It was somewhere around women’s day that I came across two words ‘Ivillage’ and ‘Pardada Pardadi Educational Society’. They meant nothing to me at that point, but as the story unfolded, I was truly enlightened and inspired by how a small section of women in a village called Anupshahr, insignificant to the population of India, chose to overcome their drawbacks of being women in rural India devoid of opportunities of education and resources, to empower themselves and make the world their stage. Today, these women manufacture handicrafts which are sold to leading corporates as well as on India’s top online shopping sites. They are independent, support their families financially and are changing the face of rural women in India.
From the Beginning…
Pardada Pardadi Educational Society (PPES) is a modern rural school in India that provides free education to women in Anupshahr village in a small district called Bulandshahr in UP, India. ‘Pardada Pardadi’ means great grandparents in English and likewise, the school has taken the responsibility of educating 1500 plus women by depositing INR 10 in each girl’s bank account for each day of attendance in school! If this weren’t enough, the school also provides for tuition fees, books/stationery, uniforms, healthy meals and transportation free of cost. But what happens to these women once they graduate?
In a country which still favours men, education and a means of earning a livelihood is still a distant dream for most women in villages. In the year 2000, PPES started teaching the girls to make hand embroidered products so that they could learn a vocational skill which would help them earn their livelihood after they have graduated. With this skill, they could run a small boutique shop or work with an export house.
With the idea of making rural women socially and financially independent, Ivillage associated with the PPES to create job opportunities and provide skills to the villagers so that they can sustain themselves. Arya, promoter of Ivillage realized ‘how focused and determined the villagers were to change their financial conditions. With more and more people moving to cities to earn a livelihood, it was important to work towards bringing the industry to the village‘.
It started with handicrafts but over a period of time, the girls picked up different hobbies like sports, painting, computer classes instead of just embroidery and stitching. Seeing this change, Ivillage opened its doors to mothers and other female family members of girls studying at PPES.
Handicrafts: Ivillage sells bedding, wedding ensemble, corporate gifting, dining, home decor, utility and clothing & accessories under its handicraft vertical.
Suit Covers – Ivillage started this unit 5 years ago when Blackberry suiting and shirting owner, Nitin Mohan gave them the opportunity and capital to start making suits covers for their company and today, on an average, Ivillage makes 16,000 suit covers per month for them. In 4 years, the strength of the women working in this unit increased to 50 members. Recently, Ivillage also added Louis Phillipe and Wills Lifestyle to their clientele list.
Agarbattis – With the success of the above 2 units, more villagers got interested. The Agarbatti unit was started for villagers who were from the low-income groups and lacking basic skill set. The unit works on pedal pushed machines and requires minimal training. The raw agarbattis are sold to distributors who add fragrance and package them for sale.
Call centre– Kingdom of Dreams (KOD), a JV of Apra Group and Wizcraft, set up a call centre and the girls excelled here too, crossing the monthly targets set for them. However, this segment needs more clients to flourish the way the other segments are.
Spreading its wings
The growth story of Ivillage in 2015 itself is commendable.
– While the full-time staff working in the handicraft segment increased from 6 to 12 people, the women working in production increased from 31 to 51.
– Suit cover orders increased from 16,000 per month to 21,000.
– Exhibitions increased from 8 to 15.
– Clientele for bulk orders increased from 9 to 22 with clients like HSBC Gurgaon, Axis Mumbai, The Ashok Hotel at Delhi, Fair & Lovely Foundation Mumbai any many more.
– In August 2015, a rural half marathon was organized by PPES and Ivillage to focus on the right of the girl child.
Behind the scenes
PPES was set up by Virendra Singh, locally famous as Sam, a retired U.S. Dupont South Asia head. Sam lived in U.S for 40 years, but post-retirement came back to his hometown, the very own Bulandshahr district to set up his dream school in 2000. Convincing parents to send the girl child to school was a challenge but Sam went against all odds and managed it.
Ivillage is promoted by Arya Mahajan, who left her corporate job in Feb 2015 to do something more fulfilling. She took note of the market sentiments and realized that people were loving the handicrafts and that there was a lot of potential if the products were marketed with more focus.
While there are people behind the scenes mentoring and sowing the seeds for the young women, the real heroes of the story are these women themselves. I got hold of a few stories of how the lives of the women in Bulandshahr have changed for the better.
Reeta, a 21-year-old girl from Anupshahr left on 10 August to the United States. She will be spending an entire year at Edmonds Community College, Lynnwood City, Washington, as a part of the Community College Initiative Programme by the US Govt. where she will be studying Information Technology. Having spent a difficult childhood in a large family of 8 members, with a mentally challenged father who is no more, she was determined to help her mother lead a better life. She along with her sister worked in PPES’s call centre and were able to buy a pakka house with their savings, leaving the hut where they didn’t even have a toilet. She is the symbol of courage that every girl in Anupshahr has!
“My work at PPES has given me the identity I always longed for. I wonder why our society does not offer such opportunities to its women easily. Why do we have to struggle every time we wish to take our decisions? This place has enhanced me as a person and I feel I have been improving every day.” Gudiya, Economic Empowerment Wing
“My daughter is my sustenance. She earns for us” says Ramvati standing next to the toilet built by PPES. Ramvati who was initially confused about her decision of sending her daughters to the school now feels proud that her daughters are not only taking care of household expenses but have also helped her overcome open defecation.
“The thought of meeting somebody new and interacting with them used to make me so nervous. Today I understand that it comes from the lack of confidence which most of the women like me have until we come to a place like this where we are appreciated. I have explored my strengths and capabilities and I lead my team now!” Neeraj, Unit in-charge, Economic Empowerment wing, PPES
“Sometimes you take brave steps for the ones you love. I also did the same for my daughter and shifted here in the hope of a better life. Today my PPES pass out daughter is a graduate in computers. I had always wanted her to be a confident, independent and honest human being and I am proud that she has become one.” Nemawait, Cook at PPES kitchen
Ivillage has grown with the sheer determination and talent of rural women who have worked late hours and even night shifts to fulfil order commitments, like a united family. While they are doing well in most segments, Ivillage is looking for clients in the call centre business so that the women can tap their talents and reach the skies. Any takers?
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