As a Foster MBA student, getting a job and achieving financial independence is usually expected and the path to find a job is relatively clear. But in parts of rural India where education access may be limited and women are discouraged from working outside the home, financial independence is difficult to obtain and the jobs that are available are often insecure. The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a 1.5 million member trade union for poor self-employed women, is working to change that by helping to organize stable jobs and showing the benefits employment for women can provide. Every year since 2011, the MBA Global Consulting Project has sent twenty of Foster’s MBA students to the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India to partner with SEWA, study the group’s projects and apply their MBA business analysis to provide recommendations.
SEWA’s partners in the MBA Global Consulting Project get to see these benefits first-hand in their intense ten day visit to the region to understand the issues, meet with the grassroots entrepreneurs that make up SEWA and find projects that can improve lives. Gathering research about projects in an organization that helps local people work for themselves goes beyond recording facts. Hearing about the business means hearing the stories of women who have grown into leaders, young people who gain better education because of their parents’ new-found work, and local businesses that are truly family affairs. For the MBA students, the trip is as productive as it is inspiring.
Examples of projects include:
- Rudiben (RUDI): It’s similar to Avon, but instead of selling cosmetics, the women sell spices, sugar and grains. They can often make more than double what they would otherwise earn doing embroidery or agricultural work. Read more here and here.
- Jyoti: It provides solar electricity for schools, solar lanterns for homes, and hand pumps in remote villages with limited access to electricity and clean water. It is funded by the Coca-Cola India Foundation. The hand pumps save time and improve the health of the family by giving them reliable access to clean water. The solar electricity and lanterns improve the quality of life by powering fans during hot weather and lights during darker times of year. Read more.
- Shantipath Peace Centers: The centers are designed to help women find jobs within their community. Read more.
- Hariyali: It provides solar power or biomass gasification technology which is used to supply small rural villages with electricity. Read more.
Upon returning to Foster for winter quarter, students work with mentors, SEWA managers and the research they gathered in India to provide recommendations on important issues the union’s projects face, from Castor oil supply problems to how to measure the impact of solar lanterns in people’s lives. In a March video conference, the students present their recommendations to SEWA for feedback and implementation. Since SEWA’s most dedicated investors are the people in the communities it works with, leveraging the money the organization has is vital.
To read first-hand accounts from MBAs who traveled to India and worked on this project, check out the MBA Global Consulting Project blog. This project is led by Professor Cate Goethals.