Growing up in a village in Vidarbha, Maharashtra, India, social entrepreneur Wasudev Mishra saw the effects of poverty and unemployment up close. His family often could not afford to pay for school supplies.
He also noticed that poverty affected women and girls much more harshly and unfairly. Girls were often forced to drop out of school to help their families. Even Wasudev’s sister had to transfer to a low-budget school to allow him to continue studying at an English-language institution.
While in high school, Wasudev received an opportunity to study in the United States through the long-running intercultural exchange programme, AFS. While in the US, he was encouraged to be independent and self-reliant. Once he returned to India, he volunteered in different capacities and realised that he wanted to help women in his village become more independent, as well.
“My exchange experience with AFS helped me understand the importance of community service and its sustainability,” he wrote in an AFS blog post. “Something that my exchange programme taught me is that community service involvement is important because volunteering teaches people of all ages and backgrounds compassion and understanding.”
In 2018, at the age of 19, Wasudev founded Silaigram, a social impact startup that helps rural women earn a living through a skill that most of them have mastered: sewing.
“Through Silaigram we are trying to help women use their skills and develop a future for themselves as well as their children,” Wasudev explained. “Empowering women, helping them build a home for themselves, making them self-sufficient and independent is something that Silaigram is trying to pursue.
“Sewing has been a skill almost every rural women [has pursued] for a long time, we at Silaigram provide an area to use this skill and make a living out of it.”
Silaigram sells handmade bags—“jholas” and “kurtis”—made from up-cycled cloth waste on an e-commerce platform. The company has also created a design lab to nurture the women’s creativity to design and creative new products. One of the products from the design lab is the “Jhola of Love,” a re-usuable cloth shopping bag that folds up into a small heart.
Through this initiative, over 1,000 kilograms of cloth material have been up-cycled.
“My aim for Silaigram is to walk towards a green and clean community by creating clean and sustainable daily-use solutions,” he told Your Story.
In July 2019, Wasudev was elected as an Ashoka Young Changemaker, one of the largest networks of social entrepreneurs. He manages two other startups, including a social enterprise that up-cycles cloth into sustainable, high street fashion.