Ellen Tacoma is a co-founder of Women on Wings, and is based in the Netherlands. She, together with Maria van der Heijden, started this organization in 2007.
Ellen’s journey began in the field of Advertising. After working with an advertising firm and with a telecom giant, she decided to take the reins in her own hands and became a freelancer in the field of customer relationships and marketing.
While she thoroughly enjoyed her work, her inner voice questioned “How am I contributing to society?”, this served as a wake up call.
In the year 2006, she received an invitation for an event detailing an exchange program with existing social entrepreneurs from India. She attended this event with her friend Maria van der Heijden, as they both share a common love for India. They left this event having both enrolled for the exchange program- this was the beginning of “Women on Wings”.
Their goal: “to create one million jobs for women in rural India”.
To achieve the said goal, they work with Social Entrepreneurs in India. The outline of their work in a simplistic sense is that they work with organizations that need to outsource their production process. Women on Wings connects these organizations to rural women; who then go on to make the product by hand. The products are usually, jewelry, pottery and in some cases sericulture too. It is flexible work that women can do at or near their homes.
Currently 182,000 women have been provided with jobs, they are looking at touching 200,000 jobs at the end of this fiscal year. They have been doubling their achievement every year.
When asked about their experience, Ellen said, that it was not easy to give up a comfortable life and begin this organization; funds were a huge question mark, they didn’t know if they were good fund raisers themselves, and they were unsure of how things worked in India etc., yet in the summer of 2007 they decided to take the plunge. They were sure of having sleepless nights but the thought of working towards their goal filled them with excitement.
They didn’t have funding to begin with, so they finally began work with their own savings, and for a while in the beginning they had absolutely no income.
Why only Indian rural women?
Through their experiences in India, they have found that Indian women have an inner strength and pride, and this they believe is a common trait shared among all Indian women irrespective socio economic differences. They find Indian women to be resilient, and this touched them, prompting them to think of how they could enrich the lives of these women and provide them with beautiful experiences which would also translate into monetary benefits.
They have faced many obstacles in their ongoing journey, for example, in the year 2013 they faced a major funding crisis, at one point they decided to take a step back and called for a staff meeting to discuss the current scenario and the best possible plan to move forward. During the course of the discussion, to their absolute surprise and delight they found that their staff was willing to forego their pay in order to achieve the goal they had set. The company was able to make payments to the staff only by the month of December. The staff members all lived in uncomfortable situations for that period of time. This was the most trying time and yet, it yielded the most touching experience.
She also mentions that the difference between Dutch and Indian culture, is an ongoing learning journey. For example, sometimes they feel a meeting is going great, but their Indian counterparts are silent, which leads to confusion.
Ellen says she doesn’t have any one role model, as, over the journey of her life she has encountered many people who have influenced her way of thinking and her outlook to life. She also mentions that she has had two very strong and independent grand-mothers. They managed their families perfectly yet were very fiercely independent ladies. She was truly inspired by them.
She is inherently a person who trusts facts and figures, but over the years; she has learnt to trust her intuitions. She believes in silence, morning exercises to keep herself centered, she loves nature and she tries to spend all her free time in her garden. She dislikes external noise (like in the cities) , she needs peace to introspect. If she does not get these, then she literally falls ill and feels that she makes wrong decisions.
“What has helped me strongly is to have set a very clear goal. For example my goal is “To set up 1 million jobs for women in rural India”, the clear points are: 1 million jobs, rural women and India. This clarity comes from deep inside and must guide you over time. The path you take towards your goal may change with time, but your goal must be clear, not necessarily something fancy or something that sounds good, it must be something that is true to you. Strongly listen to your heart.”