Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours awards 3 Indian organizations

Anjali, Azad Foundation and Samata are the winners for their innovative and outstanding work for the Girl Child in the fields of Health, Employability and Education. Here are the descriptions of each social entrepreneurship organization:

Anjali: Focusing on mental health issues of mothers and daughters in Kolkata, Anjali has been awarded top honors in Health.

Azad Foundation: Located in Delhi, Azad nabbed the Employability category by training girls from the slums to become professional taxi drivers.

Samata: Finally, Samata provides an innovative education and research curriculum for tribal girls in Andhra Pradesh.

For more information on the Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours, check out their website here.

NYT Profiles Ela Bhatt and SEWA

The New York Times carried a Saturday profile of Ela Bhatt and the remarkable organization she founded thirty-five years ago, SEWA. Here is an excerpt:

Mrs. Bhatt’s Gandhian approach is most evident in the way she lives. Her two-bedroom bungalow is small and spare. The one bit of whimsy is a white swing that hangs from the ceiling in the center of the living room. She uses her bed as a desk chair. Her grandson has painted a child’s pastoral mural on the bedroom wall. She is known for having no indulgences.

Read the entire story here. TC-I’s previous coverage of SEWA can be found here

Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2008 Finalists [Updated]

This week has had no shortage of announcements of accepting nominations for some competitions and the unveiling of winners from others. Today, IndiaPRwire reports that the Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation, Schwab Foundation, and UNDP has picked finalists for the 2008 Social Entrepreneurship of the Year Award.

The Award recognizes individuals who offer the most innovative and sustainable solutions to society’s impending social problems. The ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’ Award over the last few years has risen to prominence among social entrepreneurs with applicant’s immensely valuing the benefits the award brings. The steady increase in the number of nominations filed for this award is proof of it growing significance

Here are the three finalists:

Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours

We all know the power of prizes to motivate innovation and so this new award will hopefully do just that:

The financial services firm, Edelweiss Capital Ltd is partnering Kubera Partners, a private equity firm based in USA to launch the Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honoursthree awards totaling US$ 60,000 to felicitate outstanding innovations that positively impact the status of the girl child, through the delivery of services in three areas: education, health and nutrition, and future employability of the girl child. EdelGive Foundation, the not for profit subsidiary of Edelweiss Capital is managing the entire process of these awards.

Deadline for applications is December 1st of this year, so please prepare your applications ASAP.

For further information on the award categories, the broad selection criteria, rules and regulations and the application form, please visit – Kubera-Edelweiss Social Innovation Honours  or contact us at +91 22 23675623/4 and edelgive@edelcap.com

TC-I Fundwatch: Madura Micro Finance to get $4.52 million from Unitus

Madura Micro Finance has received an investment by Unitus Equity Fund to ramp up their offerings to women self help groups (SHGs) in rural India.

Madura Micro Finance will use UEF’s funding to increase its management bandwidth and institutional capacity as well as continue to expand its customer base, which is comprised primarily of women.  The firm’s central financing product is a group loan to self help groups (SHGs) which are formed and trained through its partner organization, Microcredit Foundation of India. These SHGs undergo training in good financial practice and business skills before being considered eligible for MMFLs loans. Madura does not post to the MIX database. It reported USD 35 million in disbursements in 2007, and an SHG member base of 500,000.

[Source: Microcapital.org]

Soundbites from Nancy Barry, former President and CEO of Women’s World Banking

Last night I had the good fortune of sitting in on a talk given by Nancy Barry, a pioneer in the field of creating private, market-based solutions to poverty alleviation for women across the globe. Her talk was very powerful and on many points, spot on accurate in my opinion.

A veteran of the World Bank, she was the second president of of Women’s World Banking from 1990 to 2006. In the fall of 2006, Nancy started launched Nancy Barry Associates–Enterprise Solutions to Poverty, which works with major corporations, emerging entrepreneurs, and leading business schools to build business models that engage low income producers as suppliers, distributors and consumers of products that build income and assets. Simply put, her views come from a career of practice knowledge and her points should be taken with great seriousness.

Below are some highlights from her speech, which was titled “Microfinance and Beyond: Enterprise Solutions to Poverty,” and some of my own disagreements.

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International Girl Child Day

September 24 marks International Girl Child Day, and this year, CRY (Child Relief and You) is launching a new effort focused solely on discrimination against girls. India PR Wire reports:

While highlighting known symbols of discrimination — feticide being the most prominent, the site explores the real reasons behind it, the social structures and patriarchy that perpetuate this. Celebrated as daughters, mothers and sisters, the girl is lost to these roles and the individual behind these roles takes a backseat.

Highly interactive and informative, the micro site has videos, an opinion poll, articles, volunteer opportunities, greetings, events, campaigns material downloads, an e-letter and much more

The issue of the girl child was previously covered here, here, and here. Take a look at CRY’s new website and spread the word.

