Empowerment to Entrepreneurship: How Tiroda Women Are Driving Rural Economy

A woman has been rightly described as a ‘full circle’ by author Diane Mariechild because ‘within her is the power to create, nurture and transform’. Women just need encouragement, opportunities, resources and skills to equip and empower themselves. Empowerment enables women to realize their full identity, potential and power – in all spheres of life. And power is not a commodity to be transacted; nor can it be given away as alms. Power is to be acquired, exercised, sustained and preserved.

With this objective in mind to make women active contributors in nation building, rather than mere beneficiaries of welfare schemes, Adani Foundation has been working extensively to promote sustainable livelihoods at its CSR sites across India. Women from Tiroda block in Gondia district of Maharashtra, which has a population of 1,87,331, are setting an example in self-reliance and economic independence. Multiple programmes are holistically changing lives of these women, leading to good health and better standard of living.

Fortune SuPoshan, a nutrition intervention project of the Foundation, is one such programme that is helping women become change makers while attaining socio-economic independence. It employs women as community resource persons, called SuPoshan Sanginis, and trains them to guide communities in various aspects of nutrition and health. Along with earning an honorarium, the Sanginis also carve their own identity in the process. This project recently completed four years in Tiroda.

In collaboration with the Government of Maharashtra, Adani Foundation and Manav Vikas Mission have been running various initiatives which include making incense (agarbatti and dhoop) and lac bangles as well as cultivation of oyster mushrooms. Presently, the Foundation is working with a total of 253 members of 43 women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs), fostering entrepreneurship based on knowledge-sharing, upgrading skills and providing market linkage support. Even amidst COVID-19, our project stakeholders could continue to earn. This was a turning point as men, who had lost their jobs due to Covid-19, began to appreciate the hard work put in by the women of the household, who managed domestic responsibilities as well as their work with aplomb.

In fact, when everything had come to a standstill, the demand for incense had peaked and so did the earnings of our SHG members. It was around this time that a group of SuPoshan Sanginis thought of becoming a part of SHGs through the support of Adani Foundation. When everyone was home-bound and sitting idle, our SuPoshan Sanginis were itching to go the extra mile.

Looking at the requirement, the Foundation arranged for 20 agarbatti machines in five villages -- Garada, Ramatola, Tikaramtola, Mendipur, and Gumadhawada. In all, 60 women were involved in agarbatti making. During the entire year, when many were forced out of their jobs and sitting idle, each member was able to produce 50-100 kg per day and sell in the Gondia market through buyback policy, earning Rs 3,000-4,000 per month.  

One such group comprising Sarita Chaudhary, Lalita Chaudhary and Gunvanta Chaudhary produced only 5-10 kg of incense sticks initially because they lacked confidence. However, in February 2020, Sarita, who was also a SuPoshan Sangini for Mendipur and Barbaspura, and her other team members produced about 50 kg of agarbattis. The quality of their products fetched them maximum market rate. This encouraged them to put in more hours into incense production. Later, Sarita's husband also started helping them in purchasing raw material and selling the finished products. In March and April, they produced about 150-200 kg of agarbattis. By June 2020, the production reached 500-550 kg, earning them Rs 35,200. During the six-month-long lockdown, their total income touched Rs 70,000.  

Like Sarita, there are other SuPoshan Sanginis who are involved in different activities -- two are engaged in Milk Collection and Chilling Centres (MC&CC), nine in household dairy business and 22 in mushroom cultivation. Lac bangle making is another initiative that attracts many stakeholders as lac is cultivated on a large scale by farmers in Gondia. 45 SHG women, including tribal women of Tiroda, were trained in it. The Adani Foundation provided them a buyback platform through which they sell bangles to Dulhandevi Sanstha, an NGO. These women create colourful designs and earn Rs 3,000-4,000 per month. 

While the women in Tiroda are traditionally involved in seasonal paddy farming for five to six months, for the remaining months they have something to look forward to. By engaging in gainful income-generating activities, the total household income increases, and the women develop a sense of self pride. Indeed, a well-nourished family with a sustainable source of income is the way forward for building the Atma Nirbhar Bharat of our dreams.