“We Earn Maybe 25% of What We Could Be Getting Paid”

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This piece originally appeared in “Job Talk,” our blog about a diversity of occupations and how work impacts our lives. The blog connects our community of narrators and readers of the book, MY JOB: Real People at Work Around the World, a collection of vivid, first-person narratives from real people in jobs from banking to technology, farming to the arts. Learn more about the book, a social-mission project with 100% of author proceeds going directly to job-creation programs to end poverty, here; and sign up for “Job Talk,” here.

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“Our focus is to create jobs in poor rural communities in northeast India, making eco-friendly products from palm leaves. I wouldn’t have been able to pull through without Debaleena’s patience and support.

We earn maybe 25 percent of what we could be getting paid if we had accepted a [corporate] job straight out of graduate school. The advantage [to a social enterprise] is the difference you get to create in the people’s lives.”

–Arindam & Debaleena, eco-manufacturers, Assam, India

This husband-and-wife management team are partners in both work and love. I met Arindam and Debaleena on a volunteer writing trip to India with our Skees Foundation partners, Upaya Social Ventures. I had worked with Upaya and written many stories and articles on their innovative approach to supporting small businesses in India that provide dignified, reliable jobs for over 4,100 ultra-poor workers. When I visited Tamul Plates, the eco-factory launched by Arindam and Debaleena, I became fascinated as much by their love story—which is no fairy tale—as by their social-justice work in a difficult, remote region. I later circled back to interview them for Chapter 2.

Excerpt from Chapter 2, in Arindam & Debaleena’s Own Voices

Dating a Fantasy Versus Putting the Truth Out There

Debaleena: I think in both arranged marriages and love marriages also, when a guy and a girl are dating, they try to put up the best of their selves to each other, trying to impress. We did it the opposite way. We put our flaws out there at the first go . . .
If Arindam had not told me that he was without a salary, and that year they all went without salaries, I would have run away. I think I would have just vanished . . . We were quite true to ourselves. We were quite true to each other also.

Being Together Day and Night, at Work and Home

Debaleena: Very honestly, if I just look at the professional piece of our relationship, it is difficult. Arindam is a difficult boss. He is a very hard taskmaster. He is never impressed with anything that you put to him. Also for me, I have not studied entrepreneurship or management. I come from a completely different world. My world was like HIV and anti-trafficking and gender issues and all of that. So it was not in my agency at all.
But I was always open to learning. I don’t have that kind of block that I have to stay stuck to the kind of job that I was already doing. So when I came here, initially, I knew Barpeta didn’t have many options for me. Yet, I cannot stay back at home and just be a housewife. That, I cannot be.
Arindam: It’s difficult. Being the head of the organization, you need to be the bad guy . . . I had the concern, like if we were working together in the same organization and also staying together, than it becomes twenty-four hours. There’s no full stop to my work. So then it becomes much more when both of us are working in the same organization.
So I was a little bit skeptical, and also, because Tamul Plates was going through a bad patch, then both of our incomes were affected. That was a point of concern for me.
But, on the other side, Debaleena’s presence within the organization has helped us a lot. One of the reasons we were able to turn it around . . .Surely, without her, it would have been very difficult to get to where we are now. Many times I’ve told her to go ahead and put [a proposal] out there. And she did it completely, without my intervention. And then we got the bid.
I am admitting very openly that she’s doing a great job. But, to me, I also have to point out the mistakes. [Laughs.]

Visit the Factory in Rural India

See Arindam and Debaleena’s mission for yourself, in remote village production units in the hinterlands of northeast India; and hear Arindam talk about the startup years of Tamul Plates, in this video produced by Upaya Social Ventures:

Check out Arindam & Debaleena’s chapter in MY JOB: Real People at Work Around the World, either on Kindle or as a paper book.

Meet Chapter 1 narrator Makana, a slack-rock musician from Hawaii, here. And, stay tuned to meet the next narrator in our series, a headhunter from Florida, in Chapter 3 . . .

Photographs and video courtesy of Upaya Social Ventures and Tamul Plates.

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