This blog was written prior to the Cross Continent MBA program merger with the Global Executive MBA program

Part 2 of the blog can be read here.

Shahi’s Efforts to Empower the Women of South Asia

Many times we are so focused on fashion in order to make a statement or express our various moods and personas that we forget to take a step back and think about how every piece of our trendy outfit is created and by whom. What is probably not an immediate realization is that if your tag says “Made in India,” you are more than likely helping perpetuate the struggle of a woman who never once had the opportunity to build a career.

However, during our visit to Shahi Exports we were fortunate to encounter the opposite. We learned about the company’s incredible achievements in encouraging employment of women, fostering their development, and improving their lives.

Duke Fuqua Cross Continent MBA students gain unique business insight at Shahi Exports
More of the women of Shahi

As a leader for the Cross Continent MBA Women in Business club, I was not only elated but also extremely impressed to learn that over 70-percent of Shahi’s workforce are women, many of whom are from the rural society in India. Shahi is creating a ton of opportunity for lower-skilled women, and because the industry is so largely dependent on their craftsmanship they arm them with the skills necessary to advance. This is huge, not only in combating gender inequality but also especially important in a country like India where attrition rates for garment factories is extremely high—upwards of 10-percent or more monthly.

In fact, one of the first things that came to mind as we gained more business insight on Shahi’s operation is that they understand a key concept we learned in Professor Aaron Kay’s Managerial Effectiveness class—employee satisfaction is essential to driving business growth. While there are extrinsic rewards like monetary compensation to retain employees, other methods can be used as alternatives like intrinsic motivation for things that are not measurable yet drive employee motivation and confidence. Shahi has taken this concept and has become a trendsetter in my eyes for the garment industry, and truly sees value in its female workers based on investments in key developmental programs.

Anant, the grandson of the founder of Shahi, gave us an overview of their extremely impressive program called Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (PACE), which focuses on two key areas for women: life skills and technical skills. The objective is to provide women an avenue for advancing themselves both personally and professionally and doing so in a safe environment amongst their peers with similar backgrounds and challenges.

Duke Fuqua Cross Continent MBA students gain unique business insight at Shahi Exports
Me ‘testing’ the product

To confirm this program would garner positive effects, Anant worked with Yale professors to evaluate if there was real benefit to implementing it—and the results spoke for themselves. When women participated, Shahi found there were increases in all sorts of metrics including literacy in financial management and savings, technical curiosity and ambition towards promotions, and increases in self-confidence.

Shahi has received world-wide recognition for its efforts including several awards and highlights by key influencers like former U.S. President Bill Clinton who felt the PACE program was one of the “five ideas that are changing the world.” It’s important to note that they also have other incredible initiatives not common in the region including day care services for child development and healthcare for its women employees.

I always knew there was an underlying reason why women should be keen on fashion—not just for looking cute but also for the positive change it can bring to disadvantaged women worldwide.