In India women are disempowered and generally handed a bad deal. Consider the various issues they face. It starts at birth. According to UNICEF, more than 50 million female infants have been culled at birth and have gone ‘missing’. This problem runs deep, in July a female child was found half-buried in a forest in Madhya Pradesh, she later died due to injuries in hospital. No wonder India has amongst the worst sex ratios in the world, with only 893 females for every 1000 males. There are fewer female children in schools than males, most of them dropping out when they hit puberty, preferring to stay at home, because most schools don’t have toilets or running water.
There are also fewer women in the workforce, this is not just in the organized workforce, but also in agricultrure. Their woes continue: they are not safe on the streets, with high rates of rape and sexual assault. India is definitely no country for women.
The social entrepreneurship ecosystem has responded to this harsh environment spawning a variety of social businesses that strive empower women. Here are 10 social enterprises doing their bit to better the lives of the women of India.
The company was founded by Zubaida Bai with the simple idea of developing affordable, appropriate health technologies produced by women and for women in rural India. Every year a million mothers die from unsanitary childbirth conditions. AYZH’s core product JANMA, a Rs 100 clean birth kit (containing simple tools recommended by the WHO) helps prevent infection at the time of birth leading to reduced maternal and infant mortality.
Zubaida’s motivation to start the company was personal. In 2006, on the birth of her first born she contracted an infection that caused years of suffering and was told by doctors that she may not be able to have another child. She made a promise to find a sustainable clean birth solution on behalf of women worldwide. Besides reducing maternal and infant mortality, AYZH increases income of women in rural India by enabling them to be the producers and sellers of tools like sterile birth kits.
With a total of 32,000+ kits sold, more than 64,000 mothers and babies worldwide now have access to a clean and safe birth. Bai is a TED, Ashoka Changemakers, and Echoing Green fellow.
Started by Jasmeen Patheja in 2003, as a student project when she was Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, the Blank Noise project has developed into a platform for women to voice their frustration against sexual assault and violence. Patheja is reluctant to call Blank Noise a movement yet, but it might slowly be becoming one.
After starting in Bangalore, Blank Noise has spread to other cities, helping create awareness about ‘eve teasing’, sexual assault and violence against women. The organization entirely run by volunteers – both male and female – uses a multi-dimensional appraoch to publicly address the aforementioned issues.
One of their more recent projects was ‘Talk to me’, had Blank Noise volunteers set tables on ‘Rapist Lane’ to facilitate a conversation between women, and the men who used to hang around there. Rapist Lane is a short stretch near Srishti School of Art Design and Technology where men used to park their bikes and cars, drink and generaly create a nuisance for the women passing by. The tables helped sit the men down and share tea and have a conversation with the women who passed Rapist Lane. The objective was for the men to better understand the women and create a sense of familarity between the two sexes.
Datahalli is an all-woman BPO started by the the JSW Foundation in Vijayanagar, Karnataka to create employment opportunities for rural girls, most of whom are only high school pass outs.
The project has currently benefited over 500 women helping the rural women gain dignity and respect and some cases become the family’s primary bread earner. The Datahalli model encourages girls to complete their education right up to the 12th grade.
The women are given basic computer skills and then trainined on data entry and processing jobs. The 300 young women who are currently employed at the BPO earn between Rs. 3000 to Rs.5000 per month.
Having started with financial support from the foundation, Datahalli is a self sustained social enterprise today.
India, as is well-known is not a safe place for women. There have been a slew of women only cab services that have been launched to provide safe transport solutions for women, and by women in urban India. Sakha Consulting Wings is one of them. It offers three services :Sakha Cabs for Women- a cab service driven by women for women in Delhi and NCR, Sakha Chauffeur Placement Services- a chauffeur placement service on a full time basis within an agreed contract and Sakha Chauffeur on call- chauffeur services for a short duration or daily packages.
Sakha women drivers are handpicked from poor and marginalized sections of society. Their entire training and development is undertaken by Azad Foundation, Sakha’s non-profit sister organisation. Maruti Institute of Driving and Technology Research provide driving skills. In-house trainers from Azad Foundation provide training in subjects such as map reading, routes and roads in Delhi, communications and grooming, as well as an understanding of women’s rights, particularly in protection from violence in public and personal spaces. In addition to driving, they are taught self defense by the Delhi Police and the Crime against Women Cell teaches them to deal with any untoward incidents faced on the roads.
