Of social enterprises and sustainability.
In the journey to starting up PeriFerry, there were two questions that people asked us quite often.
Why is your venture not an NGO?
Why is this venture only for the transgender community?
We launched a social enterprise to create employment opportunities for the transgender community. The first of its kind in the country. Unheard, unassuming and as you can guess, unexpected. Let me first tell you the most obvious reason for choosing social entrepreneurship.
Through 2016, we reached out to multiple people pitching the idea of a tech platform to create jobs for transgender people and PWDs (persons with disabilities). While most impact investors were keen on the job creation aspect for PWDs, the thought of doing the same for trans persons met with a lot of skepticism. No sponsor, no investor believed it was possible to run a self-sustainable organisation dedicated to trans employment. Not at all.
From a whole lot of “ do you have any data, has anyone does this before to can you do this just for PWDs” etc. Most folks were ok to see a problem but did not believe it was possible to fix the same; which only showed the deep conditioning of our society. Further pushing us to pursue a unique solution that focused on solving trans person’s livelihood issue.
While the model was still evolving, we figured it needed a lot more time spent with community on the ground. This went on for about 7 months, throughout which we met people who wanted jobs and finally someone who was willing to offer the job.
We made the first placement at Kolapasi in May 2017 before officially launching PeriFerry. It was an overwhelming experience to say the least. From watching her live a life of begging and ridicule to becoming the manager at one of Kolapasi’s outlet, the job was not only financially liberating but also life saving. We realized that with the right intent we could support many trans folks and organizations the same way.
We built a model that would generate revenue by providing recruitment solutions to organizations. And on the other hand we provided all our services to transgender community for free. It worked! Though not as easy and met with a lot of hurdles, constantly improvising our approach towards clients as well as the community helped.
Our first major breakthrough was in 2018, approximately a year after starting up and sending a few hundred cold mails, we had our first corporate client. ANZ was building out their D&I capacities and reached out to us to recruit skilled trans persons. By then we had stopped pursuing investors of any kind as having organic and more sustainable growth & freedom was important to us than anything else. The rest was history!
Over the past 3 and a half years, we created jobs for over 170 transgender people in India. These were people who were largely ostracized by their own families and lived their life off of forced labor; begging or sex work.
For PeriFerry to have thrived through these years, it was only possible because we were self sustainable. It also pushed us to always think about our clients and candidates first as retaining clients was key to our sustainability.
Fast forward to Dec 2020, in today’s world; working for transgender community is a matter of photo op for a lot of people. From providing freebies to running ingenuine initiatives, trans inclusion is now officially a ‘trend’ in India which will only amplify through 2020’s. The problem being with it being it not only sidelines marginalized voices but also puts the privileged on a pedestal.
However for us at PeriFerry and our 170 people who are now championing the community in many workspaces; they have reignited the hope and faith of thousands of young trans persons across the country. The hope that trans folks belong and that trans lives truly matter.