Kashiben Case Study

Our visit to Kashiben is our last visit of the day, and our final visit after three days of field work. The sun is sinking lower in the sky as our car bumps down the dirt road, passing rows of green fields separated by trees. Women carrying water jugs or bundles of sticks on their heads, boys driving motorcycles, and girls walking on the side peer curiously into the car as we pass. The cows and goats are less impressed, and no amount of honking will shift a few particularly stubborn individuals.
We stop in front of a small compound, and walk past a calf on a tether to get to the front porch. We are greeted warmly by a small woman in a light purple sari, and take our seats on the outside bed. Our two translators and Kashiben settle into plastic lawn chairs, and we start “firing” our questions (that’s what our extremely patient SEWA translator calls our interview style). Unlike our other visits, we are not joined by a crowd of curious children, family members, and neighbors, and so this interview has a more relaxed and convivial feel. All our questions have to be translated into Hindi by one translator, and from Hindi to Gujarati by another, and then back again for the answers. We are learning to be patient, and to rephrase when something gets lost in translation.
Kashiben tells us about growing up in another small village with four sisters and parents who work as agricultural laborers. She and her sisters were only able to complete 6th standard, because the higher level school was further away and they needed to help their parents at home. She was married at just fifteen years of age (she is 40 years old now) and moved to this village. Luckily, two of her sisters married into the same village and one of them, she gestures across the field, lives very close. She joined SEWA ten years ago, when they visited her village, and has been a Rudiben for five years. She started out as a member of her savings group, and now she is the leader of it. Like many of the other women we spoke to, her husband and family are supportive of her work. She tells us that her two sons and daughter-in-law help her with the distribution sometimes, and her husband will come meet her when she is working late. Her daughter-in-law, a petite, quiet girl, drifts across the yard and settles in behind us, but does not join our conversation.
Her village is medium sized, about 200 households, and there is no store. People must travel to the next village over. She has about 20 primary customers, but says that almost everyone in the village buys a little bit from her. She uses the mobile phone now to place orders, and proudly tells us that this is her first time owning and using a mobile. She wants to expand into more villages, but transportation is a problem. The route planning is helping, but has only just started. We laugh when she tells us that really, she needs a bigger bag so she can carry more products on her head, but she is not kidding. She also talks about opening up a small store in front of her house, which is situated along the main road into the village, and we agree that it would be a great idea.
Our interview is briefly interrupted by her introducing a small, hard fruit to us that looks like a rock. Kashiben cracks it open against a doorpost, and shows us the coral colored flesh inside. We each try a little bit with salt, as she suggests, but it is pretty bitter. Our local translator finishes it off while they explain that they use it in chutney. The tree that the fruit came from is growing nearby, and there is a monkey hanging out in the upper branches. They tell us that during the fruiting season they keep children away, because the fruit could cause some damage when it falls.
. Kashiben really starts to shine when we ask questions about why she is successful, what makes a good Rudiben, and how SEWA has helped her. She is proud of the money she earns, and she uses it to pay household expenses and to save. Most of the women we have talked to have increased their incomes five times or more, and make as much or more then their husbands and sons. When we ask her what she would tell a new saleswoman, she pauses thoughtfully, and says she would tell her that once you start selling, you get your own identity in addition to the commission. She knows women in her village that she thinks would also benefit, and she herself is eager for more trainings. She tells us that because she is less educated, she wants to become more aware, more knowledgeable. Before SEWA she says, she was scared to travel. Now, she has gone to Ahmedabad by herself.
We wrap up our interview, and take pictures with her. In her individual picture, she flashes a big, confident smile. Before we leave, she walks us across the street to see the peacocks and the monkeys in the field. Other villagers start to gather as we climb into the car with many thank yous and goodbyes, and Kashiben waves us off with a big smile.

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Our first day with SEWA

This blog was originally written on December 10, 2013 after our first day with SEWA.

Our first day at SEWA started with the staff singing a prayer and welcoming our group. Each of the representative from different SEWA companies gave an introduction of themselves and how they became involved with the organization. The whole time I couldn’t stop smiling with how excited I was to be here and couldn’t believe this opportunity to be working with such amazing women. SEWA’s work over the past 40 years has made tremendous impacts on women’s lives and it is humbling and an honor with be learning from their staff.

