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The sheen has begun to wear off India's demographic dividend as it becomes increasingly clear that it won't pay off unless we can create more jobs. While agriculture is steadily shedding jobs, organized manufacturing and services have not been able to pick up the slack, making innovative livelihood generation a pressing need.
This year's winner of the Times of India's Social Impact Awards in the NGO section of the Livelihoods category is, fittingly, possibly India's finest example of not just job creation, but allround livelihood generation. Built on Gandhian principles, the Self Employed Women's Association (Sewa) grew out of the Textile Labour Association in Ahmedabad. Founded in 1972 by Ela Bhatt, a lawyer by training, Sewa is a rare trade union of poor, unorganized, self-employed women who work as vendors, hawkers, head-loaders and labourers. It aims to make women self-reliant and helps them build skills, access credit and social security. Sewahas 1.5 million members, many of them organized into 3,200 self-help groups.
The jury was unequivocal that Sewa should get the award. "Aapne toh Roger Federer ko field kar diya iss category mein You've fielded Roger Federer in this category )," Naresh Chandra said with a chuckle when it came to picking a winner, and the rest of the jury laughed in agreement. "Sewa's work is outstanding," Anu Aga agreed. "We do want even big, well-recognized NGOs to apply for these awards, so we should give it to Sewa," Sunita Narain agreed. Once Deepak Parekh nodded his assent via videolink from Mumbai, the decision was final.
There was far more deliberation in the corporate category, but the jury finally decided to award the Jaipur Rugs Company. The organization that works in Rajasthan and six other states, produces hand-knotted carpets through a decentralized grassroots production model. It delivers work at the homes of more than 40,000 artisans, mostly women from backward communities, and markets and distributes the carpets, including to export markets.
"This company works with women from very marginalized communities, and so it gets my vote," said Aga. "The government hasn't been able to do much for carpet weaving communities, so it's good to see that a company is helping them," Syeda Hameed agreed. The jury appreciated the fact that the company was teaching the community skills, rather than merely giving people unskilled jobs.
In the government category, the jury selected the Ministry of Textiles' Central Silk Board. The CSB has encouraged production of tussar silk by subsistence level communities in tribal villages of central and east India. The board works with NGOs, especially Pradaan, to help bring sustainable livelihoods to extremely marginalized communities.
"The Central Silk Board has gone out of its way to try and reach impoverished communities in extremely difficult areas," Narain said. "We need to protect our traditional arts and we need to encourage people who reach the poorest through a distributed model," she added. "All the women on this jury seem to be overwhelmingly in favor of a department that helps promote silk," Aga said with a smile.
Award Category - LIVELIHOODS :
CORPORATE: Jaipur Rugs Co Pvt Ltd | Training marginalized rural poor to weave carpets for export; hires 50,000 people in 7 states including Rajasthan, Jharkhand, West Bengal.
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