Empowering Women Through Cooperative Success: The Lijjat Papad Story

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In the heart of India, where tradition and innovation coalesce seamlessly, lies the remarkable story of Lijjat Papad. This tale is not just about a humble crispy snack but about a women’s cooperative that has transformed countless lives and set an example of self-reliance and entrepreneurship. Join us as we embark on a journey through the history, evolution, and impact of the Lijjat Papad cooperative, a true success story that continues to inspire generations.

Birth of Lijjat Papad:

The birth of Lijjat Papad is a tale of resilience, entrepreneurship, and women’s empowerment that began in the bustling city of Mumbai in 1959. It all started with the vision and determination of seven enterprising women who came together to form what would become Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad (SMGULP). Their story is a testament to the power of collective effort and the pursuit of economic independence in a society that was traditionally male-dominated.

These seven women, Shantaben Manubhai, Ujamben Narandas Kundalia, Banuben Pravin Parikh, Laguben Amritlal Tanna, Jayaben Vithalani, Parvatiben Tulsidas Thakkar, and Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat, embarked on a journey that would not only transform their own lives but also inspire countless others.

Their initial capital was meager, with just Rs. 80 (equivalent to about $1 at the time) borrowed from a member’s husband. This sum might seem insignificant today, but it was the seed that would grow into a remarkable cooperative enterprise. Their primary motivation was to find a means of self-sufficiency and financial stability for their households.

The inspiration for Lijjat Papad came from the traditional Indian snack, papad – a thin, crispy wafer typically made from lentil flour. These women realized that making papads was a skill they possessed and that there was a market for this popular snack. Armed with a simple recipe consisting of urad dal flour, salt, and water, they decided to take their first steps into the world of entrepreneurship.

The uniqueness of Lijjat Papad lay not just in its product but in its cooperative model. The women believed in collective strength and the principle of ‘each one, teach one.’ They established a model where each woman was both an owner and a worker in the enterprise, fostering a sense of ownership and pride. This cooperative structure empowered women in ways that were previously unimaginable.

In their modest beginnings, the women of Lijjat Papad started small. They rolled out papads manually, sun-dried them on terraces, and packaged them by hand. The process was labor-intensive, but it ensured consistent quality. They adhered to high standards and maintained the purity of their product, which would later become synonymous with the Lijjat Papad brand.

Initially selling their papads door-to-door, the women of Lijjat Papad faced skepticism and challenges. Traditional family members were not accustomed to women working outside the home, and there were doubts about the sustainability of their venture. However, their unwavering determination, resilience, and commitment to quality began to win over customers.

As word spread about the delicious taste and quality of Lijjat Papad, demand grew. The cooperative expanded, setting up branches in various cities across India. These branches operated independently but shared the same core values and commitment to quality, allowing Lijjat Papad to reach a diverse customer base.

The birth of Lijjat Papad was a humble beginning, but it marked the start of a journey that would not only create a household brand but also empower generations of women. These seven women, with their determination and vision, sowed the seeds of a cooperative movement that would redefine women’s roles in the workplace and inspire similar initiatives across India and beyond. Their story serves as a timeless example of what can be achieved when women come together to pursue economic independence and a shared dream.

Cooperative Model of the Brand:

The cooperative model of Lijjat Papad is a shining example of how collective effort, shared ownership, and a commitment to quality can empower women economically and socially. This unique model has not only made Lijjat Papad a household name in India but has also inspired similar initiatives across various sectors. Let’s delve into the cooperative model of Lijjat Papad in detail.