After the warm welcome we had a productive first meeting with our RUDI counterparts, Umaben and Ranjuben. We were pleasantly surprised as to how clearly defined the scope of our project was and how well it aligned with what we were expecting, given the limited information prior to arriving. Uma has big plans for the company and is eager to increase sales at a rapid pace. Rudiben or RUDI “sisters” are women sellers of RUDI brand products that are the heart of the business and the primary distributors. Our project builds upon a channel analysis that last year’s UW group completed in which they identified the Rudiben as a key component to increasing sales that is well aligned with SEWA’s mission of employment and self-reliance.

We will be doing an analysis of the Rudiben to identify their successes and opportunities for improvements to increase sales. We will also consider the customer perspective with a local market analysis at the village and household level to understand current customer preferences and identify steps to reach new households. Finally, we will identify what type of support RUDI can offer the Rudiben to reach their sales goals with a focus on mobile phone technology.

We enjoyed listening to Uma describe her objectives for the project and a bigger vision of where she sees the RUDI company going. After first becoming involved with SEWA over 30 years ago when she moved to Gujarat for marriage, Uma has impressively worked her way up in the organization to become the RUDI Manager. Ranju is newer to SEWA and will be accompanying us on our visits to six villages in two districts in Gujarat. While Ranju worked on a checklist for our project, our team spent the afternoon developing questions for interviews with Rudiben, their existing customers, potential customers, and identifying information we will need to obtain at the village level. Lunch was served to us at SEWA with a simple dahl and curried vegetables with rice and all attempts at eating skillfully with our hands without dribbling sauce were made. When Ranju delivered us the checklist later, we were pleased to find that we were on the same page as her checklist overlapped well with the list of questions we had developed.

We are are excited about the direction and scope of the project but we are also becoming accustomed to waiting and unexpected changes. Tomorrow we are off for our first field visit to interview Rudiben, their customers, and do village level analysis. We’ll be staying overnight in the district of Surendranagar since some of the villages we’ll be visiting are far away and back in Ahmedabad late on Thursday night. So far so good, rolling along on IST (Indian Standard Time) and thrilled to be having this experience.

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Learning from SEWA

This was actually my second time to India. Compared to my first trip to India, I didn’t experience that much of a cultural shock. Yes, there were cows, monkeys, and camels on the streets. Yes, there was no toilet paper. And yes, the traffic was crazy and crossing roads successfully suddenly became a magnificent achievement.

Yet, this trip was far more rewarding than my last trip to India in a sense that I had more opportunities to communicate and interact with the people here. I was part of the Hariyali project, which was to look for the best solution to provide electricity to rural villages in Gujarat and Rajisthan state.  Although we did not have as many trips to the villages as the other projects, we did spend a fair amount of time talking with our manager, Anurag, and interviewing SEWA members as well as business professionals.

One of the interviews was with Dr. Sudhindra (or Dr. S since we can’t really pronounce his name). Dr. S was one of our consultants in figuring out whether building a new solar plant in the villages would be a feasible solution.  Before starting his own business in the solar industry, he worked for Motorola in the US for a number of years.  The interview was done at his office. It was just a simple room in a large building complex. From what I could tell, there was only one assistant and Dr. S himself working there.  Despite the simple facility, Dr. S greeted us with extreme hospitality and kindly explained to us all the nuts and bolts of a solar plant. The interview became one of the most fruitful learning I had in India. Coming on this trip I had never expected to be able to learn this much about the solar industry and the ways to look at cost factoring in energy consumption.  Dr. S walked us through his solar plant cost analysis, which for me was more like a combination of finance skills and physic theories.

The interview with Dr. S made me realized how little I know of the different technologies in power generating. To be honest, I was first a little worried about our project and how it would turn out given that our team has no tech background. However, throughout this trip, I have been amazed countless times by how much SEWA members have achieved or trying to achieve, even with their limited resources. Their ambition to dream big is truly encouraging. I sincerely hope that as our team continues on with the Hariyali project here in Seattle, our discussions, analyses, and financial model will be able to provide actual contribution and practical recommendations to help them achieve their goals and improve the livelihood of the villagers.

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Unbelievable strength

There’s something incredibly special about India.  I’m not sure I could ever pin-point exactly what that something is, but it’s somewhere in between the welcoming people, diverse spiritualities, intense colors and overwhelming assault on the senses (in a good way).

