A cooperative movement aims to encourage individuals to produce, buy, and sell commodities together and share the profits without making anyone the sole owner of the franchise. It is an initiative to form a collective community, and Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad did just that. The extraordinary story of Lijjat Papad— a venture founded by seven women of Mumbai, which is now worth multi-million dollars, is the epitome of female empowerment in a patriarchal society. This Lijjat Papad case study will explore how the cooperative grew from Rs 80 to Rs 800 crore.
The modest beginnings of Lijjat started in 1959 when seven housewives of Mumbai met on a rooftop one bright morning to make four packages of papads. The founders had resolved from the start that they would not ask anyone for money or assistance, even if the organization suffered loss and slowly increased its manpower, which only included women. The group gained considerable popularity only through word of mouth and could incur an annual sale of Rs 6196 in the first year. By the end of the third year, there were more than 300 Lijjat sisters, as they like to call themselves.
Currently, Lijjat Papad cooperation employs 45,000 women spread over India. The women are primarily housewives who are offered opportunities to use their cooking skills and become the ‘co-owners’ of the establishment from the comfort of their homes. Their wafer-thin snacks, called papads or papadums have become a symbol for the upliftment of women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Lijjat Papad has now taken its journey toward 82 branches in 17 states of India. Moreover, the women-led cooperative also has a strong base in 25 different nations of the world. They have an annual revenue of Rs. 1600 crores.
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Life of a Lijjat sister begins before dawn when they line up in the morning to drop off finished goods and pick up the freshly prepared lentil dough through which the papads are made. They stretch out and roll the dough, which is speckled with black pepper and cumin seeds, into small circular-shaped flats that are then allowed to dry. The job doesn’t require any formal education but only a handful of skills that make it possible for workers to gain financial independence. Every woman earns according to their production capacity and role in the organization, and men are only allowed for the roles of assistants or drivers.
Due to the cooperative’s stringent sourcing policies, they are now able to expand their business to other products such as masalas, chilis, detergent, and soap. Lijjat’s enthusiasm, transparency, and profit-sharing model are the byproducts of the cooperative’s core vision to provide a common purpose to the women of the marginalized communities of India, where female workforce participation has been declining for years. From the very beginning, Lijjat Papad has made sure to follow a business-oriented perspective that not only earns their women financial security but also a way through which they can gain control over their lives.