I first came to Sari Bari in August 2011 at the beginning of a four month internship and I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome of the ladies. I was given a Bengali name and put to work doing everything from ironing material to washing tea mugs. The majority of the women did hand sewing while a handful were on sewing machines and finishing bags. There were a few men that worked at Sari Bari that did cutting and production material prep work. There were a team of six North American staff who focused on the business tasks like managing finances, quality control and coordinating shipping. My time at Sari Bari came to an end and I returned to the United States where I kept in contact with the staff. I loved working alongside the women and hoped one day to return.
When I decided to return as an intern in 2014, I assumed I would take on one of the roles that previous North American staff had been doing. There had been some big transitions among the North American staff so I was more than willing to take on multiple roles to help the business. When I arrived at Sari Bari, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many of the women in roles previously done by North American staff. One of the women has taken over as Shipping Coordinator and has learned how to take and edit product photos while answering emails and maintaining shipping records. She has been given the resources to learn new skills within Sari Bari. All the pre-production work such as cutting saris and canvas is now done by women which allows them to have a salary job. With the opening of a new production unit, there is now room for more women to move into managing roles. It has been really cool to see their ability to lead and manage their peers. Every woman has ownership in the day-to-day operation and they are proud of the work they do. Whenever a guest comes to visit, there is a booming “Welcome to Sari Bari” from one or more of the women because they are proud of the work they do and wants others to be warmly welcomed into Sari Bari. Sari Bari wants to create a culture where the women are promoted from within when there is an opening they can fill. Sari Bari wants to empower women as they walk along the path to freedom and that is what I have seen upon returning to Sari Bari after three years.
As the business grows, there is more Indian staff stepping into leadership roles. The Production Logistics Coordinator (PLC) and the Administrator are Indian men who care for the women and want them to succeed. The PLC can more easily navigate the market when shopping for raw materials and ensure the best prices. The Administrator keeps track of financial laws and day to day financial management which ensures Sari Bari is operating as an upstanding business. Upendra has been with Sari Bari from the beginning so he knows the business like the back of his hand. He has been a valuable team player when it comes to getting business done and operations within India. These men have stepped into valuable roles and oversee the day-to-day operations. Sari Bari has hired an Indian Social Worker who facilitates group therapy during training and is learning how to navigate the Indian public health care system. Each of these staff members provides an invaluable service in which they use their gifts and talents to make Sari Bari a sustainable business.
I look forward to seeing more women step into management roles as Sari Bari continues to grow and expand within the city. I hope the women of Sari Bari continue to thirst for knowledge that will allow them to take bigger roles in the company. Sari Bari is about freedom and the women continue to live fully into freedom for themselves and their families. I expectantly wait to see how the Indian leadership continues to grow and transform the business.