Saka Shailaja has established herself as a visionary entrepreneur, mentor and social worker over the years who has been empowering women and doing something meaningful for society.
Oppression against the Dalit community has been prevalent in India since time immemorial. People from this community have been maltreated and considered as the ‘other’. However, women like Ms Saka Shailaja have beaten all odds of society to prove that it’s time to stop this ill-treatment. By emerging as a successful entrepreneur and employing thousands of underprivileged women, Shailaja has marked her identity and proved that anyone can do or be anything if we utilize the opportunities given to us in life.
A Bumpy Beginning
47-year-old Saka Shailaja has helped in empowering and economically enabling thousands of women. Especially those from the Scheduled and Other Backward Castes (OBCs). However, being a founder and employing thousands of women wasn’t a piece of cake. Coming from an economically backward family herself, Shailaja always had the will and the zeal to help people around her.
“My kids always asked me why we were born in this particular community. From the very beginning, I had to overcome several hurdles and obstacles in my life to reach where I am today. When I wanted to start my career as a beautician 25 years ago, everyone condemned the profession. The mindset is the issue and not the profession,” said Saka Shailaja.
From her childhood, Shailaja had to witness widespread discrimination and bias against the people of her community. In addition to this, she also discontinued her education after class 10 due to financial issues in her family. After getting married at a young age, she understood how the ‘profession’ of a homemaker was not suitable for her. She wanted to do something on her own and started by opening a small salon that cost her Rs 10,000. Her family members were against her in doing what she wanted to do.
“When I started my salon, a lot of women used to narrate their stories to me. This led me to think- why couldn’t I help these women? This is when I decided I would start giving coaching to underprivileged women, who wanted to earn a living,” added Shailaja.
Why the Beauty Industry?
“Beauty never ends in one’s life. Also, beauty is not definitive of one’s religion, race, caste or sex. It also plays a significant role in developing connections in life,” said Shailaja. Initially, she also went to gym trainers and tailors, to convince them to put their foot into the beauty industry. However, no one was interested or determined to pursue a career in the same.
“Since I come from a lower caste, everyone told me that being a beautician is a profession that only people from the upper caste are capable of. In addition to this, these people also associated the profession with vulgarity and obscenity. However, I didn’t give up. 25 years ago, this term had a very different meaning in society,” added Shailaja.
Employing the Underprivileged
Shailaja first started her beauty clinic in the Sircilla region of Telangana. The women in the region used to be involved in beedi-making. Child labour was in place and young girls between the age of 18-20 contracted chronic diseases that affected their lives. “The girls working in the beedi factories requested me to help them since they faced a lot of health issues. When I told these girls that I would give them the training to be a beautician, they all had a huge question mark on their faces. They didn’t know how life would be outside the area they lived in. I took a huge risk and decided to employ them,” said Shailaja.
In addition to this, she also visited famous beauty clinics to convince the owners to hire underprivileged women. Shailaja gave basic training to the girls and sent them off to various clinics to get employed.
Moving forward in life, Shailaja later started her beauty school where she taught young girls how to learn the basics of being a beautician. In the year 2019, she founded her manufacturing industry called Roja’s Group of Industries. Under this, she started a new initiative called ‘SYNNOVE’, a 100% women-run enterprise that manufactures and sells a wide range of nature-sourced herbal products such as soaps, hand washes, face washes, sanitisers, shampoos, creams and gels, moisturizers, etc. These products are mainly sold offline through retail stores and markets across Telangana, as well as through the GEM (Government E-Marketplace) portal. Ms Saka Shailaja is also supported by a programme called ‘Her&Now’ which is known for empowering women entrepreneurs. It was implemented by GIZ, on behalf of BMZ, German Federal Ministry and in partnership with the MSDE, Govt of India. After joining ‘Her&Now’, Shailaja and her team were also introduced to new methods of training, packing and designing.
Embrace the opportunities!
Shailaja is on the road to train several women who are looking for an opportunity to help their families. She also convinces her employees at Roja’s Industries to start their initiatives in the future so that no one is left idle. “We all have countless desires in our lives. Some can get and fulfil their desires and for some, they become mere dreams. I have taken it upon myself to train and educate these women. I want them to be involved and be free from any obstacles. It’s not the sufferings but the experiences that change one’s life,” added Saka Shailaja.