Building an economically sustainable education model has been the biggest aspiration for Surabhi Yadav, 32. This has been the guiding principle that led to the birth of Sajhe Sapne in 2020. The Madhya Pradesh-based women-driven social enterprise is committed to upskilling and providing modern jobs to women from marginalised sections and ensuring their financial mobility.
Yadav was born in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, and grew up in Madhopur, Bundelkhand. Coming from a low-income group, her parents always facilitated carefree thinking, learning and gratitude—attributes that sowed the thought to think beyond herself from a young age. Yadav always felt passionately about helping women from backward communities to shape their identities. While pursuing a graduate degree in Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology from IIT-Delhi, Yadav started taking up projects that impact women in rural India. She further honed her skills in social science after completing a Master’s in Development Practice from the University of California, Berkeley, on a scholarship.
On returning from the US in 2020, she moved to Himachal Pradesh to begin her enterprise. Yadav had never aspired to work for a corporate, and kept her focus on learning to create growth-oriented pathways and opportunities for rural Indian women. Yadav now identifies as a rural development and gender practitioner. She founded Sajhe Sapne after the first Covid lockdown halted all sources of income and shut down schools that increased the class divide in digital education. It was a lot worse for women from rural societies. Addressing the lack of education and job opportunities for such women impacted by class, caste and patriarchy, Sajhe Sapne introduced a 10-month skill development course with a strong regional context in place of the complex teaching-learning model suited for upper-class Indians.
Yadav started Sajhe Sapne with 25 students; most of whom have found employment at reputed organisations across India. Currently, 35 Sapnewalis (students) are part of the second batch (Sapna Dal). They stay and study at the Sapna Centre, the first residential school of Sajhe Sapne. Yadav says that the formative years at Sapna Centres must be explored thoroughly to first figure out where their interests lie with regard to job mapping. “We never design a nine-to-five job profile keeping in mind the marginalised… Then how can we expect them to find space in this structure?”
Sajhe Sapne’s main priority is to reach and help women who desperately looking for that one opportunity to change their fortune. To achieve this, every alumnus makes one promise before passing out. That after a few years, when they are earning well and have enough savings, they will donate some amount to the Sapna Centre that will be directed towards funding the education of the existing batch of students.
Apart from Sajhe Sapne, Yadav works for other projects at policy levels, framing strategies that will view social issues from a gendered lens. She also runs an online project, Basanti: Women at Leisure, inspired by her late mother. This online project aims to promote the concept of leisure as a feminist and political issue, which states that women should have equal access to leisure like men.
(This appeared in the print edition as "The Dream to be Independent")
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