Empowering rural women entrepreneurs is itself a challenge: Parul S Mehta

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Saurabh Gupta | 24 Aug, 2017

Ishanya Foundation beliefs that women are the fulcrum of the family and empowering them enables bring about the required social impact for not just herself, but their family and the community at large, Parul S Mehta, Founder Trustee- Ishanya Foundation, Pune, told SME Times.

Ishanya Foundation is a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative of Deepak Fertilisers & Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd. Ishanya Foundation is a registered trust under the Bombay Public Trust Act 1950, April 2006.

Excerpts of the interview…

Please tell something about Ishanya Foundation. Like what you do? when and how had you started?
Parul S Mehta: There is a need to create a self-reliant society and help individuals develop skill sets that would be appropriate for employability and make them self-sufficient. I have always been inclined to serve the society we live in and I strongly believe in the philosophy of “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.

The idea commenced with some charitable work close to the factories in Chindran village around Taloja. With the support of an able team, we ideated and initiated several income generation programs. One of the early actions was for the youth, wherein we started tailoring classes. This project enabled them to design and supply items to boutiques thereby making them self-reliant. Driven by the success of this initiative and the underlying thought of helping people identify and develop their true potential, Ishanya Foundation (IsFon) started its journey in 2006 towards building a self-reliant and self-sustainable society.

What is the aim of Ishanya Foundation?

Parul S Mehta: We, at Ishanya Foundation, aim at empowering the under-privileged and uplift the economically backward group with active participation of everyone. Our objective is to work for the less fortunate & economically weaker sections of society wherever we operate. We also wish to provide affordable vocational skills training programs to enable employability, or be able to generate secondary source of income and facilitate individuals to reach their fullest potential and be socially and economically useful to themselves, their family and the community.

You conduct several outreach programs in the areas of Women Empowerment, Livelihood programmes and Health & Education. How you see rural entrepreneurship in India especially women entrepreneurship? Opportunities and Challenges both.

Parul S Mehta: Driving social change would only be truly effective if the measures of impact and outcomes are clearly defined to ensure a complete holistic development, enabling each and every aspirant that enrols in the programs to be employable and experience financial stability. However, candidates must possess the right skill sets for the right job to ensure continuity at work and an overall job satisfaction. This is what we at the Foundation focus on while conducting the livelihood and entrepreneurship programs.

The challenges are plenty as well. We work with communities wherein women have never had an opportunity to step out of the comfort zones of their homes. Challenges of individual, family and community acceptance to enrol for the programs, ensuring continuity during the course of the program, completion of the program despite health of family issues, overcoming individual and societal inhibitions on employment and most of all ensuring continuity at their place of work to enable these aspirants truly experience empowerment and financial stability are some of the broad challenges we deal with.

Rural Entrepreneurship especially for women is a prime area of focus of the Foundation as we work very closely with the communities in Taloja, Raigad District. We strongly support women empowerment initiatives in these communities with the strong belief that the women are the fulcrum of the family and empowering her enables bring about the required social impact for not just herself, but her family and the community at large.

How Ishanya Foundation helps in developing rural entrepreneurship?

Parul S Mehta: Ishanya Foundation has taken up several community development initiatives in the rural areas such as the Wadi, Health and Women Development, Dairy Development Initiative and Vocational Training Programs wherein the women are trained to benefit from the asset creations of the wadi and cattle, providing various income generation avenues, apart from tackling issues of the root causes of poor health and marginal living conditions.

Capacity Building Programs, Health Programs and Income Generation Training Initiatives are some of the initiatives offered to the tribal communities which comprise of approximately 70% 0f the villages where we work in.

Our set-up of a skill development training centre at Taloja in the close proximity to the rural communities of Raigad District is underway to provide skill development and enhancement opportunities to the needy sections of society, so as to enable them to better suit for employment opportunities.  This is aligned with our nation’s vision of developing skills, promoting the right education and generating employment to create that effective long term sustainable impact to communities, in particular the deserving youth of our nation.

What is Yellow Ribbon NGO Fair (YRNF)? And what is its aim?

Parul S Mehta: The Yellow Ribbon NGO and Artisan Fair, is a platform provided to NGOs, SHGS and Artisans across India to showcase and sell the products made as part of their income generation or vocational training programs, generate awareness on the causes they support and work on. In addition, these NGOs, SHG and Artisans receive a great opportunity to enhance their communication, marketing and packaging skills.

The Yellow Ribbon NGO & Artisan Fair is probably the only Fair in our country that provides an opportunity to share best practises and an interaction platform amongst NGOs, SHGs and Artisans. Recognizing the entrepreneurship abilities is an additional feature of this initiative that has received an overwhelming response year on year from the development sector.

Our aim is to create a platform full of recognition for these NGOs amongst the masses in order to be approached by the Corporate and Individuals at large, and also is to help create self-reliant and self-sufficient youth, pre-dominantly women, farmers & their families. It’s a learning experience for all the generations in terms of footfalls that we receive.

Who and how it was started?
Parul S Mehta: The concept of Yellow Ribbon NGO Fair was an initiative taken forth by myself. This initiative was conceptualized way back in 2008 with an initial participation from close to 43 NGOs from across the city and all over India, to encourage NGOs who make such beautiful hand-made products and promote livelihood opportunities amongst the rural communities, be given an opportunity to sell these products. YRNF has set an example of being the perfect blend of festivity, food, art and fun. The idea seeped in ever since her college days which drew her to humanities and selflessness. That’s when the purpose became clearer to reduce the gap that exists in the society, and focusing on the charitable work that could help generating income for the ones who had immense potential.

This year marking 10th year celebration of YRNF 2017. How it is doing? Please share achievements Yellow Ribbon NGO Fair.
Parul S Mehta: YRNF over the last 9 years has received an overwhelming response year on year and been truly gratifying. Starting out with 43 stalls in 2007 to capping the number of participation to 120 in recent years, this platform has been able to provide NGOs and SHGs with the recent inclusion of Artisans a great opportunity to sell their products.
A few significant achievements would be:

•    9 consecutive YRNF events held with an increase in participation every year
•    NABARD has continuously supported YRNF since inception
•    Inclusion of Award Winning artisans of our country
•    NGOs receiving large exports orders and commercial tie-ups with retail outlets
•    Improvement of packaging of products for upcoming NGOs
•    Significant awareness of products available by these NGOs
•    Wide range of 5000 products available over 4 days
•    A collective initiative wherein the Society of Pune, Student Volunteers and Donors support the initiative
•    Marketing, Communications & Packaging skill development key outcomes of this initiative

What are your future plans?
Parul S Mehta: The Foundation believes that CSR is a dynamic process whereby continuous involvement and innovation is required to improve performances over the years, make meaningful contribution in aligning with our nation’s vision of developing skills, promoting the right education and generating employment to create that effective long term sustainable impact to communities we work with.

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