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Qi Group : Empowering women entrepreneurship

Back in 2018, Mary Goretti’s  vision of owning her own sustainable snack canteen  seemed like an unattainable dream.  However, through sheer hard work  and the support of a collaborative  project between two organisations,  Mary managed to turn her dreams of  promoting the indigenous culinary  traditions of Jharkand into a reality.  

The economic empowerment of  women in Eastern India through  microenterprises project which  helped Mary tap into her potential  kicked off in April 2019 when RYTHM  Foundation, the social impact arm of  the QI Group, joined forces with the  Parinaama Development Foundation.  The Parinaama Development  Foundation in India is an organization  committed to fighting poverty and  exclusion by empowering youth,  women, and girls from poor and mar[1]ginalized communities around the  country by providing skills training  and other resources.  

The alliance between the two  foundations recently bagged the sil[1]ver award under the category for live[1]lihoods at the 8th National CSR  Summit and CSR Times Awards held  recently. The award-winning collab[1]orative project between these two  foundations aims to aid marginalized  communities in the eastern states of  India – such as Bihar, Jharkand and  Odisha – through grassroots develop[1]ment initiatives that empower wom[1]en to improve their standard of living.  The mushroom farming pro[1]gramme that Mary enrolled in was  one of many initiatives under the  project which imparted the technical  and business skills that helped Mary  get her mushroom snack enterprise  up and running with her own funds  and a business plan in place.  

“I worked on improving my range  of snacks and worked with other  women I met in self-help groups and  eventually got to a point where I was  ready to expand my farming opera[1]tions to scale up production and  diversify my products. Not long after,  I discovered through the Jharkhand  Livelihoods Promotion Society that  their block office was looking for  entrepreneurs to run their canteen.  Thanks to my sharpened skills, I managed to impress the government  stakeholders and set up shop perma[1]nently in their canteen! I feel very  fortunate to have the support from  RYTHM and Parinaama Foundation,  who gave me the wings to fly.

The  programme has been a turning point  in my life and for so many other wom[1]en in our community,” said Mary.  While the goal is certainly to  empower women, the partnership  project holds true to its higher vision  of a gender equitable, sustainable,  and socially inclusive world by also  providing opportunities for men to  benefit from the programme. Roshan  and Chandan Kumar, founders of the  Madhubani Agri Trading Company,  put in a special request to avail of the  mushroom farming training pro[1]gramme knowing full well that the  programme was designed for women.  “We felt that as men, we should  also do our part to help the women  folk. In our region, women are con[1]sidered the soul and dignity of the  household and are seldom allowed to  work outside.

Mushroom farming is  an extension of the agricultural work  that the women here already engage  in, and so it seemed to be a good  alternative for them to gain employ[1]ment. We set up our own mushroom  production unit after completing the  training, employing women in the  process and working alongside  Parinaama and RYTHM Foundation to ensure the sustainability of the project,” said Roshan. Santhi Periasamy, head of RYTHM Foundation shared insight into how the partnership was first initiated. She said, “Child mortality as well as the exploitation and discrimi[1]nation of women and the unskilled workforce were some of the grave issues in many parts of India. RYTHM Foundation was keen to work with reliable partners to devise solutions as we are deeply committed to our goal of empowering women so that they too can play an instrumental role in transforming their communities. When we were introduced to Parinama Foundation who presented their initiatives on ground, RYTHM Foundation wasted no time in gather[1]ing background information about Parinaama and promptly agreed to work in partnership with them.”

While the partnership between RYTHM and Parinaama initially commenced with the goal of reducing child mortality rates, it has since evolved to focus on meeting the needs of the surrounding communi[1]ties. The mushroom farming also included a nutritional component for children and young mothers and eventually, the project diversified to incorporate the garment programme which later also grew to include manufacturing and distributing soap, face masks, sanitary pads, and other essentials through their existing local chain. It also incorporated product[1]based health education and aware[1]ness programmes covering topics such as hand washing, vaccination and immunization, breastfeeding, nutrition, environmental sanitation and more.

With a broad portfolio of existing initiatives, Parinaama was very well positioned to support the marginalised communities when the pandemic hit last year. The economic empowerment of women in Eastern India through microenterprises project is poised to sustain itself beyond the funding from RYTHM Foundation thanks to rapport building efforts with the community. Building the network of female entrepreneurs and clients ensures that the women will stick together to enable the efficient operations of the microenterprises in the long run. The programme has also established production spaces and marketing links to further assure the sustainability of their enterprises. Parinaama also mediates with the local vendors on behalf of the women to ensure a steady stream of orders that will ensure immediate wages for the women through the products. This will be pursued on a war footing to retain the women’s interest and motivation for the work, which is extremely crucial for survival of the communities. The success of the partnership between the two foundations is reflected in the positive impact it has had on over 10,000 youth and wom[1]en who have been able to establish their own enterprises or gain employ[1]ment through the programme’s capacity building activities.

Beyond the financial and economic benefits, the women in these communities have also reported a greater sense of self-awareness in managing them[1]selves and their teams. “The programmes were carefully designed, implemented and moni[1]tored to ensure the most impact. This project has completely changed the lives of more than 10,000 women and youth. Apart from releasing them from the shackled of poverty, these women have also become self-suffi[1]cient, confident, informed and deter[1]mined. These are elements which are crucial to set the way straight for sustainable communities which RYTHM Foundation aspires to accomplish,” said Santhi.   

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