Empowering Women Series – CSR Initiatives

When we design a CSR initiative, what are the objectives we seek to achieve? A corporate social responsibility program that made a difference. The efforts of an Indian Sewing Machine manufacturing company to create a viable source of livelihood for women across India by setting up Sewing Schools is chronicled in the story below. This corporate initiative works towards women empowerment by making village women become entrepreneurs who are taught sewing and stitching within the precincts of their homes.

An Indian Sewing Machine manufacturing company aims to work with the women in the villages and believes that helping women develop their inherent latent potentialities would bring about a holistic development for the society at large. In the last three years the company through a Sewing School Program has reached out to remote villages across the country. This is a community based initiative with the aim of empowering village women to become entrepreneurs and teach sewing and stitching within the precincts of their homes. This programme is necessarily “inclusive” in character, thereby implying that the programme is implemented for the economically poor irrespective of caste, class, religion or creed.

images (1)As on February 2015, in partnership with 48 NGO partners there are 10,185 Silai Schools being run across India. The company has trained (in stitching, tailoring and repairing of machines) all village women, provided them a sewing machine, a syllabus and a Silai School signage and encouraged them to teach other community women the art of stitching and sewing. The trainings have been conducted in their vernacular language with the syllabus available in the same language. More than 36,000 learners have completed their course from Silai Schools and nearly 8000 learners continue to get sewing skills training every day from these schools.

images (2)The schools are making a marked difference in the lives of the women. The women, on an average have started earning Rs. 3000/- per month, with the highest earning going up to Rs.18,000/- per month. This earning, though small, at the moment is working as a catalyst in building the self-confidence of women and raising her status within and outside the family. This financial income and increased self-worth is facilitating in creation of empowered change agents in the villages of India.

imagesThe positive results from the Silai Schools in the villages have created a lot enthusiasm amongst the people in the adjoining Silai School villages too. There is an increased demand from the community about starting Silai Schools in the nearby villages and hence the concept of starting the Satellite Silai Schools (SSS) have been started from Aug 2014. Under the SSS model, Silai Schools would be started by any women knowing sewing and stitching (preferably a learner from the existing Silai School) in the neighbouring village. She would then start teaching others or doing job work. By March 2015, the company plans to start about 6,000 SSS across the country. Hence, by this period they aim to have covered 9,000 villages in all the states of India.

The company also recently launched the Silai School Programme in Bhutan in association with Tarayana Foundation.

Categorized as Media

Empowering Women Series – Going Beyond

All of us do not get equal opportunities, but do those of us that have been blessed with “more”, move out of our comfort zone to spread the good fortune.This is the story of a company that changed their policies to truly make a difference. A Sri Lankan apparel manufacturing company with over 90% women employees initiated a “Go Beyond Program”. The aim was to create an atmosphere where women could learn skills like financial management, computer literacy and hence not only empower but recognize the contribution of women in the workplace and beyond.

apparel_workersA Sri Lankan based company specializing in the production of intimate apparel and sportswear goods initiated the “Go Beyond Program” in 2003. The program, targeted at women, provides career development, life skills education and recognition for female garment workers. Prior to the initiative, the company plants provided meals, banking services, skills building classes and transportation to their garment workers, however, the extent and funding of each program was at each plant manager’s discretion.

With the “Go Beyond Program”, a company- wide framework was established to standardize and evaluate employee programs at each individual plant based on internally identified best practices. The program identified a four-point framework of empowerment and development based on career advancement, work-life balance, rewarding excellence and community activation. Specific classes included: awareness on domestic violence, stress management, balancing multiple roles of a woman, dressmaking, financial management and computer literacy.

images (2)During the initial roll-out of the program and based on an impact measurement framework that was developed in July 2004, the company plants implemented 290 programs in the four thematic areas and reached the average worker 3.7 times in the first year. Since its rollout, the program has been extended to India and Vietnam.

