Self Employed Women’s Association’s (SEWA) Gitanjali stationery unit - a “centre of green livelihood”

24 February 2012
ITC News

Women represent half the global population, but they are almost invisible as suppliers to large procurement organizations. In developing countries like India, the majority of women workers are part of the unorganized sector making it difficult to track and account for their work. Women-owned businesses represent 25-33% of all private businesses in the world, but represent less than 1% of all vendors to corporations or governments. Empowering women entrepreneurs is essential for achieving the goals of sustainable development and economic growth.

SEWA is a labour union of women workers in the informal sector with a membership of more than 1 million in 7 states of India and 12 districts of Gujarat. The main objectives of SEWA are to provide full employment (employment through which workers can obtain work security, income security, food security and social security for themselves and their families) and self reliance (economically as well as decision making).

According to SEWA, waste picking as a means of urban informal waste collection has been a common practice in Indian cities. It provides regular employment to urban poor and helps to keep the city clean. Waste recyclers are the direct actors in the entire waste recycling process. The waste recyclers include workers who pick up the waste from the road, who are involved in the door to door collection of waste, the cleaning of offices, and other waste collection services to sell to scrap shop owners.

In one of the statistics available from a commercial city, 2,400 tons of waste is disposed each day, from which 300 tons of waste is collected by the waste recyclers, which means they collect 12.5% of waste from the city. As part of this effort, the World Bank hired WEConnect International to work with SEWA on a pilot focused on poverty alleviation through business opportunities for self employed women, which could also demonstrate the business case for more inclusive corporate value chains. The pilot stakeholders included organizations such as Accenture, Ernst & Young, Staples, and Giftlinks. ITC while partnering the effort provided the technical support and the expertise.

Key elements of work included empowering women at the grass root level through knowledge transfer, enabling them to understand and manage all aspects of business from raw material purchase through inventory management, production, quality control and order management. Additionally, a proposed advisory body with the commitment from leaders of the National Institute of Design, Daman Ganga, the Indian Institute of Management and Utility Printpack will create an enviable value to SEWA-Gitanjali project.

Reema Nanavaty, spearheading SEWA operations, has a vision where the Gitanjali unit becomes a “centre of green livelihood”. She also says that the unit is now ready to move on from the project planning mode and enter production mode thanks to the addition of new machines, processes, expertise and assistance they received, in particular from ITC and Accenture. Sheer determination is what drives participants in the project with some 200 such women who have spent most of their lives below the poverty line seeing it as a way to a more financially secure future.