Shillong: Hailing from a matrilineal society of Meghalaya, Medarisha Lyngdoh could always see enough potential in women, especially when it came to entrepreneurship. From an early age, Lyngdoh believed that women were able to contribute to their family’s income with home-based businesses.
While growing up, Lyngdoh also got to read several stories of tenacious women who built empires out of adversity. Through eSamudaay, of which she is a founding member and chief of operations (COO), Lyngdoh is now on a mission to enable women across the country to become e-commerce leaders.
eSamudaay claims to be the world’s first location-commerce (L-commerce) platform, which focuses on decentralising e-commerce and aims to create a network of local entrepreneurs in the hinterlands of India. The Bengaluru-based organisation’s vision is to create e-commerce founders across the country.
While leading a few campaigns at eSamudaay, Lyngdoh noticed that up to 70 per cent of the aspiring entrepreneurs who joined eSamudaay’s platform were men, and hardly any women were coming forward to lead e-commerce initiatives in their town, district or village.
EastMojo spoke with Lyngdoh to know more about her and eSamudaay. Here are the edited excerpts of the interview:
EastMojo: Tell us something about yourself.
Medarisha Lyngdoh: My roots are from a beautiful, bustling town in the Northeast of India called Shillong.
I come from a large family with several siblings, limited resources and very hardworking parents who placed complete trust in God and allowed each one of us to make our own decisions.
I thank God for that childhood. It has made me a strong, independent and an enterprising person. Toys and pocket money were very rare. We had to figure out innovative ways to get what we wanted. I would scrounge newspapers and magazines to participate in contests to win prizes.
Inter-school competitions were great means to get some pocket money. I did my first summer job when I was 16 years old. I wanted to grow beyond this small town and to do that I knew I had to dream bigger and find ways to achieve it.
I did most of my schooling and college in Shillong, then went to Banaras Hindu University to complete my Master’s in Computer Application.
My career started with TCS as an engineer. I was a part of the State Bank of India Core Banking Solution team. Over the last 15 years, I have travelled extensively to work with multiple customers in the financial domain to help them with data analytics and business intelligence. I love to solve problems and ensure customers are getting the best out of technology to enable them to do their jobs well.
My career journey outside the Northeast was not an easy one. It was only because I wanted a better opportunity than what our region could offer that I made it though those initial hard days. I would like to encourage everyone figuring out a career outside the region to embrace the culture difference and hang on there, reach out to a support network.
EM: How and when did your journey at eSamudaay begin?
ML: I have always wanted to make a difference in the community and not just be a passive member. When I was approached to be part of eSamudaay, it was almost instinctive that I had to do it.
eSamudaay provides an opportunity to impact the community positively. It is a revolutionary movement that strives to enable people to take control of their markets and not be taken over by a monopoly. People in tier 3 and tier 4 cities are losing out on so many things because of lack of digital tools and awareness on how to use them to further improve their local economy.
Invariably, a big player comes in and everyone has to fit into a set model. We are losing out on the uniqueness of every market/community. With eSamudaay’s model, we empower and give ownership to the community. Our role is only to be enablers and not controllers. The eSamudaay model strives to create and retain value within the community.
I was personally excited to be part of a movement to impact our community and country at large.
EM: Tell us more about what you do.
ML: I have been associated with eSamudaay from the time of its formation and came on board full-time in November 2020. As part of my role as chief operating officer, I anchor and direct the execution of the broad vision of decentralisation by developing a series of models learnt (some had to be consciously unlearnt) through all our past experiences and observations.
EM: You aim to create a network for local entrepreneurs. How does that work? So far, have people responded to it?
ML: eSamudaay takes a holistic approach to migrating local businesses to the digital world. The L-commerce (networked decentralised autonomous organisation) model is to create an environment for all the sellers and producers of a town to adopt a common, locally-run digital marketplace. The L-commerce entity established in the local area provides the technology, cataloguing assistance, marketing, order management, logistics and marketplace management services.
Through the efforts of the L-commerce entity, a digital equivalent of the town’s physical marketplace emerges, which can be used by the buyers to discover and consume local products and services. The other benefit of this decentralised model is the creation of a data asset whose ownership is local.
The L-commerce entities will be set up and operated by aspiring digital entrepreneurs who wish to set-up businesses in their hometowns.
The idea is to decentralise e-commerce and build a network of local entrepreneurs who will run small, independent, and sustainable digital ecosystems/ marketplaces at the local and even hyper-local level.
The eSamudaay technology platform provides local entrepreneurs, producers, delivery agents with all the digital tools necessary to be able to run multi-seller, multi-category digital marketplaces in their community. Each LCommerce will also have its own super app that will bring together producers and consumers and promote e-commerce within the community.
The super app will offer all products and services that are both available and needed in the community, ranging from groceries, kitchen supplies, apparels, services like food, health and wellness, mobility services, home-services, etc. eSamudaay’s L-commerce platform will help local businesses and home-producers get prominent online visibility.
We recently launched in Udupi and the platform is helping over 50 local businesses go digital. This circle caters to grocery services, restaurant food deliveries and soon we will have farm products, and pharmacy services on our Udupi exclusive app.
We are also incubating and digitising small jaggery producers in Chamarajanagar, Mysore and some of whom are women running small businesses. We also piloted an L-commerce platform for the Banaswadi community in Bengaluru.
EM: Is it a challenge to train local entrepreneurs who don’t know how to use a smartphone? Is it easy to try to introduce them to a digital platform?
ML: At present, adoption of smartphones is at an all-time high. The pandemic has shown us that going digital is no longer a good option but a must-do. Local entrepreneurs are recognising that and there is a lot of traction in digital marketing and buying/selling.
Half the challenge is getting entrepreneurs to understand the need and fully see the potential that digital platform bring to their business. Once that is understood, the rest follows naturally after some training.
There are experts who they could work with to help them in digital marketing and selling. They need not understand the intricacies of it all as long as they are able to use the platform for the growth of their business.
EM: Why is it that women are hesitant to start their businesses? Is it any different in Meghalaya?
ML: Become entrepreneurs? Starting a formal business in India has never been easy with so many policies and due diligence to be done. Women are generally not encouraged to start their business. Even if they do, they are not encouraged to grow as their other responsibilities may get affected by it.
Sustain their ventures? The scalability of the business is seldom thought through while starting a business. There is limited access or failure to utilise available training and mentorship from industry experts. Bookkeeping, business structuring, legal and financial understanding and methods are needed to help manage and grow the business. These aspects are normally neglected. These are critical aspects to sustain and grow a business venture.
Women in Meghalaya have an advantage because of our matrilineal system, which gives them an equal opportunity/standing as men. This is not generally the case in other parts of the country and we are blessed to have this position.
EM: Your message to women entrepreneurs out there.
ML: You will never know what your idea could become unless you do it.
You need to be sold out on your idea. Because when you do, you will radiate passion and passion is contagious. There will be times when it will only be you who believes in the idea, and that is when you will have to draw from that belief and move forward.
Seek collaboration and build a team /support structure, because entrepreneurship is hard, and doubly hard for a woman, who is still expected to be the primary caretaker of the home. The chances of success are magnified when you collaborate.
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