As 90% of its employees are women the company became aware of the need to be supportive of women who commit to developing themselves and reward those who achieved excellence. The ‘Women Go Beyond’ programme seeks empower women at plants and communities by recognizing their contributions to society and rewarding excellence in academics, sports, commerce and arts thus eliminating the perceived image that all apparel is manufactured in sweat shop conditions worldwide with rampant child labor & non compliance with human rights & acceptable labour conditions.

images (1)The program concentrated on promoting knowledge, awareness, leadership skills, attitudinal changes, the ability to balance work and personal life etc and encompassed the following main areas; Women Go Beyond Framework Training for career development for employees – e. g. Training in English language Training in Information Technology Training in Financial Management – personal & professional Soft skills – Presentation, Time management, Leadership Skills Supporting work-life balance initiatives– e. g Assisting in the creation of crèche facilities Encouraging team sports at MAS Beauty culture training/dress sense/grooming & patchwork Special programs for pregnant employees. Conducting programs on Health & Hygiene – Reproductive health, 5S, HIV & STD Awareness, Nutrition, Domestic Violence Rewarding excellence of women at the plants – e.g. Awards based on performance at plant/regional/national/ international level in areas of arts. Each plant chooses & rewards women who reflect the Go Beyond definition of an “Empowered Woman” annually – thereby creating role models for others to emulate from.

Categorized as Media

Empowering Women Series – Gender Sensitization

Contributions can be made to gender sensitization in so many different ways. Are we sensitive enough to see how we can do our bit? This is the story of a large software company that decided they would ensure gender equality through a project called the Gender Equity Image. The aim was to ensure ethical standards be set in respect of all marketing and promotional material vis-à-vis women imagery. And year on year targets were set on improving scores on the same.

 width=A United States based software company, implemented the Gender Equity Image Project to promote gender equality within the company. The goal of the program was to work toward the ongoing improvement of gender representation and the reduction of the use of stereotyping imagery wherever possible. The project strived to ensure ethical marketing standards by respecting the dignity of women in all sales, promotional, and advertising materials.

In 2012 the Corporate Marketing team conducted a benchmark audit to evaluate how gender was represented through imagery in the organization. They reviewed for not only presence of gender based imagery but also gender split and position of power. It was discovered that overall the company relied heavily on the use of non-gender logo based imagery, however, where gender based imagery existed they had an opportunity to improve.

One of the pieces of the improvement plan was to initiate an annual audit of gender representation in various forms of our marketing communications. The audit used an Excel spreadsheet to track a range of image categories and their gender statistics (male only, female only, mix of gender, position of power).

Further, in order to promote the Gender Equity Image Project; the company added language to both the Corporate Editorial Style Guide and Visual Guidelines to educate the marketing and sales organization as well as the agencies they work with to embrace all aspects of diversity, including gender.

images (1)The Symantec Gender Equity Image Project used straightforward and easy-to-understand metrics. Several members of the marketing team evaluated over 300 images across several categories in an effort to understand how gender is represented in the corporate imagery. The initial results were presented to all of the teams with various control areas. Each team committed to a 5 percent improvement in the overall representation of gender in the first year, based on the results of the annual audit.

The project was formalized in 2013. The goal of the project was to increase the percentage of imagery that is considered a positive representation of gender roles. After completing the first gender representation audit, the company worked with its marketing agencies and key stakeholders to set a target of 5% improvement in scores over the first year. They also used the lessons from this project to update the Visual Guidelines and our Corporate Editorial Style Guide in order to educate all groups involved with marketing and sales on the company’s commitment to positive gender representation.

Categorized as Media

Empowering Women Series – Chanderi Weavers and Gender Diversity

All of us recognize the importance of gender diversity &women empowerment. The question that needs to be asked is: what are we doing to promote it? The beautiful Chanderi fabric which had for centuries been worn by royalty found itself to be no longer a favoured textile. The situation made worse by middlemen and traders who garnered a master share of earnings left the poor weaver with next to nothing. A private-public initiative helped women weavers to not only reinvent designs and styles but helped them to become entrepreneurs in command of their own future.

handloom-school-2For centuries Chanderi, situated in the Ashok Nagar district of India’s largest state has been the hotbed for weaving. Chanderi textiles were patronized initially by the Mughals and later by the Scindias.

