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‘Baking to Empower’

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‘Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish, he’ll eat forever’.

Her belief in this saying was what motivated 16-year old Ishvi Mathai, to use her baking skills to empower underprivileged women and teenage girls to achieve self-employment and acquire financial independence.

What started as a hobby during the first COVID lockdown, with Ishvi wanting to bring smiles to her neighbors by making baked goodies to combat the widespread negativity and baking cakes for those missing out on celebrating with their families for special occasions, soon became a citywide charitable business with orders from social media, generating much income. The proceeds were initially donated towards food kits for stranded migrant workers, lockdown victims, and other underprivileged in the area who were struggling to make ends meet. She partnered with the local police department, NGOs like Seva Bharathi, and reached out to several personal contacts to help anyone and everyone she knew was in need. But she soon realised that even though she really wanted to expand her reach and help more and more people, she could not continue funding so many needy. This is when she decided that if she couldn’t do it herself, she would help them generate the necessary funds themselves. If she could make this much money working out of her home with minimal equipment and basic ingredients, she could teach many needy women and teenage girls her baking skills, and help them adopt her business model so they could construct a source of sustainable income for themselves.

 This was the beginning of her Baking Skills Academy.

She worked with an NGO who were setting up digital classrooms at schools for the underprivileged so these children do not miss out on learning opportunities during the pandemic; and included her baking videos so that the children use them to set up small businesses and make an income to support themselves and their families. The income from her own baking business was used to set up these classrooms, training sessions, and provide baking equipment to the trainees to start their businesses.

She has also partnered with many NGOs who were vested in ESkill teaching, to include her baking videos in the skill set they were already providing. These NGOs helped monitor the trainees after they setup their baking units and ensure that they were able to meet their financial goals.

“It was hard initially to convince the NGOs to include a 16-year old’s baking videos into their syllabus, but after convincing them of my own thriving business and showing them how well some trainees were doing with their baking units, I was able to help them see the good it could do and get on board with my idea,” says Ishvi.

She’s also working with a team of six volunteers to help them set up franchises like hers, and help many more needy people by replicating her business model. With a current reach of 2000, she hopes to expand that to 10,000 over the next year. With the help of her volunteers, she expects to have see her reach grow ten-fold, reaching over 1,00,000 people in a year. She also hopes to instill an “each one, teach one” mindset in the volunteers, paving the way for the reach of her business model to grow boundlessly, helping millions of people in the years to come.

 “The baking industry in India is currently tagged to be worth 7 billion USD and it is estimated to rise to 13 billion USD, doubling the current market value in the next five years. I, along with my team, hope to train underprivileged girls and women and bring them into the workforce in this industry.” says Ishvi.

She believes that empowering underprivileged women to become self-sufficient and financially independent, uplifts their whole family and community, this being exactly what is needed to combat financial inequalities and fuel economic growth in India from the grassroots level.

She also hopes to expand her Skill Academy to incorporate skill building in various fields beyond baking in the near future.

Her story is inspiring young girls to not only build skills to stand on their own, but become entrepreneurs, fuelling India’s economic growth.