Our journey began in 2010 with the tribal women of Rayagada district of Odisha. The extreme poverty in the region had the typical consequences – high rates of illiteracy, malnutrition, high maternal and infant mortality, absence of basic healthcare.
We believed then as we do now, that one powerful route to address this multitude of severe problems is women’s empowerment. Once the women in the community get the opportunities to learn and earn, the entire ecosystem will prosper.
We adopted a three-pronged strategy to heighten the strength and status of women in the community. First, by increasing women’s participation in the adult literacy programme. Second, by improving basic healthcare facilities, coupled with raising awareness of reproductive and child health. And third, by empowering them economically, through training in viable livelihoods that give them a steady income and encouraging them to save money.
These initiatives gradually picked up speed and we began to witness genuine positive change in many facets of the women’s lives. Women’s literacy went up substantially, which empowered the women to combat chronic nutritional deficiency, which led to a significant reduction in maternal and infant mortality. In the sphere of livelihoods, thousands of women were motivated to form Self Help Groups, which provide micro loans alongside training support, to give the women the initial push they need. This proved to be another success, with women reporting an increase of Rs. 2000 – 3000 in their income every month.