Working with the Impact Assessment Team, our group had the unique opportunity to visit six different projects with previous Foster MBA students and SEWA collaborations.  We interviewed managers and experienced how SEWA provides employment for women in the RUDI agricultural project, the Gitanjali waste-picker and recycling project, the Hariyali cookstove and renewable energy project, the Manager Ni School resource centers, the Rachaita construction project and the Trade Facilitation Center.

One of my biggest takeaways from the entire trip is the unbelievable strength of SEWA members.  The organization has 1.7 million female members and although we only met a small percentage, every woman we met was full of determination, willpower and incredible physical and emotional strength.  One clear example is our day with the Rachaita project.  I can only imagine the daily struggles some of the women go through, but to witness a female construction project brought my amazement to a whole new level.  We saw women building a seven-story building, which called for carrying bags of cement up and down stairs, piling bricks on top of their heads, mixing cement and all-around hard physical labor in warm and humid climates.  After watching women half my size (I’m average size in Seattle) fling cement bags up and over their bodies, Justin and I decided to see just how heavy a bag weighed.  While we have no scientific measurement, the two of us could only lift a bag about an inch, if that, off the ground!  The physical strength is without a doubt impressive, but what lies beneath is the incredible determination to increase the quality of lives for their families.  Many women had their children with them, some who were sleeping in makeshift hammocks, while others were trying to help their mothers.  The obvious love for their family welfare gives them this strength, physically and emotionally, that I have only seen in developing countries.  Witnessing this unbelievable strength is simplistically beautiful, motivating and humbling.

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A Demonstration in Leadership

As an Indian American, I had the opportunity to visit India several times. Cows in the road no longer surprise me. Truthfully, watching my classmates various reactions in India became more amusing than the colorfully painted elephants crossing the street. I am pretty sure I witnessed every possible human emotion register across my peer’s faces.

Like anything with substance, India is complicated. It is overwhelming, chaotic, and overpopulated. However, when you meet Indians who are committed to making a difference, despite all these obstacles, India suddenly becomes a place of hope and infinite possibility.

Our group was able to witness this firsthand. We worked with the Shantipath Peace Centers. The Peace Centers began as a result of the 2002 Gujarat riots. These Peace Centers are designed to help women find jobs within their community. Overtime the Peace Centers created life education centers, vocational training, and knowledge centers for children. Our group’s goal is to develop a business hub for the Peace Centers. In addition, we will write an impact assessment.

In preparation for these projects, we met with several women. We sat in the small, ornate Peace Centers and spoke with both women and children to learn about their stories and lives before joining the Peace Centers. The stories we heard both broke our hearts while reminding us about how powerful the human spirit is. We listened to stories from women who never left their homes prior to joining the Peace Centers. Once they joined the center, they often started vocational training. From there they began earning their own income and subsequently found their voice as a result of their financial independence. We heard this story often from several women, and we were reminded about how we take our lives for granted sometimes.

We also heard about a young boy who joined the Peace Center at the age of 7. Prior to joining his teacher told us he chewed tobacco and cursed like a sailor. We could not hide our amusement at the idea of such a young boy exhibiting this type of behavior especially since as we sat with him, he was polite and well behaved. The knowledge centers provided a place for him to focus on his abilities. Today, he is doing exceptionally well and is considered a leader among his peers.

Not all stories are inspirational though. We met a 12-year-old girl whose father recently passed away. Her mother observed the traditional Muslim practice of being a new widow and stayed inside her home to pray. As a result, the young girl was the sole breadwinner for the family. We met her briefly and our hearts broke a little while we watched her roll incense sticks in a frenzy. She is expected to roll 7000 sticks a day while sitting in an awkward position and inhale the toxic incense substance.

Throughout all of this, one person sticks out in my mind. She is the Peace Center supervisor. Her name is Prutha. Each day we worked with her directly. At first she appeared shy. She is also insecure about her English. One day, our translator called into work sick, and Prutha had no choice but to speak any English she knew. Now that she was officially in control of the situation, our group saw her magic unfold. When she walks into a Peace Center, each person reacts. Every individual in the Peace Center whether they are a teacher or a pupil, respects Pruthaben. She possesses the perfect balance of being compassionate and stern. She knows how difficult Shatipath Peace Center member’s lives are, but she is still honest about what changes they need to make and how it can be done. She is truly committed to the Peace Centers and its members. One night she invited to her house for dinner and once again we were amazed at her chameleon abilities. Now she was the happy homemaker who looked after her loving husband and ten year old son.

