The RUDI team continues to be dazzled by new adventures in Gugarat. Over the past week, Kris, Laura, Peter and I have been chauffeured all over the state by our new friend Rupesh and our faithful driver Shureyas – south to Anand, east to Surendranagar, north to Mahesana, and in and about Ahmadabad. Along with the notes and data we amass from each village visit, I am also collecting strong impressions of the amazing women of RUDI. As our project scope focuses our attention on hard business operations functions, I would like to take a moment to dwell on the stories of these women and their successes.
For context, the typical Rudiben (RUDI sales associate) seeks employment to supplement her family’s low household wages, and to gain independence by asserting her own earning power. As the in-charge at one RUDI center explained, becoming a Rudiben requires a lot of gumption; women occupy submissive, close-to-home roles in traditional village culture, whereas the Rudiben role requires assertiveness in the public domain. Considering this role is out-of-comfort-zone to begin with, the ingenuity of some of these women is startling. A few anecdotes to explain:
In a colorful village of Mahesana, one Rudiben invited us into her tidy home and told us about her master networking and sales tactics. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she explained that she had created several savings groups for 75 women in the area. Since women lack the power to make spending decisions in the home, the savings groups act as a bank for women to deposit wages and save for their children’s education and home improvements. Our clever hostess has leveraged this network by marketing RUDI products to her colleagues – and she’s met with overwhelming success. Each time women meet to make a deposit to the savings group, the rudiben has their “kits” of desired goods ready. The women are sure to have cash available for the goods given the nature of the visit. Using high-level sales tactics like bundling and leveraging her network, this Rudiben has a reliable income and projects clear authority in her home and village.
A young Rudiben in Anand with a stunning smile has clearly risen to all-star Rudiben status. Faced with the challenge of selling a premium quality good in a price-sensitive market, this entrepreneurial woman has a routine to justify the price by demonstrating how the quality of the product makes it last longer. When faced with a skeptical customer, she puts a sample of RUDI chili powder and a competitor’s chili powder in water, so the density and color of the RUDI product was clear. Her success has been so huge that she’s recruited young Rudiben to work under her, taking on her existing clients, while she explores new villages.
Finally, with a nod to Indian culture, I’d like to recognize the eldest Rudiben we have met. In a village outside Surendranagar we met two very impressive Rudiben. The younger one was also a member of the farmers association, revitalizing agriculture in a region with irrigation problems. But the older Rudiben commanded the most respect. I would like to estimate her age, but I’m sure I would guess wrong. The quality of her deep wrinkled skin certainly didn’t match her vitality and sense of humor. She was a commanding woman, demanding we try each nut and legume in the building and laughing as she tried out her “thank you” in English and led me to a cradle to hold her baby grandchild. I’d like to think that this is the kind of older woman every Rudiben will become.