May 24: Rajesh Oza, a 12th dropout is now the CEO of an Agro-Food Company. With merely 1000 rupees (INR) in his pocket and a family to support, he started his entrepreneurship journey of connecting the roots of the tribal areas with the growth and development of the modern world. With absolutely no knowledge of agriculture and no familial farming history, Rajesh Oza with his wife Pooja Oza left the comforts of “Sapno ki Nagri-Mumbai” to embark upon their journey of helping the less fortunate section of the society – the Grasiya tribal women of Udaipur. Starting right from the scratch, his company Jovaki (literal meaning to enlighten) is currently valued at 20 crores, expected to grow 10 times in the coming two years. Rajesh Oza’s success story is truly a source of inspiration for today’s youth and young entrepreneurs.

Once a Struggler, Now Founder of a Profit-making Social Enterprise

Rajesh while telling about his journey recalls the times when he did not have enough money to either support himself or his business and faced hardships due to the financial crisis. Many times he was criticized for not choosing a run-off-the-mill business career. He faced multiple disapprovals for opting for an agriculture-based career where he had to leave the comforts of a metropolitan city and live in the remote forest areas. Even though he knew what he wanted; the initial days were full of skepticism and challenges. Dealing with the tribal community was not an easy task, especially while convincing them to sell their forest produce to an unknown person. Despite slow progress in the initial days, he kept his approach very humble. Gradually his simplicity and people skills worked for him and helped him in building trust and a strong bond with the tribal community.

Social and Environmental Impact

Jovaki Agro Foods India Private Limited – the parent company is the source of livelihood for 1000+ tribal families. In southern Rajasthan, the company has set up village-level processing units and replicated the same model in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh also. Jovaki not only engages these women but also works towards their capacity development by providing them training on various steps involved in the processing of a fruit: Identification – Harvesting – Collection – Storage – Grading – Sorting – Washing – processing and packaging. The complete process is done by the tribal women.

While an average of 70 tribal women per unit are directly involved in the processing of fruits, another 150 women per unit are supporting the collection of the fruits, therefore directly engaging 1000+ tribal women. Jovaki with its intervention has been able to penetrate the deepest part of the forests and is providing a sustainable livelihood to the tribal communities, especially women. Almost 60% of the profit goes to the tribal women and has been able to improve their lives. Moreover, more than 25000 families are indirectly benefited from Jovaki’s innovative model. They are now actively participating in the plantation of trees and also preserving the already existing trees. In addition to it, their bargaining skills have also improved enabling them to sell their produce at a fair price.

The whole training process also captures the crucial part of forest and environment conservation and has helped in creating general awareness about the importance of trees and forests. The company is also running an extensive tree plantation drive in the region.

Innovation, Product Development, and Waste Management

From the very start, Rajesh Oza knew that without innovation he cannot reach his long-term goals. In the forest, he witnessed a large amount of custard apple and Jamun pulp being wasted. He identified this gap and foresaw an immense opportunity in the ‘processing’ of these fruits. The value addition through this processing of raw fruits is helping the tribal women to fetch a better price for their produce. While the “Custard Apple” pulp is sold in the B2B market mainly to the caterers, ice-cream, and dessert industry, the Jamun pulp is further processed to make innovative products such as – Flakes, Strips, and Green tea. Jamun seed is sun-dried and converted into a powdered form which is known for its medicinal properties. The core idea is that nothing should get wasted, therefore the rind/organic waste is used to make vermicompost, and a portion of seeds is used for the plantation purpose.

The Brand – Tribalveda: The brand TRIBALVEDA has started to market and sell an innovative line of products made from the processing of forest products. There are more than 10 products such as Jamun seed powder, Strips, Vinegar, Flakes, Green Tea, etc. which are made from fresh Jamuns and are sold through brick and mortar models. The products are available on both their website and e-commerce sites like Amazon and Flipkart.

DBS Foundation Partnership

Jovaki has won the prestigious “Winner-DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Award 2021”. This year the award has been given to 19 companies worldwide, amongst which Jovaki was also one to bag it because of its unique “Socio-economic development” model. Jovaki is planning to process 5 lakh kg of wild fruits and vegetables yearly, sell 125 metric tons of produce yearly, and consequently, provide a sustainable year-round livelihood for 18,000 tribal families and preserve 15 million trees from deforestation in the coming years.

Jovaki’s Key Supporters

Considering the innovative approach and socially outreaching business model, many other supporters also came forward to join hands with Jovaki including Villgro Innovations Foundation, CCS NIAM- Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Skill Development, Knowledge Partner RKVY-RAFTAAR, MoA&FW, Gol Upaya Social Ventures, IIM Calcutta Innovations Park, and ICICI Foundation.