PraCol: India’s First Women Empowerment Driven E-Commerce Platform

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PraCol: India’s First Women Empowerment Driven E-Commerce Platform

In Conversation with the PraCol (Prayaana Collective) Team

The intention behind the country’s first women empowerment driven e-commerce platform, https://pracol.com/, is simple—to ensure that women of a similar mindset come together to grow together. It is an online marketplace of women entrepreneurs cooperating and collaborating to support one another. The ecosystem brims with women who are enhancing their own businesses while supporting other business owners as well as affiliate promoters.

Dr Chandra Vadhana R, Founder and Chief Mentor of Prayaana, says, “We have the biggest advantage that we are women-powered and this is our story and appeal.” She reinforces that PraCol (Prayaana Collective) is an initiative that fosters unity, sustainability and empowerment.

Unity is represented by the coming together of women from diverse backgrounds. Only when women come together can their issues be solved. “If you’re fighting alone, you have a tough journey ahead of you. But if you fight together, it gets easier,” she says.

Sustainability is a giant focus on PraCol’s agenda- the core intention is to stay away from unethical schemes and have environmentally-friendly sustainable goods and services in the spotlight. They even go a step further with the sale of several upcycled products on the website. 

Empowerment is undoubtedly the most important pillar of the PraCol process, which happens at three levels.

- Prayojikas (Vendors, Product Innovators):

Entrepreneurs with an existing product or brand can become part of the ever-supportive PraCol community and list their products onto the website, thereby expanding their customer base and increasing sales.

- Samyojikas (Affiliate Promoters)

Women who join PraCol as Samyojikas need not have a product of their own to start earning—their role is to promote products on the PraCol platform to their circles using their affiliate link to garner a small percentage of successful sales as income.

- Prayaana Members (Mentorship & Training)

The third level of empowerment under the Prayaana umbrella is via their mentorship and training programmes. The idea is to generate a margin from other activities and use that to empower women with a variety of socially driven programmes. At the grassroots level, they organise college events and open up the doors to entrepreneurship to the female graduates, even inducting a few people for internships with Prayaana. Another fine example of a successful mentorship programme is Prayaana’s Comeback to Career (C2C) venture directed to empower women looking to get back into the workforce after a career break, owing to personal reasons.

This social enterprise business model may be one of the select few in the country and the long-term goal is to create a movement of women-led enterprises, deflecting from the conventional business-minded ideology of just raking in profits. The Prayaana culture and value system is one to grow into and the intention is to create a community of like-minded individuals. To ensure this, Prayaana even has a 10 Commandments culture-building process to retain only those women who understand and echo the nuances of this company’s value system. Keziah Thomas, a Prayaana chief mentor, quite eloquently summarises their culture in a single sentence, “When you light a lamp, make sure that you share it with the next woman too.” PraCol, specifically, is about being a safe space for collaboration not competition between women entrepreneurs.

PraCol has a Vision 2023 in place- 1000 Prayojikas | 10000 Samyojikas | 1 Million Customers. Though it may seem ambitious at first, from the looks of how things are going and the support PraCol is receiving, it may soon become a reality. Dr Chandra Vadhana says, “To reach a 1000 women entrepreneurs in today’s world is fast. But we want to go ahead in a steady way where we can provide value to each of these prayojikas so they also feel committed to PraCol. It is our movement that the woman is a part of- we are more than just another e-commerce site.”

In terms of challenges faced by PraCol so far, Dr Chandra Vadhana says, “Challenges are a part of every business and it is all about overcoming them. Challenges are actually exciting for us!” With vendors based across India, the logistics of a single customer purchasing from multiple vendors proves to be an uphill challenge for PraCol, according to Sreekesh Pai, PraCol’s Director (Technology). An eye out into the future, PraCol hopes to make its mark in the international markets, with primary focus being GCC, which they anticipate potential roadblocks with

Creating A Community Conducive to Growth

It was Dr Chandra Vadhana’s personal struggles with entrepreneurship in the early days that led her to create an ambience to lend a helping hand to women who believe that they are traversing the path of entrepreneurship and leadership alone. Dr Chandra Vadhana believes that when a woman has a good support system, it boosts her self-identity and the sky’s the limit for her. Through Prayaana and PraCol, an ecosystem of moral and emotional support is created to respark the dormant creativity of an unsupported woman.

The Future Talks Webinar on YouTube was started mid-pandemic to kickstart a digital series to continue to inspire and educate the community with talks from eminent speakers and experts in their field, acting as a resource to scale up women-led businesses.

The biweekly Coffee Chats are another way for the women in business to connect and freely discuss the challenges they’ve faced in running their enterprise from the previous chat to that point. Ideas are brainstormed and goals are set to accomplish by the next Coffee Chat.

They also have a monthly magazine called SheSight which is internally circulated among the thousands of Prayaana members. They feature stories of women entrepreneurs and place their businesses, products and services in the spotlight. The Editor-in-Chief of this magazine, Ms Sujatha Unnikrishnan, is an excellent case study of Prayaana’s monumental impact- a well-drafted WhatsApp group message ended up landing her several content writing gigs via the network and finally the job as SheSight’s creative commander!

PraCol also functions informally as a complimentary consultancy for several vendors- the company’s design team assists vendors with the creation of attractive designs for packaging and trains them on how to improve their product styling, storytelling and photography. They are also given valuable insights on pricing their products. These auxiliary services allow the Prayojikas to a great extent with their overall branding and subsequent sales.