Pruthben definitely taught us a lesson in leadership. Despite all the obstacles she faces in order to reach her mission, she keeps pushing through. She literally will knock a door down if it means reaching the Peace Center’s mission. Her leadership skills, including being creative and flexible, remind me of India overall. India is not a place you fly to and suddenly understand how she works. However, if you take the time to get to know India, you suddenly realize her incredible power, magic and abilities.



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Jyoti Project Shows Small Changes Make Big Difference

By Kara Sheiko

My trip to India was surreal. One day I was in finance class, and the next day on was on a flight headed to the other side of the world. Once in Mumbai we arrived at our hotel for some much needed sleep, and had a few hours the following to explore Mumbai’s markets, India Gate, and waterfront. Then, we were on a plane again to Ahmedabad, SEWA’s home city.

Once settled in Ahmedabad, we headed to SEWA’s office to introduce ourselves to the leadership team, and hear firsthand about the projects we would be working on during our time in India and back in the United States. Neeta explained to us that Jyoti is a project that is funded by Coca-Cola India Foundation. The Foundation provides funding for providing solar electricity to schools, solar lanterns for homes, and hand pumps in remote villages that have limited access to electricity and clean water. We learned that Jyoti was completing its 2nd of 3 phases. The villages impacted by Phase 1 & 2 were in area of Rajasthan called Dungarpur. Our project would involve visiting villages that were at varying stages of Jyoti. We would interview women and visit villages to assess Jyoti and provide external insights on the impact of Jyoti. Our insights would be presented in a formal report that would be used internally by SEWA for education purposes, shared with the Coca-Cola India Foundation, and used to determine future phases of the project. We were also tasked to create brochures that can be used in villages, internally, and externally with fundraisers. And, finally, we would create a powerpoint presentation that could be used by SEWA was giving overviews of Jyoti and showcase its successes.

We visited 3 village in Dungapur. The villages had been involved with SEWA and Jyoti between 3 months and 3 years. There were striking differences in these villages and their willingness to have open conversations about Jyoti, and their understanding of the improvements to their lives because of these incremental changes. An important factor with SEWA and Jyoti, is that those families that benefit must pay a small contribution in order to receive the solar lanterns, handpump, and solar panels.
• For the villages that had additional hand pumps installed the women praised spending less time walking to and from the pumps, reduced head and backache from carrying water, and overall better health due to having steady access to clean water nearby. Instead of spending a good portion of their day retrieving water, many women had shifted to getting water on-demand, as needed. This gave them additional time to focus on additional are of their life: work, childcare, agriculture, and household duties.

• The village we visited that had a school with solar panels talked about the addition of electricity, lighting, and ceiling fans at the school. While it was difficult to attribute improved grades and attendance to fans or lighting, teachers said the students were more comfortable during the hot season and were able to focus more. The lighting was used sparingly – in classrooms that didn’t get as much daylight as others and during certain seasons where natural light was not as bright. They principal and teacher did discuss that they used the lighting for several after school events, including political elections and a cultural event. We learned that government had promised a computer in every secondary school. The school had a room wired with electricity for a computer lab, but the only computer they had no longer had a working monitor. Overall, we were impressed by the enthusiasm from teachers, parents, students, and village leadership. There was a high emphasis on education, and everyone desired to create better lives for their families and opportunities for their children.

• In the villages that were using solar lanterns, the women discussed how having light extended the hours that they were able to work and were no longer limited to natural light. Women were able to wake up earlier and prepare food, feed the animals, perform household duties and fetch water before the sun had risen. At night, the whole family stayed up later when before they would typically go to bed early or rely on expensive and toxic kerosene lanterns for lighting. Children were able to do homework after dark, and women were able to cook and server dinner, or perform additional household duties if they so choose. By freeing up this additional time, the women could use their time to work and earn money through a variety of odd jobs (agriculture, national job guarantee, handicrafts). Another added benefit is that mobile phones were able to be charged from the lantern, when previously the women would have to travel to the nearest town, pay to charge the phone, often wait their turn to charge, and then wait while the phone charged. This burden has been alleviated 100% for those that have purchased solar lanterns. So, in summary, the lanterns saved the women time by extending the available work hours, saved money through reduction in costs associated with kerosene and mobile charging, and improved health due to reduced exposure to kerosene and being active at night without proper lighting.

