I often joke about MBA buzzwords — strategy, breakeven, decks, ambiguity, impact, intrepreneurship — but the one I hear most is “innovation.” I tend to think of innovation as a new piece of technology or a scientific breakthrough. In actuality, innovation is any kind of change that leads to improvement. In my time with SEWA, I repeatedly observed actions that, although they seemed minor, actually made a huge difference in the lives of members. Two examples of the innovation coming out of SEWA spring to mind:
1) Mobile price monitoring. The biggest barrier to the financial independence of castor farmers was that they had no way to know the current price of castor. Without this information, buyers could easily rip off the farmers. SEWA saw this problem and utilized a ubiquitous technology to fix it: SMS. Each day, SEWA sends a text message to the farmers with the latest castor price so they are able to demand fair payment.
2) Making and distributing inexpensive sanitary napkins. As an American woman, I have never had to consider what my life would be like without sanitary products. For women in the developing world, access to these products can be nearly impossible, putting them at risk of infection and preventing them from attending school or going to work. SEWA is working to combat this by employing women to produce and package sanitary napkins to sell to women in rural areas. In addition to selling the products, SEWA also educates women about feminine hygiene and helps to reduce the stigma associated with menstruation.
I couldn’t be more amazed by the work that SEWA is doing. The ingenuity demonstrated by the SEWA staff and sisters is proof that innovation and impact come in many forms – and that they are more than just buzzwords.