The PraCol Team & Community

Dr Chandra Vadhana may be the Founder of Prayaana but she believes that PraCol is now more than just her vision—it has become a self-driven community. With a core team in place just to oversee the activities and offer guidance, she prides in saying that PraCol doesn’t really need her or her connections any more. Alongside her is a team of Chief Mentors including Dr Lalitha Mathew, Ms Jessica Mundroina and Ms Keziah Thomas along with 50+ mentors pan-India. The mentors outline all their programs with an intention to detach at the end and take a backseat, in order to allow the women to grow organically into their roles at PraCol. There are 40+ women in fellowship projects and 30+ Ambassadors as part of the circle. The above constitutes the core action team. Apart from this, Prayaana is also a community to 1000+ women and volunteers from across the country.

Mr Sreekesh K Pai looked back at Prayaana’s roots, recalling that it started off with empowering women with training and mentoring sessions which birthed entrepreneurs. PraCol was created to be an e-commerce platform to promote these businesswomen and their products, thereby empowering them further. Though the PraCol website became a reality only in March 2020, Sreekesh’s guidance and his process of setting up a technical roadmap has already geared this e-commerce site onto the path of success.

Kochi-based Sarumathi introduces herself as the PraCol Operations Lead before going on to talk about her own fashion brand, Label S Sarumathi. Her first tryst with Prayaana was a 3-day training programme led by Dr Chandra Vadhana not long after which, she became a Prayaana member. One feature of the Prayaana community that Sarumathi appreciates is that she got the opportunity to interact with other businesswomen who were facing the same challenges as her—she realised that she was not alone. She recounts going from hunting for opportunities to creating them for the entire Prayaana community; an instance would be taking charge on organising exhibitions for the team’s members. Sarumathi also believes that Prayaana has played a pivotal role in augmenting her confidence levels. Her experience working as a project manager in the e-publishing sector, prior to a career break, oriented her and made her a strong candidate to take the lead on PraCol’s Operations.

Elza, CEO of a local and ethically sourced chocolate brand Tastree, has been a member of Prayaana since the very beginning. Among the many things that the Prayaana community has given her, Elza cherishes the brainstorming process with a team of women that always elevates vague ideas into actionable plans. One such idea led her to expanding beyond Tastree chocolates and launching her own curated gifting brand- Lavender Thoughts. Being a proud member of this women’s community, she says that 90% of the content of these gifting hampers includes products sourced from other Prayaana members. She is one of the main coordinators of the Future Talks Webinar Series, too. Over the course of this two year journey, she looks back to reflect how much she has grown personally and professionally.

Gopika, co-founder of Live With Art and a staunch Prayaana ambassador based in Maharashtra, says that Prayaana and PraCol empower women in a wholesome manner. She particularly looks forward to the biweekly virtual Coffee Chats and the selfless exchange of ideas that happens. Being in the art field, she even oversees the designing of the SheSight magazine and finds it extremely fulfilling to work on it without being micromanaged. Gopika recounts several instances where she has chosen to associate with different women’s groups to promote not just Live With Art but Prayaana as well—such is her commitment to the community.

So, how to become part of the PraCol community, you ask? There are several ways that you can choose to become part of this supportive, cheerleading community of strong-willed women.

- If you’re a woman entrepreneur with an established brand and product, it is as simple as reaching out to the PraCol team and becoming a Prayojika to list your product/s on their platform.

- For women who want to step into the fascinating world of entrepreneurship but do not have guidance, Prayaana has a number of programs to nurture ideas and give root to a business.

- Established professionals working in other jobs can also contribute to this ecosystem by becoming a mentor to these women who are in search of an idea. In addition to this, they also encourage women to take up fellowships and internships within Prayaana’s projects to propel them into their career and gain experience along the way.

2021 Plans for Prayaana & PraCol

While 2020 has led many business plans astray, the team is confident of a great 2021 with two major campaigns running.

The prestigious C2C Mission 2021 aims to empower 2021 women to make a comeback to their careers/campus. The mission is already in motion with the support of highly inspiring women mentors from all over India.

Their next big project is the 1000 Smiles Promise campaign, put forth by PraCol, which aims to get a promise from customers in committing to purchase something from their local woman entrepreneur worth Rs 1000/- every month. This campaign is set to launch in December 2020 and will run all through 2021.

Advice for Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs

Dr Chandra Vadhana’s advice for women who want to step into the world of entrepreneurship is to listen to your inner calling and shut out the naysayers. Be analytical of what the critics say and see how you can improve rather than labelling yourself a failure without even trying. Another thing she says is to stop limiting your growth potential and start setting bigger goals for yourself.

Keziah Thomas steps up and comments that a lot of well-educated women are forced to remain home due to familial pressure. It is a personal choice and if a woman wants to work, she should. It is the women in this middle and upper middle class segment of society identified as the ones who need help the most in becoming self-reliant and financially independent since there is an invisible barrier of “What would people say?” restricting them, should they choose to resume their career or start a venture of their own. She has observed, from her several years of experience in mentoring women, that if women do start a business, it is usually in a home science domain and not in the field they may be trained or educated in. She urges the educated woman population to step out of this comfort zone and trailblaze their destined path in a conventionally “man’s world”. Prayaana’s goal is to inspire more qualified women to become self-reliant and confident women entrepreneurs over the next decade- in what they label a ‘silent revolution’.

Another thing that both Dr Chandra and Keziah mention is that women should not falter or quit at the first sight of a challenge. Instead, shun the cynics and use this as an opportunity to step up to solve the problem at hand.

 

Simply put, Prayaana and PraCol are finally all about finding solutions. Once a gap is identified in the system that may dwarf the growth of a woman in business, Prayaana seeks to fill it with their various initiatives.
Based on how things are going and a quick glance at their infinity-shaped logo, it’s safe to say that they’re only getting started.

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