Once back in Ahmedabad, we presented our initial insights and our project plan to SEWA leadership. We flushed out more detail in each of the deliverables, our determined our communication plan over the next 10 weeks. We look forward to being able to provide SEWA with effective marketing collateral and insightful impact assessment that will help them achieve their long term goals with Jyoti and the villages in Rajasthan.

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Our Visit to the One Thousand Year Old Village of Doja

The Dungarpur District in Rajasthan encompasses a number of rural villages lacking electricity, running water, and the basic comforts of modern life.  The terrain is treacherous, with rocky, dry hills and narrow dirt roads.  As an agricultural society, the majority of men must migrate to Ahmedabad and Mumbai in search of a steady income, leaving their wives and family behind.  Many of the women are left in a precarious and difficult situation: caring for their children, livestock, and farms alone.  In a society rich in culture and customs, women are learning to overcome the challenges of daily life through the involvement of SEWA.

After spending an amazing month in India this past summer, I was beyond elated to return for another two weeks.  Though my experiences were drastically different, the highlight of both trips were my interactions with the locals.  I also learned that it is imperative to be flexible and ready for change: during the first meeting with our manager, we learned that we were leaving the next day for Rajasthan.  Our assignment was to interview women in three rural villages and witness the effects solar electrification and water pumps were making in their lives.

Despite not knowing what we were about to encounter, I was overwhelmed with anticipation and excitement to venture into the field again and meet the amazing women of SEWA.  All three villages we visited were unique in their own way, but the visit to Doja is a memory I will never forget.  It was during this visit that we discovered we were the first foreigners to step foot in this ancient village.

In this particular meeting with the SEWA members of Doja, we visited a group of women and three men.  Doja had now been involved with SEWA for roughly two months, and out of 45,000 villagers, 200 were already SEWA members, 150 of those had invested in solar lantern technology.  Initially, the discussion started off slow, but after our translator revealed we were the first foreigners they had ever seen, I felt a connection with the women.  At that moment, they began to warm up to us and conversation flowed with ease.  We listened eagerly to their stories of life before solar lanterns in their homes, and the struggles they face without sufficient water sources.

I cannot describe how humbled I felt to be the first contact to the modern world for this special community.  One thing I learned from listening to the words of these amazing women is how strong they are: not only as a community, but as women thriving despite the adversity they encounter each day.  My hope is to take the imprint these women left on me and use this as my motivation to help them as we continue our work this quarter.

Throughout the next ten-weeks, we hope to provide an assessment of the work that the Jyoti Program has accomplished thus far, and provide tools and recommendations to help build on their progress going forward.  We also hope to help SEWA educate the public and key stakeholders on the work of the Jyoti Program through brochures and an informational PowerPoint presentation.  All in all, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to visit with such an inspiring group of women, and I hope that as a group we can further the success that SEWA and the Jyoti Program has made on the community.

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The best day in Ahmedabad was, by far, the day we visited Rudiben in their homes. We had the opportunity to meet and interview six Rudiben. We learned their stories and how Rudi changed their lives. In the rural villages of Gujarat, women do not have much opportunity for income generation beyond embroidery and agricultural work. Not only is this work inconsistent but also only provides a minimum income of around 1000 Rupees a month, which is not enough.

The women we met knew they needed to pursue other work to improve their lives. Rudi is Avon for spices, sugar, and grains in India. A Rudiben sells spices, grains, and sugar door-to-door receiving 10% commission. Becoming a Rudiben enables a women to take control of her future because she has the opportunity to make anywhere from Rs. 2,000-25,000 Rupees a month. This money is life changing; with the income, a woman can afford to build a proper home and send her children to school. Moreover, the work gives the women independence and confidence which can be difficult to achieve in rural India.

For many of the Rudiben, they have a difficult time, at first, convincing their husbands and mother-in-laws to allow them to work as Rubiden. In traditional villages, it is not appropriate for a woman to work outside the home. However after their families see money they are making, they begin to support and even help with their Rudi sales. For example, one woman’s husband and son sold Rudi products at their factory. Rudi becomes a family business and improves all the lives of the family.

Over the next quarter, my team will write 6 case studies about the women we met and devise a training strategy to increase sales. I wish we could have spent more time with these amazing women who by their own volition pulled themselves out of poverty through Rudi. We had to leave India to return to school, but their stories will stay with us as we continue to work with the Rudi staff to determine the best training strategy.

