LancasterThriving_Summer2017 - 8

"In 2008, global cuisine wasn't even on
the horizon" in Lancaster, she recalls.
"And vegetarian still isn't."

time to rethink where I was going to
go," she says. "By this time, I was in
California, I was married and I thought,
'Is this the lifestyle I want?'"

That's why she chose the food industry,
having an interest in cooking and a
background in catering from her years
in college. She felt the business could
solve a problem of job creation for a
specific group of people, and whittled
down the options to refugee women.

Dasgupta ran some other, more official,
trials before she hired her first two
part-time employees, refugee women
who had recently arrived in the United
States from Iraq. One spoke only
minimal English; the other, none at all.
They started working in a community
kitchen with necessary licenses
and permits. The social enterprise
experiment was underway.

So she started a certification program
to become an executive and
leadership coach. Eventually, she
founded Shokti Leadership Coaching,
working with executives and business
professionals from companies like
Lonza, Charles Schwab and TIBCO
Software, Inc.
She suspended her practice when she
moved to Lancaster in 2007 and took
the job at F&M a year later, expecting
to revive her coaching practice at
some point.
"I was commuting back and forth
to California," she says. "So it came
together that maybe coaching small
businesses is not where I want to be.
Is there a market here for that?
No, not really."
That's when she heard Yunus speak.
"The timing was perfect," she says of his
message. "There is something here for
me, and I don't know what it is, but I'm
going to hang in here and see
what emerges ...
"And it came to me."

Upohar, meaning "gift" in Bengali,
was born through what one might call
a process of elimination. Dasgupta
wanted to do something that brought
her skills together, and nonprofit was
not one of them. Instead, she wanted
to use market forces to create a selfsustaining business that would also
solve a social problem. So, there had to
be a market need.

8 | LANCASTERTHRIVING! | Spring/Summer2017

The granddaughter of refugees
during the partition of India, Dasgupta
says she could resonate with that
She describes her first catering job as
a "trial balloon": cooking a year-end
meal for an F&M class.
"I have a software background," she
laughs. "I always do a pilot."
She hired two refugee students from
J.P. McCaskey High School, they
cooked an authentic Nepali meal at a
church and figured out how to get the
food to the venue and serve it buffetstyle. "Literally, proof of concept."


"So, all kinds of assumptions that I
made proved to be completely wrong,"
Dasgupta says. "I assumed that wellpaying, flexible employment would be
preferable to full-time, low-paid work."
But that's not the case, at least for
people who receive welfare benefits.
That group includes many recent
refugees to the United States, who are
given 90 days to find a job.
"So, when I offer them a job, they have
to take the job," Dasgupta explains.
"And I say, 'It's a part-time gig, and I'm
going to pay you $15 an hour,' and all


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