Empowering Women through Livelihoods and Leadership Development
Women in rural India lack job opportunities nor do they have access to employable skills. Due to COVID-19, there has been a sharp decline in rural women's labor force participation. Impelled by market loss, declining skills, and the unorganized nature of the craft sector, the number of rural artisans has been rapidly decreasing. Thus, endangering the traditional craft and culture, forcing rural communities, especially women to be dependent on insecure and unsustainable livelihoods. To advance the economic empowerment of rural women, Jaipur Rugs Foundation jointly with the efforts of the HCL Samuday, (a flagship project of HCL Foundation) initiated the WELL (Women Empowerment through Livelihoods and Leadership development) program. The project commenced in 2019 and is currently running in its 2nd year.
The purpose of the WELL Program facilitated by Jaipur Rugs Foundation and HCL Samuday is to transform rural women artisans into 21st-century creative entrepreneurs who undergo accelerator training in entrepreneurship, leadership development, self-management, and welfare support. The foundation integrates leadership and design to empower rural women from marginalized communities to instill an entrepreneurial mindset for their sustainable door-step livelihood. Through holistic support on aspects such as design development, digital tools, insights on online/offline market linkages, and exposure visits, it creates a ripple effect in the villages and helps the rural communities to evolve.
Women empowerment is a key factor for achieving sustainable economic growth, social development, and environmental sustainability. The objective of the program is to provide sustainable and doorstep livelihood to women in the Hardoi District, Uttar Pradesh which is one of the most vulnerable and poverty-hit districts of the state.
The program is aimed at addressing key gaps and providing skill sets that have the potential to fetch sustainable livelihoods for people at their doorsteps. It has the potential to evolve the carpet value chain in a comprehensive and replaceable aspect, to be boosted as a feasible non-farm sustenance opportunity for the marginalized communities. Rug weaving carries a lot of significance in the poverty alleviation and skill development landscape as it provides training and livelihood opportunities to rural marginalized communities, especially women.
The initiative is designed to counter the conventional grassroots mindset that exists for women in rural India. The main objective of Jaipur Rugs Foundation and HCL Samuday is to provide rural women from these communities with secure and sustainable livelihood, through which they can live their life with dignity, respect and attain economic empowerment. Various socio-developmental activities were also undertaken, such as issuing artisan cards, opening up bank accounts, and setting up eye camps and health camps.
The plan for the third year is to provide training to 800+ women in Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh. The intervention is aimed at addressing the issue of unemployment and providing skill sets that have the potential to develop the carpet value chain in a holistic and replicable manner to promote a viable non-farm livelihood option to the rural women of Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh. In the first year, 480 women were trained, followed by 608 women in the second year. The target for the third year is 800+ women.
On being asked the reason behind supporting this program NK Chaudhary says, “There is a need to transfer greater ownership to the grassroots level. We want to develop more good leaders and empower them to make the right decisions. They can take care of profits and take care of society.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the rural communities severely leaving them with no option to earn and move forward. Initiatives like WELL Project carved an exclusive path for women to gain sustainable livelihood at their doorstep and become leaders on the ground. One such leader is Upasna. She hails from Mahuwakola in Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh. Her community was not keen on women being employed. But Upasna worked day and night to learn the art of weaving. She took the initiative to teach her community and made them understand the importance of being independent. In a few months, she was successful in changing their mindset. “I never got the opportunity to study, so I want to make sure my daughter completes her studies and fulfills all her goals”. Being a mother of two kids only made her more responsible in her journey from a weaver to a trainer. Upasna recalls the people who were against her ideas are now the ones who are asking her to train them and their daughters. “I want the women of my community to become independent and lead their lives,” says Upasna. The fact that she is able to be an agent of change for her community through the WELL development project and brought them a chance to earn at their doorstep through sustainable livelihood, is what Jaipur Rugs Foundation strives for.