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An Interview with a SEWA member

For the SEWA Manager Ni School team’s first blog post, we’d like to feature one of the case studies that we did while visiting the Visavadi Community Learning and Business Resource Center (CLBRC) in Surendranagar. We’re posting the write up below, but would like to make two comments on the experience:

  1. Chandrika was the first member we met and upon listening to her story, it was easy to see that SEWA has had a profound impact on her life and her family’s well-being. More than the added income and skills SEWA has taught her, we were impressed by her deep sense of pride in her association with SEWA and the amount of confidence she displayed when talking with us and sharing her story. SEWA has transformed her.
  2. Chandrika’s daughter has benefitted from SEWA tremendously – not only from being an active member in the village and trainings, but is now able to attend college because her family has money to support her goals. We’d love the opportunity to talk to more of this younger generation of women who are growing up with SEWA in their villages.

Meeting Chandrikaben and viewing the Visavadi Center first hand was worth the 5+ hours of driving on crazy Indian roads to catch a glimpse at how SEWA is making a difference in the communities it serves.

Chandrika (Luher) Mukeshbhai, SEWA Member

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb

SEWA’s approach has never been simple charity. Over the forty plus years that SEWA has been in existence, it focus on help women become self-sustainable through networks, trainings and an organizational structure that empowers women to earn a living, enhance their family’s well-being and to transform their community into a safe and productive environment.

For seventeen years, Chandrika (Luher) Mukeshbhai has benefitted from this model. Prior to her SEWA involvement, she stayed at home and took care of her family: her husband who is a blacksmith and her two children. Seventeen years ago, while staying with her in-laws, some sisters from the district association had arranged a meeting with a neighbor and invited her to attend. She didn’t have much interest in the meeting, but attended anyways. She even questioned the benefit for becoming a member while at the meeting. But then she thought, “It’s only 5 rupees, why not?”

At first, she would sneak away to attend meetings and she kept her membership a secret from her family. She felt that they would not understand, or at least would not approve.  When her husband discovered her secret, he was disappointed and annoyed: “We are married, Chandrika, you should be transparent with me.” They still were not happy that she was a member. But she remained involved. She became a member of a savings group, where each member saved 10 rupees per month. One day, she started having chest pains and not feeling well. Her savings group gave her the money (3,500 rupees) to go to the doctor’s office. It was at that point where her husband realized the value of her SEWA membership and he came around to accepting her involvement.

Over the years, Chandrika has been involved in many aspects of SEWA. She is a master trainer in the solar lanterns project; she helps recruit members and collect their dues; she is a RUDI-ben and helps list future prices; and she trains farmers to plan their harvests. From all of this, she has done trainings throughout  India and in Pakistan. She earns 2,500 rupees for being a write for future prices, and her commission from RUDI-ben sales is between 1,000 and 1,500 rupees per month. SEWA has given her family extra income to take care of their needs, including health care, education and providing them with a home. Her son is now in his 12th form of school and her daughter is in college studying computer science.  It has made her family a respected one within her community.

One of the interesting things to watch over the next decade is the transition of SEWA’s focus from the older generation to the younger generation. As the membership ages, SEWA will need to look for new ways to attract and recruit younger members. Chandrika’s daughter is one of these younger members and has taken several courses from SEWA, including a self-protection course, budgeting course and sanitary napkin production. Chandrika argues that all of this is important for the younger generation: even after marriage, women can still go out and make a living and be self-sustainable. Of all of these activities and trainings, her daughter has enjoyed the Participatory Appraisal meetings the most: this is when the village people representing different areas come together and create a microplan for five years. This allows them to get to know the needs of the village and how you envision your village to grow in the future. It helps members prioritize the needs of their villages while supplying important information to the government. The younger generation is hopeful for the impact SEWA can continue to make in their lives: in a recent meeting with this younger generation, Reemaben, Chairwoman of SEWA, asked them for their vision for SEWA: they want to see SEWA on  the moon. It is anecdotes like these that prove SEWA has inspired young girls to get involved and work toward improving their lives.