  1. Shared Ownership and Decision-Making: At the heart of Lijjat Papad’s cooperative model is the concept of shared ownership. The women who join Lijjat Papad become both co-owners and co-workers. This means that they have a stake in the organization’s success and actively participate in decision-making processes. This shared ownership not only fosters a sense of pride but also encourages a long-term commitment to the cooperative’s goals.
  2. Equal Opportunities for Women: Lijjat Papad has been a pioneer in providing equal opportunities for women in the workforce. In a society where traditional gender roles often limited women’s economic independence, Lijjat Papad offered a platform where women could contribute to their households’ income. Women from diverse backgrounds, including those with limited formal education, found a place within the cooperative, breaking barriers and challenging societal norms.
  3. Skill Development and Training: The cooperative model emphasizes skill development and training. When a new member joins Lijjat Papad, she undergoes training in papad-making techniques. The cooperative follows the “each one, teach one” principle, where experienced members mentor and train newcomers. This approach ensures the transfer of skills and knowledge from one generation of workers to the next, creating a sustainable workforce.
  4. Collective Production and Quality Assurance: Lijjat Papad’s production process is a collective effort. Women work together to roll out the dough, sun-dry the papads, and package the final product. This collaborative approach not only increases productivity but also maintains consistent quality. Each member is responsible for maintaining the high standards that Lijjat Papad is known for, ensuring that every papad that reaches the market is of the utmost quality.
  5. Fair Wages and Profit Sharing: The cooperative model ensures that the women who work for Lijjat Papad receive fair wages. The earnings are distributed among the members based on the number of papads they produce, ensuring that everyone benefits from the cooperative’s success. This approach promotes economic independence and financial stability among the women.
  6. Decentralized Branch Structure: Lijjat Papad operates through a decentralized branch structure. While there is a central management committee that sets guidelines and standards, each branch functions independently. This decentralized approach allows the cooperative to serve a diverse customer base and adapt to regional preferences while maintaining a uniform commitment to quality.
  7. Social Responsibility and Empowerment: Beyond its economic impact, Lijjat Papad is deeply committed to social responsibility. The cooperative has actively contributed to social causes, including education and healthcare. It has established schools, vocational training centers, and healthcare facilities to uplift the communities it serves. This commitment to social empowerment aligns with the cooperative’s broader mission of improving the lives of women and their families.
  8. Adaptability and Innovation:While rooted in tradition, Lijjat Papad has demonstrated adaptability and innovation. Over the years, it has diversified its product range to include various papad flavors and other snacks. It has also embraced technology to streamline operations while maintaining its commitment to quality.

Overcoming Challenges:

Lijjat Papad’s journey to success was not without its share of challenges, but the resilience and determination of its members allowed them to overcome these obstacles. One significant challenge was the initial skepticism they faced, both within their families and society at large. In a traditional Indian context where women’s roles were primarily confined to households, the idea of women working outside the home was met with resistance. However, these women persevered, convincing their families of the importance of their cooperative endeavor.

Logistical challenges also loomed large. As demand for Lijjat Papad grew, managing a rapidly expanding enterprise became increasingly complex. Coordinating production, quality control, and distribution on a larger scale required innovative solutions. The women embraced technology when needed while maintaining the core handmade production process, ensuring that the quality remained uncompromised.
Source: Femina.in

Furthermore, economic stability was a perpetual challenge for these women prior to their involvement with Lijjat Papad. Many of them faced financial constraints, and obtaining loans or capital was often a hurdle. However, they managed to secure a modest loan to start their venture, showcasing their determination to overcome financial obstacles.

Lijjat Papad also faced competition from established brands, making it crucial to distinguish their product in a crowded market. Their commitment to maintaining high-quality standards and delivering a pure, handcrafted product helped them stand out.

In sum, Lijjat Papad’s success story is not just about triumph but also about resilience in the face of societal, logistical, financial, and competitive challenges. These women proved that with dedication, innovation, and a strong sense of purpose, even the most formidable challenges can be overcome.

Impact Beyond Papads:

While Lijjat Papad is synonymous with its crispy snack, the cooperative’s impact extends beyond its product. It has inspired the formation of similar women’s cooperatives in various sectors, from spices to pickles. The success of Lijjat Papad served as a blueprint for women’s economic empowerment initiatives across India.

Lijjat Papad’s commitment to sustainability goes beyond its business operations. The cooperative has been conscious of its environmental impact, adopting eco-friendly practices like solar drying to reduce energy consumption. Additionally, it has actively contributed to social causes, making it a responsible corporate citizen.

In today’s fast-paced world, Lijjat Papad has adapted to changing consumer preferences and market dynamics. It has diversified its product range to include a variety of papad flavors, as well as other snacks and food items. The cooperative has embraced technology to streamline operations while maintaining its commitment to quality.

More than six decades after its inception, Lijjat Papad remains a household name in India. It’s not just a brand; it’s a symbol of hope, empowerment, and quality. The cooperative has become a role model for social enterprises worldwide, proving that a small initiative driven by determination and cooperation can create a lasting impact.


The story of Lijjat Papad is not just about a tasty snack; it’s about the power of women, the spirit of cooperation, and the triumph of simplicity. From its humble beginnings in a small room to its current status as a global brand, Lijjat Papad’s journey is a testament to the limitless possibilities that emerge when people come together with a shared vision. As we savor the crispy delight of a Lijjat Papad, let us also savor the inspiring story behind it, a story of empowerment, resilience, and success

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