Must read for the weekend …

A feature on the Deccan Development Society (DDS), an organization aimed to create a self-sustainable ecosystem of dalit women in Andhra Pradesh, in a manner that its leader coins as being “villaged global.” My favorite paragraph:

Starting in 1999, the women of the DDS created a market with about 2,000 members, comprising ecological, self-produced food crops. The sales of their agricultural and other produce yielded a 300% profit in six years; the womens’ dividends increased between Rs 30-800 annually. A mobile van selling the produce was introduced in 2001 to provide people easier access to produce and to popularise organic food. The Zaheerabad Consumers Action Group was also formed which has brought out films on local cuisine and a cookbook using ingredients based on the crops that the women produce. It even runs Cafe Ethnic, a millet restaurant!

I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety here.

Project Shakti: Strengthening Women’s Livelihoods

A few months ago, I discussed the idea of social intrapreneurs based on a SustainAbility case study that featured Hindustan Unilever’s Project Shakti. This month, the World Bank Institute’s publication titled Development Outreach focuses on business and poverty, with an article written by those involved with the same project. The authors describe the project not as a CSR initiative, but as “a business initiative with social benefits.”

Initially, the project was created as a response to Unilever’s desire to tap into new markets within India. Unable to reach most small villages due to poor transport and supply chain infrastructure, along with challenges of selling products to a population with little or no disposable income, Unilever saw the need to innovate.

Connecting with existing women’s self-help groups, Project Shakti allows women to start generating a annual income of US$150 after receiving training and a loan to get off the ground.

The company decided to set up a direct-to-consumer retail operation by creating a network of entrepreneurs to sell its products door-to-door, and to produce a range of affordable products in small sizes to meet the needs and pockets of low-income consumers. These are mostly single-use sachets selling for as little as 50 paise (half a rupee) each.

As a female member of a low-income family, imagine earning an amount that would almost double the family’s household income. The impact on the woman as an individual, along with the ripple effect on the family and surrounding community, is probably unmeasurable.

Now, Project Shakti also consists of public awareness programs focusing on health and hygiene, as well as an i-Shakti initiative that allows villagers to access information through kiosks.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the authors’ description is their take on lessons and challenges. Managing partnerships and balancing interests lies at the heart of these challenges, and the authors note:

Whatever the primary purpose and objectives of each partner, whether developmental or commercial, creating convergence between different activities is the key to progress. A big part of the solution to development lies in working together and using infrastructure, whether developed by the public or private sector, for the benefit of all.

Clearly, this is no easy undertaking, yet Project Shakti provides a powerful example of a business that profits while improving the livelihoods and quality of life for its customers. Originally driven by the need to diversify their customer base and increase profit, the program now reaches over 3 million households in India. When business and social good align, the collaboration can have a wide-reaching impact.

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

Health: The governments of India and Bhutan are looking to build a high quality health corridor in the Assam and Bhutan regions.

Government: The Ministry of Urban Development has launched an e-Gazzete to better inform the public.

The Power of Microfinance: A powerful feature on one 24 year old woman’s rise from poverty to a self-sufficient mother of three —

Three years ago, Jayanthi (24), a young widow, was a pavement dweller. With no roof and a meagre income from her part-time job as a domestic help, Chennai-based Jayanthi could barely provide a proper meal to her three children.

Today, Jayanthi brings home Rs 250 every evening. No longer a maid, she drives her own auto-rickshaw, bought with the help of an interest-free loan. Over the last two-and-a-half-years, she has regularly paid her monthly loan installment of Rs 100… in addition to her children’s fees. All three of them now go to school.

Assam benefits from SHG initiatives

Self Help Groups, or SHGs as they are better known, have come to be accepted in India as a potent means of empowering people who are suck on the wrong side of the poverty line – with special emphasis on rural women. SHGs, typically, consist of a group of 15-20 people who come together with the objective of creating a financial cushion in times of individual or collective exigencies. SHGs also promote independent thinking and inculcate a sense of responsibility since the money and effort involved belong to the members themselves.

Assam is the latest example where SHGs are fostering a silent revolution, as reported by livemint.

The primary aim of setting up SHGs was to address the problem of rural unemployment, remove disillusionment among youth and bring them back to mainstream from the path of militancy, he said. Moreover, gradually the young and educated unemployed rural population are equipping themselves to take up income generating activities by organising themselves into SHGs, Gogoi said.

The article quotes a survey conducted by Nanda Talukdar Foundation to point out that Upper Assam has benefited more from the state government initiative even though the actual intent was to benefit Lower Assam. Further reading of the article brings to front the need for increased planning and study of demographics to ensure that resources are targeted properly and benefit more people with lesser wastage.

While you are still at this post, you may want to read this report on “SHGs in India”. Though a couple of years old, it is educating nevertheless.

Editor’s Note: This post was a contribution of one of our readers, Aishwarya Mishra. Aishwarya has been working in the software industry for close to 4 years. He is passionate about writing and more importantly, working on social issues. You can read his personal views at http://wheredoiblog.blogspot.com and help in his efforts on http://targetingtheroots.blogspot.com

If you want to write a post on ThinkChange India, drop us a word at info@thinkchangeindia.org

Op-Ed: Why Traditional Income Generating Activities Simply Aren’t Enough

Recently, traditional income generating activities, specifically those associated with self help groups (SHGs), have gained acclaim as effective tools for poverty alleviation. The assumption is that if, for example, Sunita, a woman from an agricultural community in Gujarat, learns how to make papad, she will then have the skills necessary to sustain a productive livelihood, and hence, support her family. Typically, Sunita, who now knows how to make papad, will be part of a collective such as an SHG, and together, these women will produce papad in bulk to be sold on the market. So far, so good, right?

