Interview of Prema Gopalan, Founder of Swayam Shikshan Prayog, Pune

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Prema Gopalan, Founder Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) is a finalist of The Social Entrepreneur of the Year India 2018 Award for her work in revitalizing rural economies by putting women in charge. Working in areas affected by global climate change, SSP have unleashed women farmers, entrepreneurs and grassroots business leaders who are solving the problems of their communities through small businesses.

India CSR Network interacted with Prema Gopalan. Edited excerpts:

What has been the inspiration for you to enter this space?

When a massive earthquake hit Latur, I took a leap of faith along with a bunch of motivated professionals. By 1998, the rehabilitation project was completed. Ordinary women in 1300 villages were empowered to lead from the front as Samwad Sahayaks. We thought our work was complete but as we decided to leave, these women said ” we are not going back home, you may have helped us in building our houses, but we don’t want to sit in those houses anymore, now let’s begin a new chapter to involve thousands of women to lead their communities.

These women were my inspiration and interestingly that Earthquake laid our foundation and with the resolve of my team and our powerful women leaders, Swayam Shikshan Prayog was born.

Can you detail the founding ethos of your organisation and how is it contributing in transformation of India?

The founding ethos of SSP is to bring rural women and communities from the margin to the mainstream. SSP’s promotes business models that combine social mission to empower rural women enabling sustainable decentralized livelihoods, enhanced skills and incomes, involvement in network development and scaled up social and economic impact.

Core to SSP’s approach is the empowerment of grassroots women to take on new public roles as entrepreneurs, leaders and change makers. Helping grassroots women to cope with natural disasters and climate change by enhancing and developing a range of diverse skills, it has created a generation of women entrepreneurs who have empowered themselves, improved access to skills, livelihoods and basic services their communities and promoted accountable local governance.

SSP’s holistic model seeds entrepreneurship to tackle tough challenges in livelihoods, energy, health, agriculture, food, water & sanitation by building women’s peer networks and collaborative multi-stakeholder ecosystems.

A crucial game-changer has been creation of networks of women entrepreneurs that allowed them to work collaboratively with each other’s groups to scale. Today, the growing network helps rural women to end isolation, as entrepreneurs, business leaders and contributors to local economies and challenge convention in emerging markets.

What value proposition does SEOY, hosted by Jubilant Bhartia Foundation & Schwab Foundation creates for you?

The SEOY is all about spotlighting social entrepreneurship as a pathway to inclusive development at the grassroots. The opportunity offered by Jubilant Bhartia Foundation to connect with media, government and business leaders and peers is one of its kind.

Any such award is a great recognition but also an acceptance of that model of development as a successful one. In addition to this, awards like these gives immense confidence and motivation to us are a great milestone.  As a Finalist, I feel humbled by the recognition of SSP team’s sustained efforts for women empowerment as responsible entrepreneurs and leaders at the grassroots.

What are your plans for the future; do you have any plans scaling up your reach in the near future?

SSP’s target for 2023 involves reaching 8 million people from climate affected communities by building capacities of women from these communities to address pressing issues, Catapult additional 50,000 women as entrepreneurs and farmers – The women entrepreneurs and farmers to address the needs and lead the development of more and more rural pockets in the climate change affected communities across India and Nurture 2,000 women leaders: Develop a higher level of women leadership, shouldering the responsibility of facilitating agency building of women in her village/block to address their needs and that of community.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this feature are entirely their own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.

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