From Rags to Runway: Six Young Entrepreneurs Making Dreams a Reality

July 14, 2023


In a nation with one of the largest youth populations in the world, brimming with energy and potential, the need for investing in skilling has never been more crucial. Half of India’s population is under 30 years of age. They hold the key to driving economic growth, innovation, and social progress. However, unlocking this potential requires a concerted effort to equip them with the right skills and opportunities.

Recognizing this urgent need, UNDP India, supported by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), has been at the forefront of efforts to boost employability skills, livelihood opportunities, youth innovation, entrepreneurship uptick, and access to social protection in rural and urban areas. Through initiatives such as career guidance and counselling, 21st-century skilling, entrepreneurship development programmes and youth entrepreneurship challenges, projects such as Excel, Code Unnati and Youth Co-Lab, have economically impacted 500,000 lives, contributing to a more robust skilling and employment ecosystem across India.

Recently under Project Excel, UNDP hosted the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. This challenge provides a platform for aspiring entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas and receive vital support to kickstart their ventures.

From fashion designers like Kajal Ambaliya and Kajal Ravaliya, who are dedicated to making affordable and stylish clothing, to agricultural enthusiasts like Savitri Kanjariya, who aims to promote sustainable farming, the challenge saw the participation of over 400 young aspiring entrepreneurs.

This World Youth Skills Day, meet the six winners of the challenge, all women, who embody the spirit of resilience, creativity, and ambition.

From the small village of Mota Kalavad, nestled in the heart of Devbhumi Dwarka, meet Kajal Ambaliya, a 23-year-old with an unwavering dream of becoming a fashion designer for the underprivileged. Born to an agri-merchant and being one of six daughters, Kajal knew that the path to realizing her aspirations would be challenging, but she never let that deter her.

Kajal was awarded ₹1,00,000 as seed money to kick start her own fashion clothing line that uses upcycled material to make pocket friendly designer wear.

While pursuing a degree in Economics, Kajal secretly honed her skills as a fashion designer. She started with humble beginnings, transforming an old curtain hanging in her home into her very first fashion creation. Fuelled by her belief that every woman, regardless of their social class or geographic location, should have access to trendy and affordable clothing, Kajal began to stitch garments using her mother's old sarees, kurtas, and bedsheets. Kajal distinguishes her products in two segments – upcycled and brand new. At the heart of her startup is making pocket-friendly designer wear. “I want to be known as a designer who makes ordinary people look extraordinary,” she says.

Kajal's talent and dedication did not go unnoticed. In May 2023, she was selected as one of the four finalists in the prestigious Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge and was awarded ₹1,00,000 as seed money to kickstart her venture. Kajal has strategically allocated her seed capital towards inventory management and store branding.

“I want to be known as a designer who makes ordinary people look extraordinary,” Kajal says.

Another young entrepreneur making waves is Kajal Ravaliya. Like her namesake, Kajal Ravaliya hails from the same district and shares a passion for fashion. Coming from a modest background, Kajal Ravaliya was always captivated by the intricate Gujarati embroidery work. Kajal Ravaliya was awarded a seed money of ₹50,000. 

“I identify myself as a traditional art and craft revivalist. I foresee a future where an army of women join my cause,” she says, with pride.

Determined to keep this traditional art alive, she began creating fusion designs that seamlessly blended traditional motifs with modern-day clothing and accessories. Her unique fusion design and aesthetic quickly garnered attention, and she dreams of starting her own training center to teach other women this artform from the seed money.

Fifty kilometers away, towards the west of Devbhumi Dwarka, Savitri Kanjariya, a BA Hindi student from Suryavadar village has deep-rooted passion for agriculture. It drove her to address the overexploitation of land and unhealthy farming practices. Inspired by her uncle, she turned to vermicompost, a scientific method that uses earthworms to create compost and improve soil fertility. From the seed money, Savitri aspires to set up a vermicompost plant in her village to promote sustainable farming and reverse soil degradation.

“This is just my initial step towards making the planet a safer place. After receiving the seed money and handholding support from the project team I am confident that I will be able to scale up the project successfully,” says Savitri after receiving ₹50,000 as seed money for her vermicompost plant.

Najmin Naya is a determined 19-year-old from Vadinar village who overcame societal barriers to pursue her passion for the beauty and wellness sector. Through the UNDP's 'Beauty & Wellness' training programme, Najmin gained valuable skills and confidence in beauty treatments and salon management. 

She also actively participated in UNDP's '21st Century Skill Development Programme', which was instrumental in the development of essential entrepreneurship skill and was connected to a district-level training agency specializing in the field of 'beauty & wellness', where she underwent specialized training to further refine her skills.

Najmin was already earning between ₹15,000 to ₹20,000 each month. With the seed money, she rented a small space, procured products, and launched her own beauty salon, bringing much-needed services closer to the women in her community.

With the ₹50,000 seed money Najmin received started her own beauty salon “Despite the challenges, I believe in the power of hard work to make our dreams come true,” she says.

Kavita Gusani, a 29-year-old inspired by her family's entrepreneurial spirit, embarked on her journey to create customized gift items. Armed with online courses and a creative flair, Kavita began making personalized keychains, rakhis, and photo frames. Leveraging the power of Instagram, she successfully marketed her products and dreams of opening her own store to showcase a wide range of customized gifts.

“My goal is to open my own store in Khambaliya to showcase and sell a wide range of customized gifts from the seed money,” says Kavita.

Priyanshi Khetani is an 18-year-old D-Pharma student with a passion for Ayurveda and its healing properties. Motivated by her family's post-Covid health struggles, she developed a homemade oil that provided relief from joint and knee pain. With the support of UNDP India, Priyanshi plans to open an Ayurvedic pharmacy store offering a range of products to promote holistic wellness.

“After completing my D-Pharma, I plan to open an Ayurvedic pharmacy store offering various products from the Rs 50,000 seed money,” shares Priyanshi.

These young entrepreneurs from the districts of Jamnagar and Devbhumi Dwarka in Gujarat are defying the odds, breaking barriers, and proving that with determination and support, dreams can be transformed into reality. Through the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge and Project Excel, UNDP India is providing a platform for these remarkable individuals to shine and make a lasting impact on their communities. The future is bright, and these inspiring stories are just the beginning of a new wave of change and empowerment.

- With inputs from Mithun Christy