But what if the demand for papad in Sunita’s region plummets? Or what if the prices for the raw materials or the equipment required to produce papad spike upwards? Or, even more fundamentally, what if the market for papad simply does not exist? How will Sunita transition from papad making to another entrepreneurial activity when she (as well as her fellow SHG members) have been trained only to produce papads?

This is precisely where skills-based income generation activities falter – when women are required to draw upon a larger, more holistic skill set in order to transition to another, more profitable business venture. Because these types of trainings teach women only how to produce a specific product, rather than how to assess market needs and then produce, women like Sunita are poorly equipped to tackle market fluctuations or competition. In other words, training Sunita with the skills required to produce papad is effectively the same as teaching her how to read / write her name, but neglecting to teach her the remainder of the alphabet. How can we then expect Sunita to read a book, unless, of course, she teaches herself?

What is required is a paradigm shift away from skills-based, production oriented income generation to training on how to think like an entrepreneur. In other words, Sunita should be asking herself questions like, “What are the needs of the market?” and “How can I meet those needs?” before seeking to learn a specific skill set. This type of thinking turns the traditional income generation model on its head, as it places women in the position to negotiate the terms of their engagement with the market, rather than being pigeon-holed into a narrowly defined skill-set that is unsustainable over time.

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Breaking the First of Many Glass Ceilings

At the first national conference on rural BPOs, as mentioned previously by Santhosh, the real spotlight was on women. Business processing organizations all over the country are discovering that women are just as capable, if not more, than men in completing the tasks related to these jobs.

“We give the same entrance test for both boys and girls and have no gender discrimination in our intake policy. But somehow girls seem to be more successful in our test and 75 of our 125 people are girls,” said C S Gopinath, senior vice-president of HDFC Bank, who set up the bank’s first BPO at Nellore in Andhra Pradesh through its subsidiary Atlas Development Facilitators Company.

In a society where social stigma and family responsibilities are also interrelated factors, all-women BPOs offer an attractive solution.

“Many fathers do not like the idea of sending their daughters to work alongwith boys. And if perchance, any girl goes out with a boy for a movie, the social stigma is so high that the whole village will boycott us. So, it made sense to have a women-only BPO,” said Madhukar Rajagopal, CEO of JSoft.

Gaining a foothold to respectable and skilled jobs within BPOs is a major step forward for women and their employment outlook. As one door opens, many more are sure to follow…

International Summit of Women Entrepreneurs to be held in Bangalore

Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka (AWAKE), a Bangalore based non-profit focused on women entrepreneurship, is organizing a five-day international summit of women entrepreneurs, starting 28th May, 2008. Women delegates from across the country and around the world will be participating in the summit, which will also include a trade fair, showcasing products produced by women owned enterprises. There will also be seminars on various topics including international networking and business opportunities, opportunities in national, international tourism, travel, hospitality and service sectors and Social Entrepreneurship.

The event will be held at Bangalore, and the registration details are available here.

No worries if you cannot participate, the TC-I team will be live-blogging from the event!

Who Represents India’s Women?

On average, Indian women work longer hours than men, as their day consists of a more diverse array of tasks relating both to the maintenance of their livelihoods (public sphere) and homes (domestic sphere). In rural India, this could take the form of both working in the fields and performing domestic duties such as cooking, drawing water, cleaning the home, washing clothes, and educating the children. In urban India, this could potentially mean working outside the home while simultaneously performing the aforementioned domestic duties. Unfortunately, in proportion to their input of labour, time, and resources, women are not equally compensated as men. In the case of this article, I won’t speak to financial compensation (which is also unequal), but rather, I will speak to the more intangible aspect of the problem – representation.

According to a recent MeriNews report, India lags behind its South Asian partners with regard to “the commitments made in the Common Minimum Program (CMP) of mainstreaming women in the legislative process and structures effectively. In fact, “according to a survey, reservation for women stands at only 8.2 per cent in India while in Pakistan it is over 21 per cent, Nepal 30 per cent and Bangladesh is 10 per cent. ”

The Alliance for Women’s Reservation Bill (AWRB), which consists of more than 30 women’s groups, has expressed serious concern over this relative lack of participation in the “country’s progress,” and has sent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a memorandum “demanding that the 33% reservation bill be tabled and voted upon in this half of the budget session. Members of the Alliance are tired of the politicization of this process, and refuse to be exploited as political puns during the election cycle.

Veena Nayyar, director of Women’s Political Watch, said it best:

Women are angry, tired and feel insulted by unmeant and unkept promises by manifestos and speeches of the senior most leadership of the country and these too pick up momentum only in the election year.

If India claims to be a global force, no longer can it afford to lag behind in terms of women’s rights. Neither can the government simply pay lip service to 50% of India’s population. Social development and economic development must occur simultaneously in order for the title, “India Shining,” to be truly apt.