What else can SEWA provide to the community it serves? This is hard for Chandrika to say. “This is so difficult to answer. SEWA is focus on covering the needs of the village, so they cover everything.” If they are to focus on anything, Chandrika believes SEWA can continue to grow and provide livelihoods for the younger generation. They will receive better training than the older generation had. There is need for more training in garment stitching, and the centers need more machines. Some villages only offer school to girls until 8th form, so SEWA offers them a chance to earn a living and improve their lives. She quips that it is not hard to get members to join SEWA:  “Everyone has always joined.  SEWA has helped put roofs over harvester tents, helped provide villagers with subsidies from government schemes, assisted with getting toilets into the homes, built bathhouses for the villages: in other words, people are very happy.”  Prior to her involvement, only 20 women in the village were members. Now, her village of 2,500 people hosts over 450 members.

Chandrika appreciates the difference SEWA has made not only on her life, but her daughter’s life as well. Her daughter is now in college, thanks to the influence and training SEWA has had on her.  The trainings have been incredibly helpful to Chandrika: she is now able to earn more than 3,500 a month as a RUDI-ben and a master trainer for solar lantern. From this she was able to have her own home, which is truly an accomplishment. She loves the friends she has made from SEWA, not only in her own district but from all around India (and the world). Finally, it has provided her with confidence: people used to question her attending meetings (especially that she was wearing cotton as opposed to the synthetic materials that are more respected in the villages). Nobody knew her name. Now, everybody knows her name and they offer her rides to get places.

Chandrika mentioned that when she’d travel to other villages on behalf of SEWA, people would usually come and ask “What has SEWA come to give us.” She tells them: “It’s not here to give you anything. It’s here to improve your livelihoods.” She tells us that when she begins to tell her story, they perk up! Clearly, Chandrika’s experience exemplifies the old Chinese proverb.



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Case Study: Career of a Rudiben

While we were in India, we had the opportunity to interview a successful Rudiben and when we came home we wrote up a case study about her story, which is inspiring. Here is her story:

Surya Baa’s journey started in the Gujarati village of Rajpar, where she was a housewife, a mother, and a leader of a SEWA savings group. Her involvement in local charities meant frequent travel to the surrounding areas, and she was intrigued when SEWA approached her about taking samples of its spices to villages where she worked.  Not long after, she began to sell small amounts of RUDI products, and eventually chose to leave her work in child development for a new life as a Rudiben. Now, almost a decade later, Surya has become one of RUDI’s most successful saleswomen, and has recruited and trained new Rudibens who she hopes can emulate her achievements. While Surya’s path to entrepreneurial success has been difficult at times, it serves as an inspirational reminder that the determination of a proud mother can lead to a better life for those she loves, regardless of circumstances.

Defying Social Norms

Surya comes from a rural community where women rarely spend time outside the household or contribute substantially to family income. When she became a Rudiben, some family members and friends were nervous about how working out in the villages, especially at night, would reflect on Surya and her family. Despite pressure to quit, Surya forged ahead. To help her gain acceptance, RUDI staff visited her village to educate chiefs and village members about the organization’s mission and its impact on the community. Her motivation to continue as a Rudiben was twofold: she wanted her children to be more educated and lead better lives than she had, and she felt that the organization’s work was critical to the future of her “sisters,” other women all over India. As an experienced Rudiben, Surya has recruited and trained ten such sisters to be Rudibens, and has helped each of them develop the courage and skills needed to succeed as entrepreneurs.

Developing Business Skills, Passing on Knowledge

Surya knew early on that RUDI’s products were high quality. Convincing Gujarati villagers of that quality, however, was challenging.  As the only Rudiben in her area for more than two years, she struggled to introduce locals to a new brand and earn their trust as consumers. She overcame these obstacles by working hard to develop her sales techniques, and building lasting relationships with customers. Over the years, she has passed on her sales and marketing knowledge to the women she trains to be Rudibens. Together they have built a loyal customer base in the Rajpar area.

Creating a Network of Success

Surya’s work as a Rudiben transformed the lives of those around her. Her network of Rudibens sells to ten villages and over six hundred customers, and she is able to put aside nearly 5000 rupees per month for family savings. Surya commands respect in her family and her community for her success as an entrepreneur and mentor. More importantly, Surya’s children have gained access to education that was too expensive prior to her involvement with RUDI. Her eighteen and sixteen year-old children are currently pursuing college degrees, while her fourteen year-old will complete ninth grade this year.

Surya’s message to other Indian women is simple:

If she can overcome society’s expectations and prejudices to become a successful saleswoman in rural areas, then other women can do the same. She foresees a brighter future for women everywhere and hopes for a world where opportunities like becoming a Rudiben are available to all.

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