August 31, 2013

Sanghamitra Jena:: Woman Entrepreneur, A Trailblazer

Top post on IndiBlogger.in, the community of Indian Bloggers



“She took the path less trodden.

Lo and behold!

She made it a blazing trail!!”

Sanghamitra Jena’s inspirational story is one which everyone in this world must be told. Starting from just Rs.40, 000 capital in 2004, today her travel firm “Eastern Treasure India Tours” has a turnover of a whopping Rs. 1 Crore! She has recently been awarded with “Prerana Award” by OTV (Orissa Television), was featured in Forbes India magazine and also won “Woman Entrepreneur for Tourism” Award by TiE. I was first introduced to her incredible story by Mr. Subroto Bagchi, Co-Founder of Mindtree, who was speaking to enthusiastic MBA students at XIMB in 2010.

In his own inimitable style, Mr.Bagchi enraptured the audience with her story. Inspite of having gone through an immensely troubled private life and having battled a hostile ex-employer’s team, she gathered unimaginable courage with rock-solid family and good colleagues’ support and went ahead with her own enterprise as a 35-year-old single woman. Later I searched all internet links about her, talked to my school-friend Gopal over Facebook and found to my greatest surprise, that SHE was his eldest sister! From him, I learnt still more about her! Yet I learnt the most from the Lady herself, who is today a woman entrepreneur par-excellence!


Sanghamitra’s journey in the hospitality industry started in the year 1992 after joining a ‘Guide Training Programme’ by Tourism Ministry. Though she favoured assignments like her 35 male colleagues, she was refused. Alongwith her four female colleagues, she was told that since it was a male-dominated society, men would only become guides. The feisty lady took it in her stride. After getting guide license, she joined a Bhubaneswar-based tour company. Sanghamitra was the guide for an American lady Lyle Lawson, who after standard Bhubaneswar-Puri-Konark guided tour, asked for more. Sanghamitra described all the breathtaking mountains, rivers, beaches, forests, rich tribal-areas that Odisha proudly comprised of. 

She asked-“Mitra, have you gone to these places?” Sanghamitra replied-“No Ma’am. In our office, they say- U are a lady and U can’t go far on tours. Respect society’s opinion.” Ms.Lawson said-“Let’s go to your office”. There she said-“I’m excited to hear of Odisha’s beauty. Now I need to go on a totally different tour”. So the higher-ups made a costing of an 8-day-programme. Ms.Lawson insisted on adding another person’s cost to the programme. Sanghamitra’s bosses were aghast that she wanted “Mitra” to accompany her! They obviously contested this. So, Ms.Lawson extended her business-card and said-“I run a tour company in America. If I could come all the way from America to a small part of India on my own, why can’t Mitra be the guide INSIDE HER OWN COUNTRY? You are insulting me by saying she is a woman and cannot handle difficulties. Mitra will be my guide, else I’ll have no business with U”. Later on the journey, she said- “Mitra, all men will suppress U. Do ONLY whatever U want to do. Don’t listen to anyone.” Ms.Lawson has till-date been Mitra’s strong pillar. Sanghamitra has recently returned from a one-and-half-month stay at UK, hosted by Ms.Lawson! An invite to America for 2014 has already been extended! And accepted!


After this, Mitra’s wings opened. She travelled far and wide- all alone, to expand her company’s business right upto the North-East, Gujarat etc. She was made the Tour Division Head and established company offices in Calcutta, Delhi and Chennai. For the next decade, she slogged hard creating programmes, collecting worldwide travel agents’ info, coordinating among hotels, ticketing, passport provision etc.

However, in 2000, her immediate boss left. Then she had to face several problems with management. When she decided to leave the job, they tried to malign her by sending an e-mail containing false information. After learning of it, Sanghamitra asked the management to forward the same to her. The condescending men said- “This’ll hurt you. Why you want it? Go home and relax.” The daring woman replied-“Sir, you only see hurt for me. But I can see only business in this e-mail- I will use the 3000 e-mail contacts to make my own empire stand.” Her strong words echo- “Thanks to my ex-employer who gave a blow on my face. Without that, I may’ve taken life easily. But now, let me prove that I can give a blow back to him.” My Salute to the spirit of this truly brave Lady.

 As she resigned from her job in July 2004 on the one hand, on the other, the ONE MAN whose support she wanted most at this trying time, her husband of fifteen years, decided to leave her to her own life. This was a turning point. In her own words today-“Marriage is an achievement, and divorce is a second achievement”. Having spent almost all her savings for her erstwhile family life, she was left with only Rs 40,000. Sanghamitra had stubbornly rejected dowry property during marriage. So now Sanghamitra’s parents blessed her with Rs.30, 000 for her new venture. She spent all this money in travelling to Delhi and other places and rebuilding contacts. Ms.Lawson wrote a strongly-worded letter to Mitra’s ex-employer-“I’m cancelling contracts with U. Wherever Mitra goes, my company goes with her.” Similar sentiments were echoed by several world-tour operators. Her sister provided a printer-cum-scanner-cum-fax-cum-phone. Another sister kept her cyber-cafe open throughout the nights encouraging her to re-network. There’s been no looking back since she registered her company in 2005.


