftly gathered an audience and Lourdes explained to the women what we were doing. After that the day was not allowed to end without one of the women leading us by the hand to show us her house – swiftly followed by another as Vimala became jealous that we had not been to hers. After a very insistent offering of biscuits it was time for us to make our way back to Auroville to begin the adventure of the next 5 weeks.
#JoinUs on a programme and volunteer with grassroots social entrepreneurs.
India – 24th October (6 weeks) || Brazil – 31st October (6 weeks) || India – 31st January (6 weeks) || Sri Lanka – 13th February (6 Weeks) || Brazil – 19th March (6 weeks) . To apply, send your email with a cover note to email@example.com and clearly state in the subject heading which programme and what date you are applying for. If successful, you will invited to a Skype interview with one of the team!