Women empowerment is an overcrowded segment in the field of philanthropy. But there are very few organisations that have managed to achieve the desired outcomes with the money spent from their CSR budgets.
Jyoti Agarwal, Managing Trustee, Sterlite Tech Foundation (STF) played a lead role in building the Sterlite Tech Foundation and the Agarwal family trust spoke with Outlook Business on the need for outcome-based approach over compliance-based attitude to achieve the desired results.
Why did you choose to work in the area of women empowerment? Isn’t this an already crowded space in the world of philanthropy?
My motivation to make a difference in the community stems from my deep sense of responsibility. This space is crowded, but in this case I truly believe in the philosophy of “the more the merrier”. So, the more people working in this area, the better.
Throughout my journey, I have seen the challenges and barriers that women face in various aspects of their lives, whether it's education, employment, or access to opportunities. The differentiation between girl child and boy child in Indian society has been a deeply ingrained issue that has persisted for generations. It is crucial to recognize that every individual, regardless of their gender, possesses unique talents, abilities, and potential. It is imperative that we break down the barriers and biases that limit the opportunities and potential of girls.
Women empowerment is not just a social issue, but a critical driver of sustainable development and progress for our society as a whole. By supporting initiatives that uplift and empower women, we can create a ripple effect of positive change that extends far beyond individual beneficiaries. I aim to break down the systemic barriers that hinder women's progress and create an environment where their talents, skills, and aspirations can flourish.
What has Jeewan Jyoti achieved as a platform since its inception?
STL set up the Jeewan Jyoti Women Empowerment Institute in Velhe in 2014 which went on to become a launchpad for women in rural areas with a comprehensive ecosystem that addresses the multidimensional problems they face. By offering vocational training, entrepreneurship support, and access to markets, Jeewan Jyoti aims to break the cycle of poverty and dependency, enabling women to become agents of change within their communities.
Jeewan Jyoti is working tirelessly to provide rural women with practical skills in fields including computing, sewing, nursing, and beauty so they can become financially independent. Empowerment cannot be attained solely through financial security. As a result, the curriculum also covers a variety of other topics, including public speaking, confidence development, understanding of nutrition and health, life skills, and even the support required for entrepreneurship and work. Because there isn't much public transportation in the area, the programme is one of the few in the nation to offer transportation services to the students. This has made it possible for women to benefit from the program's advantages even in far-off areas.
As of this date, the program has covered students from 100+ villages across three talukas of Bhor, Velhe, and Haveli. Each of these courses is certified by the Maharashtra State Board for Vocational Education (MSBVE). Over 5000+ women have been empowered by the institute. The program through its comprehensive efforts has broken gender stereotypes creating women masterjis, entrepreneurs and leaders who today manage design, sales and even customer interactions. Some of them are first women entrepreneurs in their villages.
What strategies are being implemented to address the cultural factors contributing to India's low female labor participation and promote greater inclusion of women in the country's workforce?
Recognizing the cultural roadblocks that keep Indian women away from the workforce, we're pulling out all the stops to level the playing field and invite more women into the professional arena.
We’re putting the pedal to the metal on education and skill development, ensuring that girls and women have access to schooling and training opportunities. We're also doing campaigns and awareness programs that break stereotypes and biases and help in creating an equitable society. At Jeewan Jyoti, for example, we're executing initiatives that put the wind in their sails when it comes to financial literacy and women's entrepreneurship. We're handing them the tools and resources they need to start their own businesses and become captains of their own destiny.
We're teaming up with government bodies, NGOs, and private sectors to drive this ship forward. Together, we're creating an ecosystem that shouts from the rooftops: "Women, you belong here!" The road ahead may be winding, but with determination and collaboration, we'll break down barriers and pave the way for a future where women thrive and shine.
Are you satisfied with whatever you have achieved so far?
I have an unwavering sense of satisfaction for the work I've dedicated myself to over the years. However, if you were to ask me if it's enough, I would say we have a long road ahead. While Jeewan Jyoti has brought transformation to numerous lives, we need more such initiatives to cater to women from across the country. Our achievements, thus far, only fuel our ambition to reach higher. It's an insatiable desire to uplift the lives of my fellow women in this country, who haven't been as fortunate as I have. I feel privileged to utilize the advantages I have to make a positive difference in the lives of women who would otherwise remain unseen by the world.
For example, one of our students, Vaishali, possessed an unwavering spirit despite her weak eyesight. Determined to overcome her challenges, she sought solace in her passion for creating beautiful, handcrafted products. Through her indomitable willpower and the support and education provided by Jeewan Jyoti, Vaishali honed her skills and became one of the most disciplined artisans at their unit. Her dedication and hard work not only earned her a good living but also inspired those around her, proving that limitations are mere obstacles waiting to be conquered.
There are millions of Vaishalis in India waiting for our support. Every day when I wake up, I ask myself just one question: Will Jeewan Jyoti empower another Vaishali today? This keeps me going.
Has your company witnessed positive outcomes directly resulting from your CSR activities, despite the perception in India that philanthropy is burdensome on corporate profits due to government compliance rules, contrary to Western studies that demonstrate its long-term benefits?
Despite the prevailing perception in India, we have experienced first hand the transformative power of our CSR initiatives. Our efforts have not only brought about positive social change but have also had a profound impact on our business. Through our CSR activities, we have strengthened our brand reputation, built strong relationships with stakeholders, and fostered a sense of pride and loyalty among our employees. Furthermore, we have seen tangible improvements in the communities where we operate, be it in education, healthcare, or environmental sustainability.
We firmly believe that CSR is a strategic investment that contributes to the well-being of society and the long-term success of our company.