“Last Forest is like a tree giving good colourful fruits for everyone.”
This is the way Monica describes the social enterprise. She is the company’s accountant even before Last Forest was registered as a company in 2010 - so technically the one who keeps an eye on the fruits to ensure that everybody gets a bite and Last Forest continues to thrive. Since the company started, she has been thoroughly managing every accounts related issue, from wholesale to Green Shop accounts. Being such an experienced member of the team, she has many stories to tell and decided to share her thoughts from within - to give you a glimpse behind the scenes at Last Forest.
Monica joined Keystone Foundation eleven years ago. A friend of hers had been working in Coonoor Green Shop and on one of her many visits, she found out about the vacancy in Keystone’s accounts team. After joining the organisation, she used every opportunity to learn, visited the sales tax office again and again, asked many questions and started working with computers and Excel sheets. Then, when Last Forest was founded, she shifted and became the new company’s accountant. Ever since, Monica has faithfully accompanied its journey, helped to work through the initial challenges and was part of the first great achievements as well.
She still recounts her very favourite moment as if it was yesterday. That was in the financial year of 2016/17, the best year in Last Forest history so far. After everybody had been putting so much effort into bringing the vision of Last Forest to life, they had finally made good profit. Seeing all the hard work pay off was a great success and the profit was shared with everyone - Keystone, Aadhimalai, NNHS, community people and all employees. Monica, who had been doing the math for this, remembers: “It was a huge motivation for all of us.”
Another memory that has stuck with her is the opening of Place to Bee – the company’s Slow Food restaurant in Ooty. It serves Italian as well as Indian dishes freshly cooked from locally grown ingredients – some even from its own kitchen garden. “That was a new concept for our place at the time”, Monica says and admits that she had been worried it wouldn't work out. But the idea has completely exceeded her expectations and turned out to be a huge success. Now, five years later, Place to Bee has become a great place to enjoy food in a relaxed and cosy atmosphere. It has also won consecutive years of Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor.
Apparently, Last Forest somehow always manages things together. Monica likes that very much about the company. "Every important decision is taken only after hearing the team members’ opinions." For Place to Bee, she remembers how not only Mathew, Last Forest’s managing director and founder, took the decision, but a whole group of people. And everybody could come forward with their ideas and concerns. She says, in Mathew’s idea “everyone should get benefitted. As a social enterprise that is his main concept”.
Even when it came to initially bringing Last Forest to life all those years ago, everybody was involved. Monica describes how all the employees collected suggestions for the company’s name – which eventually became “Last Forest”.
Now, ten years later, Monica calls Last Forest a “home” and probably spends more time on campus than at her house. She and most of her colleagues share a spacious, yet cosy office. The walls are covered with certificates and pictures of the many exciting events Last Forest has been part of and the place on its own has so many stories to tell. People can be heard silently singing at their desks and every now and then, laughter breaks out over a co-worker’s joke. Monica likes this atmosphere and adds: “The appreciation that people show every time I complete my work on time motivates me to keep going.” But the most important thing to her is that “everyone in this campus always treats every woman with respect. I feel very secure when I am inside the campus.”
Nevertheless, Last Forest’s impact goes far beyond the safe and friendly workplace it provides for its employees. “The company works with communities, brings natural and organic products to the customer and follows fair trade principles”, Monica explains. She feels good about selling Last Forest products because with every sold item more people get benefitted. The customers themselves profit by consuming natural and organic products, which are good for their health and wellbeing. And on top of that, buying a Last Forest product supports the producers - tribal communities in the Nilgiris and other marginalised groups all over India - to generate a sustainable income for their families. Behind every product there is a special value and a story. The story of a person, family or community – with all their struggles and hopes. And Last Forest works tirelessly to do justice to these people. To fulfil its role as the tree giving good fruits to everyone.