We will never completely know what possesed Arunachalam Muruganandam, a high-school drop who was working as a helper in a welding shop to take on the problem of menstrual hygiene in India. He spent a frustrating four years coming up with a design for a sanitary napkin that could be afforded by the poor. Finally, Muruganandam succeeded in designing a machine for Rs 65,000, this was a major breakthrough because a similar machine cost Rs 3.5 crores.
Muruganandam started selling napkins with his wife’s help, but met with a tepid response, but soon things started to pick up. Over 225 such machines have sold so far and are deployed in 14 states of India. He’s also getting inquiries from various countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya Uganda, Nepal and Bangladesh.
He may single-handedly spawned an entirely new industry.
Harmeet Neetu Sidhu and Allison Q. Taylor started REVIVAL Style as a way to empower women from the rural villages of India. The company designs, produces and sells stylish, ethical apparel for women. REVIVAL Style works with female artisans from rural India, leading to a better life for them. REVIVAL Style has won quite a few honors for its business model including the NYU Gallatin Founder’s Fund Business Plan Competition, finalist in the NYU Stern Social Venture Business Plan Competition, and was named in the Top 40 (out of nearly 1800) in the Dell Social Innovation Challenge.
REVIVAL Style’s inspiration is the over 180 million rural Indian women living below the universal poverty line, living on less than a dollar. By being the bridge between traditional Indian craft and the needs of a modern-day consumer, the company helps preserve Indian traditional crafts. In addition to offering the women fair wages and employment, REVIVAL Style will reinvest in the artisans’ communities through education programs.
Neha Juneja and Ankit Mathur founded CGI to create sustainable solutions for the rural market. Their first product, a clean cookstove, called the Greenway Smart Stove. CGI’S team consists of technology experts, designers, socioligists and marketers who worked with rural communities to create the Greenway Smart Stove design.
The results clearly shows. Their stove saves 65 percent fuel and reduces carbin emissions by 80 percent. This is an important problem to solve as traditional stoves cause over 2 million premature deaths annually due to indoor air pollution. Also, they lead to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and the release of black carbon. CGI’s efforts have won it many prizes. Some of them include the $50,000 grand prize at Intel Global Challege at UC Berkeley (2012), Women’s Impact Award (2012), DFID-GIZ Sankalp Samridhi “Social Enterprise Recognition Awards”, Grand Prize (2012), IIM – Bangalore’s “Next Big Thing” Competition and first Place at the Social Business (2012), IIT – Bombay’s “Eureka! Business Plan Competition”.
After designing a great stove, CGI’s next challenge is to reduce the cost of the stove and increase sales.
TMC’s founder Gauri Singh has extensive experience in sectors like microfinance, urban livelihoods and affordable housing founded TMC in 2007. Just prior to founding TMC Gauri worked for Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) for five years. TMC aims to revolutionize the domestic housekeeping sector by improving service quality and the rights of domestic workers. TMC’s maids become co-owners in the company and own equity. Maids are guaranteed a steady income, provident fund, medical benefits and access to financial services. All maids are screened as TMC does a police verification.
TMC also takes the sting out of hiring a new maid by providing a 5 day trial period. Households can also be guarateed continuity of service, because when one maid quits, TMC replaces them with another.
Founded by Sumita Ghose in 2006, rangSutra has become of the most successful social enterprises in India. The company preserves the heritage of India and its crafts by manufacturing apparel, home furnishings and accessories. More than 70 per cent of the close to 2000 artisans that the company employs from remote regions of Rajasthan, Uttaranchal and Assam are women.
rangSutra creates top quality hand made products employing these artisans and farmers and provides them with sustainable livelihoods. Besides being modeled on the principles of fair trade rangSutra also has made the majority of its employees part owners and given them representation on the board of Directors.
One of India’s oldest co-operatives supporting women, Lijjad Pappad is an organisation manufacturing various products from papad, appalam, masalas, wheat flour, chapati,detergent powder, detergent cake and liquid detergent.
After starting with just 7 women employees it now employees over 43,000 women throughout India and has 81 branches.