Australia Awards Women Trading Globally participant recognised as Vogue Warrior for COVID-19 response

Rubina Nafees Fatima of SAFA, an organisation in Hyderabad, India formed with the vision to socioeconomically empower women from marginalised communities, provides livelihoods for women through manufacturing eco-friendly lifestyle products.

In November 2019, Rubina participated in the Australia Awards Women Trading Globally program. Funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the program enabled 14 female entrepreneurs from South Asia and Afghanistan to undertake export readiness training sessions in Melbourne and Sydney. After participating in the program, Rubina has updated her new marketing plan and maintained a connection with Cricket Victoria who runs diversity programs.

During COVID-19, SAFA was the first in India to set up a response system for food (dry rations) through a crowd funding platform, distributing rations across 6 major cities in India to over 280,000 individuals. This gained Rubina recognition as a Vogue Warriorby Vogue India, and she will also be featured in Vogue UK in September.

Read on, as Rubina shares her story with us through the Q&A below.

Q&A with Rubina Nafees Fatima
CEO / Founder-president

What led to you to establish your organisation, and what drove you to commence international expansion?

SAFA was formed with the vision to socioeconomically empower women from marginalised communities. The thought arose from the unique culture of the Muslim communities and the delicate fibre of the patriarchal setup. Women when economically empowered rise up to change the course of intergenerational poverty as they focus on the development of families through education and social awareness.

The work we have done so far in providing livelihoods for such women has resulted in them manufacturing eco-friendly lifestyle products for which we have been looking at global markets. Eco-friendly products like bags in jute, cotton etc. are promoted widely in most international markets and we felt based on our quality and preparedness we were ready for bigger markets.

What steps have you taken to prepare for export?

We have listed out the trade fairs and international exhibitions for related products, did some trade mapping of areas, and also participated in a global expo in January with good learnings as it was our first one to participate in. All of these developments have come to post my trip to Australia. The inputs given by the mentors on the pitch and strategy have formed/validated some ideas that I had parked aside as I found them too idealistic. Similar inputs were given by the team and I have already included them in my new marketing plan. What did you gain from participating in the Women Trading Globally program?

There were a lot of learnings on exporting globally and also to Australia. Market behaviour and optimising resources were also a key take away. The participants were a mixed group at different organisational stages and the peer learnings were from real-time experiences. Such learnings in a closed set up are extremely difficult to get at any place or situation.

The introduction to the Cricket Victoria and their programs for young girls from different ethnicities was pertinent to the needs to SAFA too and I have connected with them to discuss programs that they could sponsor in Hyderabad for which they have shown an interest too.

We have a premium brand Artizania and since the markets here are diverse and a huge chunk rests with price-conscious too we are launching a budget brand in menswear called “Pride” which will be a budget-friendly mens clothing line. We will start with shirts initially – for local markets only.

We have also worked on the strategy to white label our brand in order to sell more. This came after a lot of discussions within the management and post my learning from the ECA trip.

How have you been impacted by COVID-19 and how have you responded?

The lockdown resulted in the loss of livelihood, dignity and starvation for many in India. We have been the first in India to set up a response system for food (dry rations) through a crowdfunding platform and have distributed rations across 6 major cities in India to over 280,000 individuals. We have forged partnerships with 16 NGOs and 2 with the government during this period.

We have also started manufacturing cotton masks and have made and sold over 200,000 masks so far with over 140 women engaged and generating income for themselves when the primary wage earner in their families was unemployed. We continue to do the same as we are now picking up bulk orders of corporates.

We have also raised funds for volunteers engaged in the last rites of COVID-19 victims by providing them PPE kits for 2 months.

We were given national and international media coverage for all our efforts and continue to gain traction. I will be featured in Vogue UK in the month of September.