Stonesoup is a social enterprise that runs like a family and Saathis are an integral part of this family. We call them Saathis and not business associates. Saathi broadly means ‘The one who is with you’ and that’s exactly what they are to us. They are integral part of our efforts to inform, educate and elicit change - to make our environment safer for us and our future generation.
During the earlier days of our existence as a product solution provider, members of Stonesoup itself were citizen volunteers for waste management efforts in Bangalore city. Our products were created to fill in a need for better solutions from the existing Dump-At-Will method that even educated and evolved citizens follow. And as we continued our journey, many among the fraternity picked up products, marched off to nearby communities and forced change - sometimes 10 houses at a time, sometimes in 100s. Therefore, we do not want to term our Saathis as Entrepreneurs. They are Entrepreneurs by accident, Eco-Warriors on purpose.
Our series on our Saathis is an inspiring look at their journey from ordinary lives to Eco-Warriors, the ones that are leading the change from the front - the ones that decided that complaining wasn't enough, but we have to find solutions and make more people shift, to realise our collective vision of a safe and secure environment.
The first Saathi we feature is Shantha Nataraj.
Shantha’s journey from a demure and shy person to a self confident, successful Saathi is amazing. Originally from Bhadravathi, she relocated to Bangalore after her marriage. She says she has always wanted to be independent and self sufficient and her penchant for being industrious is contagious.
She quit her job to raise two boys and she says her journey towards sustainable living had started long before she even acknowledged it. She had seen organic waste being put in pits and covered with soil to compost in Bhadravathi. After she moved into her new house and her children were a little older she had a bit of free time. She started noticing the waste issues in and around her surroundings. She kept reading about composting and segregation in magazines and newspaper articles.
Early transition to Eco Warrior
She experimented with composting with drums left over from construction of her house and faced different issues while doing so. But she wasn’t the one to give up. Though she doesn’t remember exactly where but once she met Vasuki Iyengar, a composting expert in Bangalore, who guided her on proper methods of composting. With different solutions he had she could now compost her organic waste with ease.
She met Valli at Kanteerava stadium and in her stall she came across the menstrual cup for the first time. When she enquired about it, Valli directed her to Smitha who’s the co-founder of Stonesoup. She learnt more about Stonesoup's work and its commitment to environmental and women empowerment causes and bought into the idea of coming aboard as a Stonesoup Saathi .
Shantha first used the menstrual cup herself and was fully convinced that every menstruating woman can use this eco-friendly alternative to disposable pads - the stigma and fear was unfounded and women - irrespective of cultural and social background, are bound to find the product far more comfortable than disposable alternatives.She took up on herself to make more women aware about sustainable menstrual alternatives and why they should shift. Initially she had inhibitions on how to talk to other women about such an intimate topic but she braved herself and she conducted her first session in Malleshwaram Ladies Association.
(Shantha with RJ Smitha Dixit of Mirchi 98.3 FM)
She had met Dr Tavamani a well known Gynecologist who supported Shantha and supported her initiative while being a part of Green the Red campaign in the Gynecologists’ seminar. She accompanied Shantha to a couple of sessions which gave her a boost of confidence.
Her next session was in SJRC college for the women lecturers. She did not get any orders initially but her confidence in talking to women about sustainable menstruation increased. Here, she met Dr Meenakshi Bharath the famous Gynecologist who helped as a green warrior and a proponent of sustainable menstrual hygiene. Dr Meenakshi directs most of the women she meets to Shantha for information and sales of sustainable menstrual products, and her journey in promoting sustainable menstruation began.
She also visits Green Industries and Services located in Jayanagar and helps people who visit the center looking for sustainable living options.
When we launched the Period Love campaign, Shantha was one of the fore-runners as a trainer. Shantha felt that he impact of one on one sessions was not very long lasting, though. She noticed that although everyone agreed that one needs to shift from reusables to disposables, either fear of using a menstrual cup or a mental block towards cleaning a reusable sanitary pad came in the way of that transition. This is when she hit upon the idea of a whatsapp workshop, with continued hand-holding and encouragement. Surprisingly, her whatsapp workshop has gone viral and she has already conducted 7 such 1-hour sessions in under 2 weeks!
257 slots began to fill up within 2-3 hours of announcing her workshop. People continue to demand more! Post-session, more than half of the women stay on to learn more about the alternatives and for motivation to shift. Since her whatsapp sessions began in June, she has engaged with a whooping 2000 participants from all across India and abroad! Engagements and conversions have multiplied and we see an overall uptake in interest in sustainability.
Topics aren't confined to sustainable menstruation alone. Everyone gets to participate and understand about composting, organic gardening, bioenzymes and their uses, chemical-free cleaners, Zero waste living and much more.
Shantha has done radio shows and managed talks for Green the Red campaign at events across the city.
Stonesoup is proud to be associated with Shantha who walks the talk and helps thousands make the shift to sustainable products.
All our Saathis are amazingly wonderful people like Shantha. Stay tuned for more stories of these inspiring men and women who are quietly working on a shared vision.
Know more about the Saathi Program
Blog submitted by guest blogger Anupama Harish