Kalpna Saroj embodies a rag to riches story like few others. She was born into the Dalit population, a group of people traditionally regarded as untouchable, and faced discrimination from the day she was born. As a Dalit, she was bullied at school, not allowed to participate in some school activities and eventually forced into marriage at 12. With her 10 year older husband she then moved to Mumbai and found herself living in a slum. Even though leaving a marriage is frowned upon in Indian culture, she was able to escape the violent relationship with her husband and her father took her back home. In order to make money, she learnt tailoring and moved back to Mumbai to work as a seamstress, earning less than a dollar a month.
Her entrepreneurial spirit made her take a government loan to open a furniture business and be able to expand her tailoring work. Working 16 long hours a day, her reputation as committed and reliable worker led to her being asked to take over the running of a metal engineering company called Kamani Tubes. Back then it had a lot of debt but by restructuring the company, Ms Saroj was able to turn things around. Kamani Tubes is now a growing business, worth more than $100m. The company employs hundreds of people from all backgrounds and castes.
In 2006, Ms Saroj even won a prestigious award for her social entrepreneurial spirit. Despite her success, she never forgot where she came from and wants to give justice to her employees. As both a Dalit and a woman, her story is significant in a country, where hardly any CEO has the same background as her. She sais that “if you give your heart and soul to your job and never give up, things can happen for you.”