August 31, 2013

Sanghamitra Jena:: Woman Entrepreneur, A Trailblazer

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“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.

August 1, 2013

Independent Inter-Connections

Many things are happening across the world today. A series of prison-breaks – starting from Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Pakistan – have happened. A calculated domino effect or sheer coincidence?  Does this talk about the shortage of crude sinister brains to run terror activities?  Similar to India Inc’s dependence on those few experienced hands for handling companies in these turbulent times of serious slowdown?

Then of course, there is a chain of recent and frequent man-made accidents, surprisingly across Europe and North America starting with the derailment of the train in Canada, which carried tons of oil and destroyed the entire town – fire fighters could do nothing, with many even losing their lives.  Then the train at Spain’s Santiago de Compostela which was running at double the permissible speed and led to a tragic loss of people heading towards festivities. And then, 38 people were killed in Italy due to a bus-crash.  And of course, a gas plant in Florida caught fire and a plane crash-landed at San Francisco and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner caught fire while parked. And I can go on and on. What do these events say? Are they whispering something or screaming out aloud?  Probably they say that increasingly people in the ‘developed’ Western World are becoming anxious, nervous, about an uncertain and bleak economic future, which may be resulting in a certain angry recklessness – a non-apologetic productivity-hammering attitude.

Not to talk about the rest of the world – ‘emerging’ and less – developed countries. Every single day, natural-cum-manmade disasters are wreaking havoc- landslides and floods in China and India. Videos look eerily similar. Increasing desperate personal attacks on China launched by its own suppressed people – alone, with no mob. ‘Ekla Cholo Re’. Each day scores die in bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan – how cheap are human lives. Syria and Egypt are battling civil wars. And poor India. Dengue and malaria. Rapes. Deaths of small children by consuming mid-day meals. Cheap indigenous guns & equipment- police can’t protect so let each carry his own gun and be trigger-happy. Sand mafia. Liquor mafia. Criminals as MPs and MLAs. Investigative agency as a caged parrot.  Complete unity of ALL political parties- not for India’s development but for keeping criminal legislators’ seats. Bulldozer BCCI Chief.  Smaller states solely on political calculations. Naxal attacks. Impossible ‘Trinity’ – currency concerns, inflation, growth. Policy paralysis. Poverty decreased or have more of the poor graduated above the ‘Kutta-Billi line’?  Bhagawati vs Sen. Food security – no need to work. Free power – just deplete all the ground water.

No India bashing. I'm a patriot. The below only bashes ME at my face-

Meanwhile, Indian PSUs invest in building gas pipelines from Myanmar to hold your breath – China!  An 870 km long strategic cross border pipeline while India’s gas fuelled power plants sit idle on the back of wrong inflated estimates of Indian gas reserves by Govt. of India! 

And India looks on – as Italian marines kill our fisherman, Sri Lankan Navy fire at our fishermen, Pakistan beheads Indian soldiers, China plays catch-me-if-you-can at Daulat Beg Oldi and Chumar, USA snoops on private data of India’s millions and both Britain and USA especially invite Indian Investors to create jobs there while continuing to threaten lowering long-term Visas for our skilled people and UK makes bonds necessary! India is in such a sad situation now that bad news-flows in USA props up our markets and vice versa! Of course we have never been decoupled- waiting like hungry dogs for meat thrown our way by the Fed! And we love imported weapons too, with the French romancing us latest to not stop embracing the Rafale!

And of course, we have the cheap Chinese goods too – a lucrative backyard for the Chinese to run further trade-surplus!  Wow-as if stock piling $3 Trillion of forex reserves already wasn’t enough- now that is called Economic Power! Why would a stockpile of nuclear weapons be necessary when a nation has this much more effective stockpile?! 

No. I’m not a pessimist, I’m a die-hard Optimist- 

Many positive things too have happened. The Palestine-Israel talks in Washington D.C. bring a whiff of fresh air. Will both sides be a wee bit kind and mature for a final ever-lasting settlement for the peace of the world?  Rain water harvesting in Jaipur’s temples. Entertainment & lifestyle magazine for the blind. Pattern change by the UPSC. Pope Francis airing unexpectedly liberal views for his position. SC judgements to decriminalise politics. Bombay HC terming BCCI’s internal probe panel as unconstitutional. Lord Jagannath’s very own FM Radio Station. Durga Shakti Nagpal – we need thousands of such Durga Shaktis.

Well, at the end of it, there are a few good women-and men- who make our nation work.  (

No Shah-Rukh style flamboyance, no NaMo style PR, no noise- silently they work towards making India prosperous. My salute to the honest lot- entrepreneurs, teachers, scientists, administrators, social workers, lawyers, chartered accountants and so on. Today they are a rare breed- upholding their professions with integrity and shunning the fraudulent, dishonest ways in which majority of people in their professions are moving and flourishing.

May the honest, efficient, upright grow and may India become Independent in the true sense of the word! In advance, Happy Independence Day!

N.B.: I just noticed that I’ve shunted and levitated between the World and India across this article. But finally I land up firmly in India! You see, home is where the Heart is! Jai Hind!

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