Project Saksham: Empowering Women Through Financial Literacy, Skills Training, and Entrepreneurship
Shahin, a resident of Dharavi in Mumbai, started her journey as a small-time entrepreneur in 2014 with the help of a Self Help Group to improve her family's financial situation. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in 2020 brought her work to a grinding halt, leaving her struggling to support her family financially. Unfortunately, Shahin's experience was shared by many women in India who lost their livelihoods during the pandemic.
Even prior to the pandemic, the female workforce participation rate (WPR) in India was almost half of that of the male WPR due to gender disparities such as lack of schooling, gender-based violence, forced dropouts, early marriages, and constraints on mobility. The unequal norms faced by women deny them their right to participate in the workforce along with economic independence.
Through its Saksham programme, United Way Mumbai has been supporting women from low-income communities with the impetus they need to be financially independent. Over the past few years, they have worked in communities across 14 states of India- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Odisha, Telangana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Goa. A few of the key interventions of the programme include vocational and life skills development training, livelihood assets support, and social and financial inclusion.
A lack of skills, know-how, or networks to enter the workforce leave a large number of women unemployed or under-employed. In an attempt to bridge this skill gap, the Saksham programme facilitates vocational skills training for women. Through this support,1855 women pursued vocational skills training courses of their choice based on their aptitude and interest. They were also provided with soft skills training such as résumé writing, interview skills, telephone etiquette, English communication, etc. to improve job readiness.
In many instances, while women may possess the skill, the lack of financial resources and capital prohibits them from starting their own ventures. To promote entrepreneurship, Saksham kits (livelihood assets) were provided to 2123 such women to kick-start their own ventures. Each of the kits was curated keeping in consideration their specific needs and comprised occupational tools such as tailoring units, flour mill units, food service units, beauty parlor kits, handloom, weaving, etc.
The women were also provided with entrepreneurship development training to help them start or grow their businesses. Designed taking into account the local context, the module covered essential topics such as enterprise and entrepreneurship, necessary skills and traits to become a successful entrepreneur, opportunities, and challenges in entrepreneurship, legal compliance, funding opportunities, and the development of business plans.
Constrained by social and cultural barriers, women often fall outside the ambit of financial inclusion, which can lead to limited access to formal banking systems and credit. To build financial literacy and inclusion, engaging street plays were conducted in communities covering topics such as savings, loans, investments, the importance of basic education, and the contribution of women to household income. These also highlighted the social evils of gender discrimination, substance abuse, domestic violence etc.
As part of other awareness generation and capacity-building activities, Saksham beneficiaries in South Kamrup in Assam, Mumbai in Maharashtra, and Shravasti in Uttar Pradesh were part of exposure visits.
“It was a great experience travelling to a new place to learn and grow together, with an unfamiliar group of women having the same skill set and aspirations. I learned so much more, that my return journey in the bus felt like we were all going back home from school after attaining formal education!”, says Chandana Boro, one of the 20 women weavers from South Kamrup who visited the North East Development Finance Corporation Ltd. (NEDFi).
While weaving is generally associated with textiles and fabric, Chandana and her fellow weavers were introduced to new weaving products, processes, raw materials, and techniques beyond textiles. They learned to use materials like water hyacinth, banana fiber, and cane instead of cotton and silk yarn. They discovered craft forms like black pottery and weaves from Manipur and Naga. They also saw plants like Assam Indigo used in dyeing, cinnamon and jetuka (Henna) that have medicinal properties, and aromatic plants like citronella. For many women, it was their first time leaving their hometowns!
United Way Mumbai aims to create such enriching learning opportunities for more women in the years to come. In fact, Shahin, now an alumna of the Saksham programme, has successfully restarted and grown her business with the entrepreneurship support and guidance she received through the programme. She makes different products like pouches, bags, wall hangings, and pillow covers using waste materials from garment factories. The quality of her products has garnered her much appreciation. She was also awarded a prize in micro business at the 6th Young Entrepreneur Summit organized by Adamas University in Kolkata, West Bengal, along with another alumna, Zainab. With the Saksham programme, United Way Mumbai is committed to empowering many more women like Shahin from low-income communities across India.