She recognised that tourists found something wanting in most conventional tours. So, she started with camping accommodation near Bhitarkanika National Park by leasing land from a poor villager, who encouraged her saying-“Daughter, do good for my village”. 

As a woman in tourism, she has got more support from people wherever she goes. People worldwide automatically trust her, as they confide that women will never cheat in business. She says-“Mine is not a commercial venture- this is a rural tourism project. A thousand rupees more will only go towards enhancing villagers’ life”.

Story of a woman who turned all odds against her AND came out trumps. Noble entrepreneurship. From a very noble woman indeed.

24 comments:

  1. A truly noble story of a noble woman. May her tribe increase...
    The story of Sanghamitra Jena deserves to be told and retold to inspire all. India needs entrepreneurs. India needs to better her income from Tourism. Jena's is a Noble entrepreneurship that has our country's best interests.

    Great that you happen to know her. Kudos to you for this excellent piece of work. I am so touched, I have tears in my eyes.
    God Bless us all to stand and walk tall.

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  2. Thanks Amsa for sharing this inspiring story, good work!

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  3. moving story Amrita...nd very nicely penned down...thrs a lot of potential in tourism sector nd m sure she ll go places if she can customize it to make the tourists feel the pulse of the residents...

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  4. Thanks @anitaexplorer, @Vikas & @Neel! We mst encourage entrepreneurs in general and especially women entrepreneurs fr they r a rare breed. They've to battle so many sexist remarks if they assert themselves- family background n riches do not matter.
    Hence, I'm really happy I could write abt her and let the world know her inspirational journey.

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  5. What an incredible journey Sanghamitra Jena had. Hats off to her for her grit and determination. She has such an inspiring story.

    Good luck for the contest.

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  6. Thanks @Vinita! Hope ur gud wishes n those of many oders mk me win! :D

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  7. Nice write up...but, at least for a contest post refrain from using SMS/mobile lingo.

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  8. Hi Amrita,

    Great article. Enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing the inspiration.

    Best Regards.

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  9. @JANU: Thanks so mch fr stoppin by n your tip! Will keep in mind fr future!

    @Clifford: Hey thnks so mch! Hope U visit Odisha in India & take one of Sanghamitra's eco-tours! Will b gr8 fun fr sure! (N.B.: Myself hv nt taken sch a tour yet cn vouch dat Mitra's tours will b super fun!:) )

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  10. That is a very inspiring story!

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    1. Thanks a lot Indrani! India needs more enterprising women like Sanghamitra for true progress. Also more such stories need to be shared, for I'm sure there are many many more such inspiring tales.

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  11. Superb. Moved by the story and her courage. It is interesting to know that she could turn adversity into opportunity by gleaning contacts from the mail that was badmouthing her. Lot of lessons to learn from her story.

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    1. Thanks a lot Sabyasachi. Very true. Our reaction to our adversities determine our success in life. Thanks for visiting my blog and I hope U'll keep visiting more often to read and comment! :)

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  12. Replies
    1. ଆପଣ anonymous ନ ହୋଇଥିଲେ ମୋତେ ବି ଆହୁରି ଭଲ ଲାଗିଥାନ୍ତା । ଆପଣଙ୍କ ପରିଚୟ ମୋ ପାଇଁ ଅନିବାର୍ଯ୍ୟ ଅଟେ।

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  13. Inspiring story..Sweet blog Amritha :-)

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    1. Hey thanks a lot for following my blog! :D I'm delighted! In one of my previous posts, U had commented. I had also tagged U for PAUS activity. Thanks again for liking my blog!

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  14. inspirational story @amrita. More than the technicalities of her struggle, her spirit, her courage inspired me ! That she set up a business all on her own is worthy of appreciation and is hugely inspiring. More power to her and to all those who choose to take stock of their lives and do something about it, rather than keep complaining :)

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    1. Thanks Shashwat for your detailed comment. Her grit and courage truly stands out. Very rightly said. We need more women like her to mk this world a truly better place.

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  15. I salute her indomitable spirit and noble thoughts for tourism and tribal development. Thank you Amrita for sharing Ms Jena's awesome story!

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    1. Thanks a lot for reading and commenting! Indeed she is doing great work for tourism! :)

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  16. A truly inspiring lady ... had the privilege to meet her as well

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  17. I was not knowing you to be such a good writer. This post is well built. You have given due justice to the lady called Sanghamitra Jena. Thanx for picking this subject. Someday I wish to see you this lady to be a business leader of Odisha. Bless ho

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    Replies
    1. Thanks a lot Dada! Will convey this to her! :) This is your first comment on my blog & hope you comment lots more on all my posts! :)

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