An initiative by the District Panchayat in Raipur, Chhattisgarh is leading to economic and social empowerment of rural women associated with Self Help Groups (SHGs) formed under the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM).
The district has around 9,000 SHGs that operate under 408 Village Organisations (VO) in every Gram Panchayat. Under NRLM, 10-15 women are socially mobilised to form an SHG and are financially aided through a Revolving Fund (RF), Community Investment Fund (CIF) and Bank linkage to ensure financial inclusion. These SHGs are then provided training and capacity building to enable them to start their chosen livelihood activity.
Presently, the district boasts of 5,000 SHGs which started their livelihood activity in the primary, secondary or tertiary sector after being mobilised into groups and getting financial support. They were hitherto catering to demands of locally available markets. It was a buyers led market where competing SHGs could not earn gainfully through their activities. This in turn led to an initiative called Mission 25-25, the brainchild of the CEO, District Panchayat, Mr. Deepak Soni, to facilitate these SHGs with better employment and livelihood opportunities.
The CEO deployed NRLM staff engaged at district, block and area levels to draw up a catalog of various products and services on offer by SHGs in the district. The teams were then constituted to visit various private and public institutions in the district to market and showcase the catalog of products & services to prospective buyers. Dressed in formal attire, with formal I-cards, and with a catalog in hand, these teams intensively surveyed the untapped markets and within a short span of four months they generated work orders to the tune of Rs 1.6 crore.
From sanitary napkins to paver block tiles to fast food centres to agricultural implements on rent, mission 25-25 had a basket full of opportunities for around 1,300 SHGs in trading, manufacturing and services sectors. The high point of the team's efforts is the entry of these SHGs into premiere institutions like IIM Raipur where a village organisation, Khushi Mahila Gram Sangathan of Nawagaon Gram Panchayat constituting 11 SHGs now provides laundry services, and runs a fast food center and grocery shop to cater to students and faculty members living on campus. Before they began this venture, the district administration arranged for the women to be given extensive training on the retail sector, cooking and laundry services through registered vocational training providers under the skill development mission.
The daily turnover of these three interventions at one location itself is between Rs 15,000-Rs 20,000. The associated women are now better placed economically and socially empowered. They are now supplementing their household income up to Rs 6000 - 8000 every month. This has led to an overall economic turnaround of the village which had seen frequent law and order problems till date, but is now slowly embarking on the path to development. The collaboration between institutions from the organised sector and NRLM SHGs is now creating a silent economic revolution where better markets, better customers; economies of scale and better revenues are slowly becoming a norm rather than an exception.
Deepak Soni gives credit to his team which has been relentlessly making efforts to utilise the opportunities available in abundance in the capital city of Chhattisgarh. He is also thankful to the heads of various premiere institutes who heartily accepted the idea of Mission 25-25 and believes that personal involvement along with conviction and planning can lead to better outcomes at ground level. The results are such that the women in Ujjala Gram Sangathan are working round the clock to manufacture and supply a pending order of 10,000 sanitary napkins. The president of the organisation, Sumreet Verma proudly states, "Hum mahila vyasvai to hai hi saath me swachhagrahi bhi hai kyuki ab hume pata lag gye hain ki mahwari suraksha sampoorna swachhata ka ang hain. Aur yeh humari aamdani ka jariya bhi ban gaya hai. (This has helped us become financially independent and also further the cause of health and sanitation as we have realized that sanitary napikins are an integral part of menstrual health.)"