In this town of 30,000 people, about one third of the population is from the weaving community, which includes both Hindus and Muslims. But the weaving community began facing trouble when the market for their traditional product — Chanderi sarees — started declining. Also as most of the weavers were contractual workers, they had no control over the production process and falling capacity utilization.

Resultantly, their earning capacity began to suffer as the master weavers and traders cornered all the benefits and gave them nominal incomes. This is when the 30 odd women weavers got together to form ‘Bunkar Vikas Sanstha’ under the aegis of United Nations Industrial Development Programme. Since the time of its inception this Sanstha has already sold goods worth Rs 8.3 million even as they continue to get more orders.

imagesOwing to this business, BVS was able to give 10 to 15 per cent extra wages to their weavers and even the profits were distributed amongst them. “The programme was started as an experiment if the development of this artisan cluster could alleviate poverty. However it has not only generated income but also empowered women to take their decisions. Empower the weavers not only through income generation but also empower them to take their own decision.”

Under BVS, the women shelved the existing weaver-master weaver, weaver-trader and weaver-retailer relationship and created new production relationships where they themselves became entrepreneurs and managed everything. “After the formation of our Sanstha, we source our own raw material and even market it and take all decisions on our own,” says Muzaffar Jahan, another member of BVS.

Weaving-980x500-chanderiheritage.in_1The project also facilitated an interaction between these women weavers and some designers from National Institute of Technology and National Institute of Design who shared their experiences with the rural women and “helped” them to improvise their designs.

In addition to this, they also struck business deals with Fab India, known as one of the biggest handloom and handicraft-marketing organization in urban India. “Fab India gave us tips on how to modify our products so that they suit the interests of Europe and other Western countries. They give us bulk orders for various products, right from dressing material to cushion covers. They are our biggest market. Fab India’s subsidiary company has an office in Chanderi that procures materials from us,” says Batti Bai, another weaver.

Women-and-cybercafes-in-the-hinterlandToday BVS, comprising 30 women has an executive committee of 19 members that take all major decisions regarding business. “We are glad that we have rid ourselves of the traders and retailers now. We share the profits that the Sanstha earns. Earlier our skills were almost wasted as these middle-men would mint all the money. Also, we were short of work and we had a low income. We couldn’t save any money. But now we have expanded our markets, are getting regular work and have a better income. Things have changed,” says Muzaffar.

Categorized as Media

Empowering Women Series – When you encounter a glass ceiling, do you break it or accept it?

In traditional Indian villages it is usually taboo for women to move out of their homes without being accompanied by men folk. This story tells us about women who went beyond the confines of their homes and villages to bring electricity via solar energy to light up their lives in more ways than one.

barefootsolar-ed02On the edge of Rajasthan where shifting sand dunes mark the border between India and Pakistan, four villages have had their dark nights lit up by incandescent bulbs running on renewable solar energy. The villages, which are a series of homesteads scattered across an undulating dessert landscape of the western Indian state of Rajasthan, have never been connected to the power grid. The lights they now have are part of the Government of India and United Nations Development Programme project ‘Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihoods’ that trained and engaged village women as “Barefoot Solar Engineers” for generating renewable solar energy.

Four young women – one from each village – have assembled these lights from scratch and are paid to maintain and repair them. It took a leap of faith and a great deal of persuasion for the families to allow the four women to be trained to serve their own communities. The Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC) which implemented the programme in Barmer district of Rajasthan, runs a residential training programme for women from selected villages at its campus in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan.

