Based out of Delhi, Pooja Kaul comes from a family with a background in media. However, being an introvert, she could not imagine herself any possibility of entering in this field. During her bachelor's while working in the field with an #NGO in Bihar, she felt the connection to groundwork and grass-root level change. She discovered her inclination towards #socialwork, though what it means to her professional life was unclear.
She enrolled for Master's in social work from Christ University, but found a lack of connection and dropped out. In her words, this was one of the most difficult times of her life where she felt helpless and had lots of questions about life, career etc. The one thing which kept her going was support from her family. During this sabbatical of almost one and a half years, she continued to follow her social impact streak and volunteered with Rakshak, an NGO. Towards the end of her gap year, she applied to Tata Institute of Social Sciences (#TISS), India’s premier institute of social work. She felt that she deserved something more impactful, and at least should attempt to do the same. To her surprise, she cleared the entrance and was offered a seat at TISS. At TISS, she initially planned to pursue a Master's in Social Work, but when she learned about Master's in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, she opted for the latter.
As a second-semester project, students need to identify an idea that would be actionable and impactful. Pooja, had a few initial ideas to work towards to mental health of farmers and the dairy sector, however nothing surfaced. During a discussion with her brother, he shared about goat and donkey milk. Unwittingly, this drew her attention and she spend the whole night researching and reading about donkey milk. She stumbled upon an article stating that a spoonful of donkey milk was being sold for 50 to 100 rupees, somewhere in Karnataka. Something clicked in her head and she decided this was to be her course project. She outlined a rough idea and presented it to her class for the project, but the professor along with the other students laughed at her idea.
A little disheartened, but Pooja was undeterred from her goal now that she had a vision. She continued her research for the project. For her 3rd-semester internship, she applied to all the donkey-related NGOs in India but was rejected by them. So she joined Katraj dairy for her stint to learn more about the dairy sector. This is where she gained insight into the infeasibility of selling donkey milk directly and thus discovered her quest to bring an alternative product to market.
During her research, Pooja learned about a German skincare company, that made skin-care products using donkey milk. So, she began learning about soap making, took classes for home-made soaps from a teacher in Mumbai. Building the product was not clear as she needed to perfect her recipe, and fill the supply chain gap of how to get the donkey milk. So she went back to campus along with a teammate, in search of a donkey.
After a lot of searching, they found a donkey herder community called the Lashkar community in Solapur. They tried to convince them to supply donkey milk, but due to language barriers and superstition, the community rejected their proposal. Later, a doctor from Donkey Sanctuary connected them to a donkey community that was willing to help them.
Having acquired their key resource, they began developing the recipe for the soap, to create a saleable prototype. After several disheartening attempts, she finally perfected the formula and created the first batch of 200 soaps, taking them to Delhi due to the better market for such a product.
Using social media marketing and exhibitions, she was able to sell her whole inventory and even got orders from abroad. This marked the initial success of her project. She went back to her college to present the completion of her project, but little changed in college. She was still laughed at and given the lowest marks in class. However, Pooja mentioned this time that marks and people laughing at her didn’t matter, instead channeling her energy to spend every moment making her prototype idea sustainable and selling. What drove her is the donkey lives she could save and dignity she could bring to many underprivileged communities.
For her work helping marginalized communities in India, Pooja Kaul was named Women Entrepreneur of the Year at the Asiad Literature Summit 2019. She has also earned recognition from #Forbes30under30 Asia list 2020: Social entrepreneur. Today, she continues her passion and has plans to take Organiko to ever greater heights.