I recently went to India to support 25 young women embarking on the role of social enterprise ‘master trainer’. I got back more than I bargained for, thanks to the incredible young Indian women I met – educated, confident, and energised.
A combination of female champions, peer networks and social enterprise was being brought together as part of a British Council/Diageo partnership, which recently featured in The Guardian. The 25 women we supported directly will go on to cascade their learning, empowering 1,200 women across India.
Reports of horrendous discrimination against women in India had given me certain expectations about my visit and the group of women we would be working with. As, according to Thomson Reuters Foundation, India is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women, while Reuters reported a global poll of experts found it to be the worst country for women among the G20 countries. However, India has immense cultural diversity, including several hundred languages and the state of Kerala had been selected as the base for our intervention because of the powerful position women hold here.
The streets of Kerala throng with professional women on their way to work and girls on their way to school. Kerala women traditionally led giant familial households, where property passed through the female line, and women continue to lead in many areas.
Kerala may have provided a powerful backdrop but the women themselves provided the real dynamism. Each woman had been carefully selected from networks spanning the whole of India. Phone interviews filtering out individuals who could deliver inspiration on the ground and act as champions.
Bringing this group together for a week-long session also created an active support network. The women provided much inspiration, for each other and for me! The bonds they created here will provide them with a strong foundation for going back to their locality to support at a local level.
One of our master trainers, Medhavi Gandhi, has been out training women from the Rana Thanu tribe in Northern India. Here literacy rates for women stand at only 70%. “The direction the women seem to have chosen was clear now, and their determination to succeed was heart-warming!” says Medhavi.
Herself an accomplished social entrepreneur, Medhavi set up Happy Hands to empower rural artisans, building potential in women and young people to lead community development activities and craft entrepreneurship.
It is clear that our female master trainers are pioneering a new way for women to achieve empowerment at a local level across India. For more information about the British Council’s Global Social Enterprise programme visit http://www.britishcouncil.org/society/social-enterprise
Paula Woodman, social enterprise advisor | Education and Society, British Council