It was unthinkable for the four families to have their daughters leave home let alone go and live among strangers. The four women have attended school only up to class five or eight. None of the four had ever lived away from their families or travelled much further than a neighbouring village, and never without a male escort. Three of them, Sajani, Saleemati and Chano are married. Like all married women in their communities they wear veils. The fourth, Bhagwati, is engaged to be married. “No one in the village has ever done anything like this, people said that boys should get the training, and then we were told that the project would only train girls. It took people a long time to accept this,” says Bhagwati.

HY15--SOLAR_LIGHT__2154420f“In the evening we would leave the village with an agreement that the girl could go; in the morning we would return to find that they had changed their mind,” a project officer working with the SWRC recalls.

After much persuasion, Bhagwati, Sajani, Saleemati and Chano spent two months at SWRC’s campus in Tilonia and a month of field training. Following this they assembled each of the lights and lanterns installed in their villages and oversaw their installation. Now, they undertake regular checks in the village, respond to complaints, repair faulty lights and maintain the batteries that power them.

SWRC has also set up a workshop at its centre in Dhanau in the same bloc. Repairs that cannot be done in the village are brought to workshop. The four women travel on the irregular buses that connect their villages to Dhanau when their work demands. They spend a day, or if the work necessitates, a few days at the centre each time.

sub_22In the villages there are many still bemused that young women who until a few months ago were like any other – cleaning the yard, fetching water, helping with the cooking – are now called “engineers”. But, they would rather have lights irrespective of who is maintaining them. Each family with a light contributes to a village fund from which their woman “Barefoot Solar Engineer” is paid a salary ranging from Rs.1,000 to Rs.1,350 a month. And the villages are full of little girls, who trail their barefoot engineer and watch in awe as she fiddles with wires and fuses, hoping they too will someday be engineers.

Categorized as Media

Empowering Women Series – What is your attitude when confronted with serious adversity?

In rural areas, where traditionally men are sole bread-earners, what does a woman do when tragedy strikes and she is left alone to fend for herself and her family. This is a story of one such woman Chandrakala and countless others like her who with some state assistance started a profitable vermi-compost initiative. Hope you enjoy the read.

1Chandrakala’s husband was electrocuted. Her brother-in-law, the sole bread-winner in the family, committed suicide. The events were enough to shatter her. Instead, Chandrakala scripted a success story — one which most women in the tiny village of Bewal are trying to emulate.

As president of a self-help group (SHG), Baba Anantpuri, Chandrakala, in her individual capacity, has manufactured and sold vermi-compost worth Rs 60,000 in one year. Her SHG, on the whole, has sold vermi-compost worth Rs 1.27 lakh within 15 months.

The SHG, comprising 20 women, is part of 33 such groups which have been constituted in select villages of Jatusana division under the Haryana Community Forestry Project (HCFP). ‘‘This project has not only made us financially independent but has also given us the confidence to do things on our own,’’ Chandrakala says.

2This is how it all happened. ‘‘As part of the project, our SHG was provided training to make vermi-compost. We were given a grant of Rs 2,500 by the Forest Department to buy earthworms and start making compost,’’ Chandrakala says. Since then, her group has sold 200 quintals of vermi-compost to clients ranging from the Forest Department to zamindars. ‘‘Last year, the sale of worms itself fetched Rs 24,000,’’ she says. As far as leftover is concerned, she says, “We can use it in our fields as it would greatly cut our costs for buying urea.’’

Chandrakala is not alone. Ask Santosh from the same village and she will tell you how her SHG, Bawalia, started making soap on a small scale and earned handsome rewards. Or meet Vinod Devi, who leads a SHG called Mukteshwari, in village Bhurthala. ‘‘We identified duree-galicha-making as our income-generating activity and can already see the difference it has made to our lives,’’ she says. ‘‘As a result of this project, a feeling of cooperation has emerged,’’ says Ranjit Singh of Bewal. ‘‘Now, cutting across caste and gender, everybody participates in the decision-making process,’’ he adds.

Categorized as Media