To give self-identity to uneducated and needy women in India, Kanchantai gave up her handsome salary, stable government job, ancestral property and her retirement money.
Ms. Kanchantai Parulekar is an epitome of strength, perseverance and self-sacrifice; She runs the social enterprise Swayamsiddha (Self-reliant), which aims to make women, who contribute 48.55% of India’s population, self-reliant and confident to support society’s welfare and in turn country's economic development.
To improve women’s social standing through financial independence, she has been relentlessly leading many social causes for rural women like education, vocational and leadership skills development, micro-entrepreneurship training, income generation through farming and plantation, and healthcare.
So far, she has touched lives of over 50,000 women. With her extensive training on personality and skill development, more than 5000 women could establish their businesses and could monthly earn up to $300 (USD) to $3000 (USD). This is a great achievement in country where below poverty people could earn barely $2 (USD) per day!
Inspirational Being team got an opportunity to interact with Ms. Kanchan Parulekar and here is excerpt of the interview we had.
Please tell us about your education and personal background
I was born in Kolhapur, India. I had very humble childhood. My father, Mr. Balakrishna, was a tailor and full time volunteer in Gandhiyan Congress party; he worked at the grassroots level to reconstruct rural areas. My mother, Mrs. Janaki, was homemaker. Though she was uneducated, she used to support our small tailoring shop. Despite of meager earning, my parents focused on my education and good upbringing.
At the age of 13, I delivered a passionate speech as a representative of trodden down women, who were asked to displace due to the construction of a dam. My confidence and enthusiasm made a mark on the chief guest of the rally, Dr. V.T. Patil, a great social worker, educationist and member of parliament from Kolhapur constituency.
After listening to my speech, he felt that my leadership acumen and spark could be developed further in city and I could be a great resource for the development of nation. He convinced my father about my potential and requested my father to give him an opportunity of upbringing me.
Dr. V. T. Patil was a university of social work in himself. I got rigorous training under his fatherly guidance and got much exposure in his honey bee network.
I completed my masters in Arts and diploma in education. I started my carrier as NCC (National Cadet Corps) officer in 1969, then worked as an English teacher, then moved to banking and progressed as Bank manager in a nationalized bank.
What inspired you to start Swayamsiddha and how all it started?
When Dr. V. T. Patil and his wife decided to create trust out of their property, nobody came forward to lead his mission of serving poor. As I always wanted to help people, I decided to quit my lucrative job to lead Swayamsiddha, the project of trust, for economic empowerment of women, with a clear intent to make women self-reliant and confident and to undertake constructive work in the society.
While thinking on this mission, I realized, there is an ample afternoon time available for these women which can be used in a constructive way to develop their personalities and in earning pride through financial independence for them.
We decided to start our mission with urban area, Kolhapur city and appealed in local newspaper. To our surprise around 136 women showed interest. We started organizing them and strengthen their organization by self-help groups, discussions and counselling. Extended them income generation skills, educated them through informal education and increased their social and health awareness. We further exposed them by introducing to new technologies, arranging study tours and leadership camps.
Within 2 years, these women were ready to supply marketable consumer products and handicraft goods. We helped them to market these products by providing platforms through weekly bazar and exhibitions. When these women got expected experience, we started Swaymprerika (self-motivated) women cooperative industrial society. Today, 4,500 microentrepreneurs could earn 10,000 INR to 150,000 INR on monthly basis.
After getting 2 years of experience in urban area, I founded a separate trust DR. V.T. Patil foundation for rural reconstruction and to empower rural people. With the help of experts, we provided them knowledge and information on organic farming and collective and cooperative farming. We arranged training sessions for Argo based businesses, Verticulture, poultry, goat rearing, etc. We extended them money credit and gave them mantra for low investment, more income and sustainable agriculture.
Tell us more about Swayamsiddha and its uniqueness?
Me and my team always believed that if mother would become an entrepreneur then further generations would be become entrepreneur, and we have proved this in last 29 years of our journey.
All the women come to our center wish to do something but most of them lack confidence. We follow 3 steps approach – awakening, skill development and self-reliance. Our first step is to increase their awareness by having discussion with them, giving them success stories of other women and demonstrating how they could succeed. With the first step, they get some confidence and move from “I wish to Do” mindset to “I can do” mindset. At this stage, we provide them training on leadership skills, manufacturing skills, marketing skills and soft skill. In the second step, they gain more confidence and move to “I will do” mindset from “I can do” mindset. In the last step, we provide them platform to put up business stalls, exhibitions, exposure visits and financial support needed to setup their business so that they get self-reliant.
For their emotional fitness, we guide them on health care, yoga, environment, informative and personality development.
Swayamsiddha started a unique initiative in 1999. We opened schools, which gives skills development training for Girls who drop out due to financial conditions or unavailability of educational guidance. Many girl students have benefited from this project and have not only cleared their 10th standard but also have become successful entrepreneurs.
We educate tribal girls from poor strata on transformative changes by arranging health camps and educate them on hygiene, health, self-defense and economic independence through small scale business opportunities. More than 6000 girls have become economically and emotionally independent from these initiatives in rural and tribal areas.
We have also opened free legal and family counseling centers for needy women.
What are the challenges you faced and what you learned from them?
One of the biggest hurdle for us was to challenge social construct developed over period based on false beliefs in the society. Most of the women were not allowed to work or they never thought they could work. We had to convince men/husbands/in-laws in their family that we would make use of their idle time in the afternoon and it would not impact family’s day to day activities. Reluctantly but slowly they started allowing women to come to our centers. Money is one of the great motivators. When women started earning money, not only families but whole society started to admire their work.
In the rural areas, there was another challenge. Famers were busy in their fields during day time. So, we decided to start our classes at night. As were dealing with less or uneducated people, local language and demonstration of the work became necessary for awareness. We had to step up our counselling skills and self-motivate ourselves to continue the mission. We created stories and songs as a teaching aids for them.
Swayamsiddha’s future plans?
We have an ambitious plan of creating Swayamsiddha in every district of India, we have established a residential training center where we train willing women to become the trained custodian of their respective regions to support rural women in various technical and entrepreneurial skills.
We want to create a global marketplace for our rural and underprivileged artisan and micro-entrepreneurs, thus we are working on developing market linkages for creating these opportunities. Many women entrepreneurs are producing goods in bulk quantities, and there is a huge demand for their products from NRIs and Foreigners when they visit India. But we want to create sustainable and structured global platform.
We are setting up coverage of mobile vans for selling in different upcountry markets.
How can society contribute to this mission?
Now days’ women and youth are prime movers of our nation. So, government and society should more focus on women resource development. Women should get opportunities, space and support to thrive in the career they choose to become self-reliant.
I believe that Organization, Education, Health, Social and Cultural awareness, and Economic empowerment are five pillars of self-reliance. We need to strengthen these pillars. We need to provide self-defense training to women. We need make them literate both financially and politically. We need to build more organizations like Swayamsiddha and society should whole heartedly support such initiatives in whichever way they could.
You can follow Swayamsiddha
This story is researched and supported by
Adams Traditional Academu School, Phoenix, Arizaon, USA
7th Grade student