It is early morning and there is a blanket of mist over Srinagar. Looking out to the city over the Dal Lake from my hotel room, I am wondering what makes Kashmir work. Despite the gun and the bullet spreading havoc, why does the Kashmiri, ever so resilient continue to make one more attempt to rise above it all? The thought takes me back to the lanes of shops outside the world-famous Angkor vat where meandering through the small lanes I had chanced upon a Kashmiri entrepreneur running a small handicraft shop selling, pashmina, paper mache and walnut wood carvings.
I vividly recollect my conversation with him, because it left a lasting impression on me about what Kashmiris are capable of. He recounted his story of leaving the conflict engrossed valley in mid 1990s and struggling for many years in various markets in Delhi. While selling products on Janpath in a stall, he met a buyer from Cambodia who offered him a job in his shop near the Angkor Vat. Our Kashmiri friend took the offer and 10 years later was owner of the very shop where he had started work in Cambodia and had proudly added a variety of Kashmiri products to the store’s Buddhist and Hindu artifacts! Now that’s a Kashmiri Entrepreneur for you.
The phone rang and brought me back to the present-day. The call was from Mohsin, one of my students from the first batch of UDAAN program we did to upgrade corporate skills of Kashmiri MBA graduates so as to give them access to job opportunities in corporate India. Mohsin had chosen to not take the many jobs that came his way after our program but join another entrepreneur Muheet and start an online company for e-tailing Kashmiri products called Kashmirbox.com
The passion, vision and commitment of these two young boys blew me over. They could have taken any job and had a comfortable financial situation. Both come from middle class families and could definitely do with a regular income. But they chose to follow their dream. In two years time they had built a company that worked with 2500 plus artisans and farmers and had already won the award from Economic Times as the best “new age e-tailers.”
Kashmirbox.com is literally Kashmir in a box. From shawls, pherans, sweets, dry fruits, apples, paper mache products, carpets to even the entire wazwan (the traditional Kashmiri festive food), you can order all of it online and will be delivered to you efficiently and in no time at all! The processes of quality check, order fulfillment are almost six sigma and the supply chain is already efficient if not robust.
It has been a sheer delight to work closely with them over the past months and mentor them on many things so many entrepreneurs struggle with – cash flows, branding, scale-up capital, new market ideas, supply chain and logistics and much more. What is striking about these two young men is there “can-do” attitude and their values. Even now, when things are still small, they have set aside a significant portion of their equity for a trust that works with artisan communities. They engage in fair trade practices and showcase their artisans and farmers. Their young team of girls and boys works extremely hard battling sometimes even curfews and floods to make orders reach.
It is young people like Muheet and Mohsin and their team, that make think that Kashmir’s time with violence is coming to an end and its tryst with its promising future has begun.