I had been in India for around exactly 3 weeks. As my primary task was to find an organisation with which I could cooperate, I had gone around the city to search for ones suitable to my topic of research. Yet, everyone that told me they’d know someone left my calls unanswered and the organisations that appeared enthusiastic about a possible cooperation when I showed up at their office, did not get back in touch with me at all. After three weeks of hopping from one organisation to the other, from one possible contact to another, I sat hopeless in front of my computer. Nothing had truly worked so far. I decided to once more go on the web to find a possible organisation to work with and the Swayamsiddha Foundation popped up on my screen. It said quite clearly on their website that one had to call for an appointment and NOT just show up. So I called the number that was mentioned on their site. A gentleman named Vijay picked up and was most kind to me on the phone. As he kindly requested me to put my request into an email and send it to their central mail account I caught myself expecting to never hear from this organisation again. Disappointed for the supposedly lost opportunity to work with them, I closed my laptop and went to get the iPhone-stand for my Royal Enfield, together with a bike-wash. At times when one feels lost in the chaos of this city it is nice to feel the wind through one’s hair, while cruising on the hectic Western Expressway with the skyline of South-Mumbai on the background. At least I had that going for myself, so I thought.
While waiting for the army of bike-washers to finish polishing my precious two-wheeler I received an email on my phone. It was Vijay! He took my email up with the board of the foundation and invited me to come and meet them on Saturday 10th to provide me with a brief presentation and an introduction to the staff and coordinators of the organisation he proudly works for. Now that I think back to March 10th I could not possible have prepared myself for the welcome I was about to receive. Vijay who fills the position of Honorary Secretary of the Swayamsiddha Foundation had invited the entire board and all available Self Help Group (SHG) coordinators to come and meet me. It was as if the organisation was as excited to meet me as I was to meet them. They handed me flowers and explained to me in detail their approach to the initiative that is the topic of my research. They were interested about my insights and answered the questions I asked with patience.
Before going deeper into the fundaments of the approach that the Swayamsiddha organisation applies to the SHG initiative I feel it is necessary to stress that the board of this organisation only works on weekends. This is not because Saturdays and Sundays are such nice days to work on, but because they do this work alongside a full-time job, on a voluntary basis. The ladies and gentlemen of the Swayamsiddha Foundation have shown me what it is to be dedicated to a cause that they believe in and what it truly means to be selfless. They place the fate of the women of India above themselves and give it their all to contribute to an initiative that provides those affected with a better tomorrow. This by itself is something remarkable. Yet, what is even more remarkable is that their approach has successfully guided thousands of SHG’s to maturity. Given the fact that an SHG consists of a minimum of 10, but mostly 15 women, simple math allows for one to grasp the scale of impact of this one organisation.
During the brief presentation given to me by Vijay, he explained to me the approach of this organisation. Swayam siddha means self proven in Marathi. The idea is that women gain both in terms of self confidence and financial standing through entrepreneurship, which takes shape in a realm of joint-venture and joint-liability, supervised by the organisation and aided by them through the facilitation of motivational campaigns, workshops, group bonding exercises, skill training, business training and alignment strategies and the availability of an online market platform to sell their produce. Since this first meeting the Swayamsiddha foundation has already invited me twice to come along and attend workshops and motivational campaigns. I have tagged along both times, during which I got to interact with the Self Help Groups present, commencing with the preliminary rounds of field-work. A report of these two trips will follow in the next post.
To be continued……