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SEWA Bharat
Last updated on 28 Jul 2023
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In 1972, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) was founded by Ela Bhatt as a trade union in India, and soon developed into a movement and a family of organizations that seek to empower poor women in the informal economy, equipping them with access to social security, awareness of their rights and entitlements, livelihood opportunities, and regular income. SEWA Bharat’s mission is to promote new state SEWA organizations; build a national identity for the SEWA movement to advocate for the rights of women workers; and to run programs that build women’s economic and social security. SEWA Bharat has over 35 years of experience in the Women’s Economic Empowerment [WEE] domain. Women’s economic participation in India has been declining, particularly in terms of their representation as business owners, managers, and active participants in the formal economy. The World Bank reports that the labour force participation rate (LFPR) of women in India has dropped from 30.7% in 1990 to 20.8% in 2019, reaching an alarming low of 16.1% in the July-September 2020 quarter, the lowest among major economies. Within the formal economy, women are represented in 3% of the total boards of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) and 2.52% of Cooperative boards in India. The informal economy employs over 90% of Indian women, where more than 95% of women-owned enterprises have an annual turnover of less than Rs. 50 lakhs (USD 67,000/year). To resolve the challenge of grassroots women’s disempowered entrepreneurial engagement, SEWA Bharat has intensively experimented with a collective entrepreneurship model for women over the last decade, which has allowed them to identify women-owned, women-run collective SGBs as a lever for women’s economic empowerment. Women-owned SGBs are formed when women come together, pool resources, and work collectively to establish a business. As their entrepreneurial work grows, these women register themselves as a company or cooperative, thus entering the formal economy. In order to support these SGBs, SEWA Bharat started a vertical called the WESS (Women's Enterprise Support System), which aims to nurture and build the capacity of collective social women’s enterprises. WESS provides a variety of services, including linkages to industry experts and professional managers, strengthening compliance and accounting practices, business planning, and capacity building of the governing body and management team in a collective enterprise. It also helps in establishing brand identity. In the last two years, the WESS has supported 14 social enterprises, resulting in significant increases in business indicators across the board. Artisan cooperatives based in Delhi and Gujarat have seen revenue increases ranging from 449% to 2475%, while farmer producer cooperatives, which have traditionally had low-profit margins, have improved revenues by up to 371% (run by tribal women in Gujarat). Furthermore, financial credit cooperatives in rural and urban areas have experienced a shift towards having 100% women in management roles. Some enterprises have been able to ensure an increase in income for all shareholders by up to 250%, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more details on WESS- please check this webpage - Additionally, this work has furthered six of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: SDG 1: No Poverty, SDG 5: Gender Equality, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities, SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, and SDG: 12 Responsible Consumption and Production