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Margin to mainstream

Swayam Shikshan Prayog repositions women to take on new roles as decision-makers in agriculture, enterprise and embrace community leadership, thereby enhancing their economic and social resilience.

Published on December 20, 2020 at 4:28 am

Updated on March 20, 2021 at 06:50 am

Empowering women at the grassroots.

Anwesha Tewary

Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) aspires to promote inclusive, sustainable community development by empowering women at the grassroots in climate threatened, under-served areas across seven Indian states. SSP repositions women to take on new roles as decision-makers in agriculture, enterprise and embrace community leadership, thereby enhancing their economic and social resilience. By tapping the power of rural women social entrepreneurs in ailing economies, SSP has opened up non-traditional livelihood incomes, tripled household earnings, and built new leadership capital in excluded areas. By enhancing women’s social, economic, and political competencies, and by mainstreaming them into development and government processes, SSP has grown these women into a formidable army of change agents.

What Was the Problem?

SSP teams work with the landless and marginalised farmer households and, among these with women, who face the most challenging social and economic inequalities. Despite their best efforts, to earn and sustain livelihoods, women face enormous problems in access to resources, skills, and finance and market opportunities.

Social norms, cultural values and gender stereotyping often prohibit women from owning land, homes, or other essential assets for gaining access to capital and going to markets or entering a business. Such stigma severely hinders economic options and mobility for rural women.

SSP’s Solution

SSP Milestones.

It needs a collaborative effort to unlock the true potential of a model. SSP’s model is founded in a two-tiered approach that builds women’s capacities through their economic empowerment and creates an enabling and self-sustaining ecosystem that supports women’s leadership to bring transformation across high impact sectors. The multiplier effect of SSP’s approach means that grassroots women within SSP’s networks go beyond achieving entrepreneurship to embracing community leadership roles.

The ‘Swayam Shikshan’ Story

SSP was started as an initiative within SPARC, a Mumbai-based NGO, after Latur and Osmanabad districts suffered a massive earthquake which claimed over 11,000 lives. SSP started with the idea that women need to be involved in reconstruction as homeowners and trained women’s groups should act as facilitators’ between Govt. and people. SSP lobbied with the government to appoint women from Mahila Mandals as community facilitators. From 1994-1998, SSP worked to transform this mass-scale disaster into an opportunity for the rebuilding of not only houses but the empowerment of women and communities.

Since inception, SSP has developed a widespread Self Help Group (SHG) network of 100,000 women that has gone beyond the first-steps of reconstruction and savings to build social, political, and economic competencies for its women members. By enabling grassroots women-led enterprises, it has empowered women in Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Gujarat, Assam, and Odisha to promote inclusive development by providing them access to skills, finance, and markets.

In 2006, the SSP group of social enterprises was created as an ecosystem to nurture various aspects of the programme and to develop and refine the value chains to help the women to succeed in hitherto untapped markets. SSP and its group of social enterprises facilitate women to formulate and lead self-help groups, social enterprises, and community-centred initiatives that include a wide range of financial services, skill-building, and livelihoods generation planks. They provide information, products and services in impact sectors such as clean energy, safe water and sanitation, health and nutrition, agriculture, and food security.

SSP has launched and mentored a network of Sakhi SHGs and Sakhi Federations, creating a dynamic umbrella-network of SHGs in the geographical regions of their work. The initiatives are strengthened through women’s leadership, and long- and short-term partnerships with local government bodies, state governments, and corporate houses.

As part of ecosystem building for budding women entrepreneurs, SSP has created a programme to support Women’s Initiative to Learn and Lead (WILL). The goal of this centre of learning is to build an overarching system that teaches and nurtures entrepreneurial and leadership attitudes among grassroots women, and which also acts as a platform to facilitate SSP’s all-encompassing vision of facilitating women-led community initiatives for sustainable and inclusive development. The four pillars of WILL are: entrepreneurship and leadership development; creating a partnership ecosystem; research and knowledge generation; and enabling a women-led development innovation hub.

SSP facilitates women to formulate and lead self-help groups.

The Innovation

The women entrepreneurs associated with SSP have experienced economic, social, and entrepreneurial transformation, all of which has contributed immensely in their business development and personal growth. They have increased their incomes, are able to support the running of their households, and are re-investing to expand their businesses. These women entrepreneurs have become more mindful in planning their expenditures, future savings, and have clarity when developing their business plans. They are now keen to explore new opportunities. Women entrepreneurs associated with the organization are eventually transforming themselves as job creators, trainers and community resource persons and business leaders.

Today, these women entrepreneurs have widely expanded their customer base and have simultaneously increased their risk appetite. Community acceptance of women as entrepreneurs has resulted in them gaining access to Gram Sabhas, Panchayats, and block-level meetings. The women are using this access to generate awareness around various community development issues and for marketing products at the mass level.

Inspiring entrepreneurship.


To optimize its community development efforts, SSP works with multiple partners with congruent goals. Multiple stakeholders have served to enrich SSP’s work by lending a wider perspective as well as financial and training support.

Unique among the scaled-up partnerships are the wPOWER programme (2012 to 2016), a USAID India supported clean energy initiative. Over 1010 village-level entrepreneurs launched businesses and services to market clean cookstoves, biofuel, solar lamps and lights impacting the lives of over one million people across Maharashtra and Bihar. Under the umbrella of National Rural Livelihood Mission, SSP is implementing the Startup Village Entrepreneurship Programme (SVEP), creating a network of Community Resource Persons (CRP’s) to further support 5000 women as entrepreneurs across two blocks in Solapur district from 2016 to 2020. SSP is also implementing the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP) initiative (2016-20) with the Government of Maharashtra to support 23, 000 women farmers to adopt improved and sustainable agriculture practices in 460 villages across two districts in Maharashtra through a cadre of Community Resource Persons, chosen from SSP’s cadres of agriculture leaders.

Anwesha Tewary works as Program Manager with SSP and can be reached at anweshassp@gmail.com



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