Location: Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Name: Smarita Sengupta
Date of profile: May 2012
Programme: Skills training in making fashion accessories, and marketing products.
Aim: To train victims of trafficking and other vulnerable and marginalised young women so that they can become economically independent and socially reintegrated.
Background and context
Destiny was founded in 2007 with financial contribution and support from ‘Made By Survivors’, a USA-based organisation that fights human trafficking through employment and empowerment.
Destiny Reflection is a registered charitable organisation and a registered business. The charitable arm provides survivors with education, life-skills counseling, vocational training and funding for self-help groups. The business wing comprises of 14 employed women who produce and sell a variety of products including bags, scarves, wallets, laptop cases, aprons and folders.
Destiny Reflection works in partnership with local and international organisations supporting survivors from exploitation such as Sanlaap, International Justice Mission, Mahima Home and the All Bengal Women’s Union. If girls being supported by these organisations display an interest in craft work and have developed some basic sewing skills, Destiny Reflection will offer them training and in some cases employment on completion of the training. Girls who live in the red light districts of the city are also able to access training through this programme.
In the last 4 years Destiny has trained over 50 women who have been reintegrated back into society through marriage, employment, starting their own business’ or continuing to work with Destiny Reflection. Currently Destiny Reflection is able to provide full time employment to 14 women at the production centre.
Training, marketing and economic self-sufficiency: Transport is provided to girls (over the age of 14) living in the shelter homes, a fixed training stipend is paid to these girls by Destiny Reflection. Once they are trained, and if they are then taken on by the business wing of the organisation, they receive a salary.
On-the-job training is organised in-house. In order to produce quality products the training is rigorous, serving to increase the skill of the women and girls as well as their confidence to take on independent ventures in the future. Some of the girls who have reached 18 end up working from their own communities. These girls are supported by Destiny Reflection in some cases and in others they run independent enterprises where Destiny outsources its production to them.
Destiny Reflection is trying to market products both locally and internationally. Links have been made with various bodies including corporates, social enterprises and church groups. For example the girls and women have made a number of items for hotel chains such as shoe bags, laundry bags as well as customised gifts.
Basic needs: Destiny Reflection focuses on livelihood training but believes that economic independence cannot progress without taking care of other aspects. The organisation strives to provide a safe and supportive working environment, in which the girls and women are treated with respect and dignity.
The organisation not only functions as a workplace, but has become a family too for many of the girls who do not have a family. Girls receive care and the organisation creates a homely atmosphere where birthdays are celebrated and outings are organised.
Rehabilitation and reintegration support: Women are encouraged to become financially independent and self-sufficient. The girls are trained in basic financial planning and other social skills to help them obtain accommodation and to transition to independence. A few of them have now married and stay at home with their families where some run their own business. Others have moved out of the red light areas and shelter homes into women’s hostels.
Destiny Reflection also gives financial assistance to individuals who work from home by buying them sewing machines. In some suburban areas groups of women are working together to earn a living. In Sundarban for example 15-20 women are working together to produce goods. In Narendrapur, Destiny Reflection supports a group of 5 women by marketing their kantha blankets to overseas buyers.
Although the programme has not been evaluated, anecdotal reporting from the organisation suggests that young girls and women involved in the programme:
achieve good working skills and training in business management.
become strong, confident and financially capable individuals which contributes to their reintegration
benefit psychologically due to the healing and supportive, bonding nature of the working groups
benefit from a reduction in stigma and risk of re-trafficking.
Non-discrimination and an individual response
The girls are supported throughout and are treated equally regardless of working skills, social background or state of health. The programme is flexible based on the individual’s needs and problems.
The girls’ preferences over the kind of training they wish to complete is taken into consideration as far as possible, however this greatly depends on the availability of resources and trainers. Girls are involved in decision-making on all personal issues and matters.
Sustainable and replicable
Destiny Reflection is not a 100 % donation-based organisation and is not supported by government funding. The organisation is trying to become self-sustainable through their business arm and have plans for expansion. Destiny reflection is looking forward to developing an eco tourism project in the Sunderbans to create more employment opportunities in the future.
Currently the market for their products is mainly in the USA, the UK and Canada and these connections are down to personal and business contacts. The plan is to expand in the local and international market and collaborate more with the corporate sector.
The organisation is also trying to benefit from the government schemes that fund women entrepreneurs under the SSI (Small Scale Industry) scheme. If they succeed in doing so, the girls will be able to take part in the trade fairs free of cost which should lead to more opportunities for selling products.
Destiny Reflection depends on local volunteers as well as volunteers from overseas. The organisation has a partnership with several universities including Simon Fraser University in Canada and Santa Clara University in the USA. Volunteers help with administrative work, marketing and design to ensure products are of a high quality.
Key factors of success
Quality control: There is a focus on the quality of product, market linkages and professionalism. As it is a market based organisation, the girls have to be well skilled.
Market access: The organisation provides access to a market for women who are skilled and yet disadvantaged due to geographical distance or social marginalisation.
Operating as a cooperative can help less able girls to be accommodated easily as a better work division is possible and profit can be shared.
Self Help Groups (SHG) don’t always function properly. Destiny Reflection has learnt that in some cases the groups collapse quickly or lack the proper marketing strategies needed, quality control is difficult, and cheating occurs within the group.
Working with under-18s can be difficult, being a commercial organisation employing under-age girls can create problems. However, the most vulnerable girls in the red-light areas are under 18 and in need of alternative livelihood options.
Due to the trauma for some girls, the training takes longer which can lead to financial loss and is difficult to explain when reporting to funders and donors.
Some girls who are cared for in the shelters get used to the ‘charity mentality’ and expect donations.
If a girl is involved in a court case then a court order is needed for that girl to leave the shelter home to train and work. This often limits the scope of the girls’ rehabilitation and reintegration.
The present market is limited to the USA, Canada and the UK. Expanding the market, both internationally and nationally, would result in an increase in the demand for such products. This would enable the organisation to employ more girls and thus cater to more victims of trafficking.
Since the organisation is market-oriented, the products have to be of high quality and therefore the workers have to be highly skilled. Often due to lack of funds and lack of human resources, the girls even though motivated, cannot always access the best training.
A lot of time and manpower goes into finding a market to the sell products – leaving little time for fundraising.
Not all of the girls have the skills necessary to produce high-quality goods. In these cases girls need to be supported to do other jobs that require less skill.
Group cohesion can lead to problems whereby the collective cannot function as effectively as desired. While working in the community, team building is a challenge and in some situations members may try and cheat others out of money.
Marketing can be challenging in many respects. It has become the norm that organisations use the profile of their workers as an advertising tool. The international buyers often ask for the photographs of the girls and the story of their life to market and sell the products. When Destiny refuses to agree to these terms in order to protect their workers privacy and anonymity, organisations no longer are interested in their products.
Health can be another problem. Where girls are HIV positive they need extra leave and they need to be paid when sick, therefore it is difficult to function as a business.