With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, many families needed relief to make ends meet. When Surabhi Yadav stepped forward to help provide this relief, she met a young lady named Phula Kumari. Phula had studied till class 12 and was a part of the Musahar community. She didn’t ask for money; she didn’t ask for food.
She asked for something much more powerful.
She said: "Didi, please teach me. I want to study.”
“Her unusual request got me thinking. Most young women in villages can’t even imagine a career with professional growth because of their caste, class, gender, and geography.” Surabhi explains.
This is what led Surabhi to start Sajhe Sapne in 2020, a nonprofit organization. This provides an alternative system to college education to ensure rural women like Phula have a chance at a thriving career.
Through mobilization, training, exposure, and mentoring, Sajhe Sapne supports young women between the ages of 17 and 25 to find a job and have a thriving career.
Sajhe Sapne is one of the six organizations in the ‘Pragati’ program powered by Meta and The/Nudge Foundation. Under this program, there are 5 organizations in the incubator and one in the accelerator. The program incubates and accelerates early-stage nonprofits focused on women empowerment and resolves complex challenges with the help of technology. In the incubator, organizations gain access to an ecosystem of support. This includes opportunities for funding, access to knowledge partners, and mentoring by some of India’s most admired change makers.
Surabhi says the program is a ‘gentle but firm reality check for its incubatees.’ “The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) seems to have a clear ambition - to make nonprofit organizations bolder and stronger. These sessions have not only nudged us into thinking bolder benchmarks and questions for our work but also made us feel seen for all the chaos that goes down in an early-stage nonprofit.”
“With more than 800 million internet users in the country, only 33% are women, and there exists a huge gap which needs to be bridged. We are making efforts to bring gender parity to the internet. How? By boosting women—providing growth opportunities and platforms to women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses. The impact we have seen with our first cohort of Pragati is a testament to the fact that we are moving in the right direction and we are committed to helping women entrepreneurs succeed through greater access to digital platforms,” says Madhu Singh Sirohi, Head of Policy Programs & Outreach, India at Meta.
Impacting Lives by Driving Impact
Crossing boundaries and sectors, Pragati by Meta and The/Nudge CSI have supported organizations to resolve diverse societal challenges, from skilling and women's health to livelihood generation.
Launched by Megha Phansalkar in 2014, Tisser is one such organization that provides sustainable employment to women; by skilling them to become artisans. The organization is also a part of the incubator program launched by Pragati by Meta and The/Nudge CSI. The sole goal is to help the trained artisans to create a self-sustaining business model. The engagement model is inclusive cluster development by up-skilling and providing hand-to-hand support, including access to finances, technology, and marketing for rural artisans.
“The sessions focused on mentoring, handling the hybrid model, and creative thinking. This gave me insight that Tisser should lead and create a seamless supply chain through craft tech.” Megha says.
After 18 years of experience working with artisans as part of a National Rural Livelihood Mission project, Megha founded Tisser. “While witnessing the conditions of artisans, I also studied the fragmented value chain and witnessed the problems the sector is facing. That’s when I decided to start my own enterprise with a mission to be a catalyst and a value chain partner for vulnerable artisans, especially women,” says Megha. To date, Tisser has empowered over 3,000 women and impacted the lives of over 10,000 artisans.
Opportunities Disguised as Challenges
Challenges like COVID-19 forced businesses to think differently about the way they function. As the pandemic took hold of the world, businesses had to find ways to adapt. But incubatees from Pragati by Meta and The/Nudge CSI saw opportunities even in this time of unfamiliarity to grow and change.
One such organization is Esther. This Bangalore-based organization enables women college graduates from peri-urban areas to bridge their "job-readiness gap". How? By leveraging online platforms and the use of digital tools.
“While the onset of online learning presented a set of challenges for peri-urban and rural communities with low network connectivity, this also meant that female college students finally could get access to their own smartphone, making them first-generation digital users in most cases. A whole range of opportunities had now opened up to them since they own a smartphone,” says Agneta Venkatraman, Co-Founder, Esther.
After years of breaking down her barriers and jumping over every hurdle, Agneta now advocates for women to reach their full potential. Esther was launched in 2021 by Agneta, along with her co-founder Ravali. Since its launch, the nonprofit has connected with over 200 women across 7 colleges, enabling them to realize their aspirations of entering the workforce.
Another example of an ambitious organization finding opportunities in these challenging times is the—Mumbai-based incubatee, Ekibeki. With the vision of livelihood generation for artisans, especially women and the rural youth, Ekibeki helps them produce sustainable handmade products on a large scale.
During her time as an architect and furniture designer, Vishpala Hundekari saw a lack of awareness in her clients about the crafts in India. The sheer talent hidden in the villages, the humility of the artisans, and their struggle for survival was the biggest inspiration behind Ekibeki.
After launching in 2018, the organization’s operations had to halt when the pandemic hit. This forced founder Vishpala and her team to pivot to an online mode. “Not only did we move to sell online, but we trained hundreds of artisans in doing so. It was the first time many craft organizations worked together for the sector, and that was huge learning on how collaboration can take everyone forward.” Vishpala says.
“Pragati by Meta and The/Nudge CSI is an incubator program that looks at the needs of a startup social enterprise from all angles. It is a collective effort of some of the best professionals, entrepreneurs, leaders, and change-makers from the social sector,” she adds.
“The/Nudge CSI’s faith in the power of technology to deliver and amplify impact has been further strengthened with all the tech-enabled pivots seen in the non-profit space to deal with COVID. We also believe that with just one in five MSMEs being run by women, India is losing out on the globally proven superiority of women-led business,” says Akshay Soni, Managing Director, The/Nudge Accelerator.
Our Social Entrepreneurs Dare to Dream Big
SVATANYA India Foundation’s Co-founder, Deepa Pant, says that early-stage organizations can really benefit from mentoring by industry veterans. “The pool of mentors comprising of veterans from the industry and development sector is stellar, and yet the humility with which they come across is inspiring and admirable,” she says.
“I remember an incident where a senior partner remarked that the entrepreneurs need not look up to, and be grateful to, the partners for mentoring as the partners are and should be equally grateful for the opportunity to engage with entrepreneurs. This was truly humbling,” she adds.
Although Deepa had a successful corporate career spanning over 2 decades, where she worked with major international labels and even launched her domestic brand, it couldn’t give her one thing: purpose. Her interaction with the mother of one of the underprivileged children forced her to give it a thought.
“Seema, an 8th pass out, wanted to study, work and earn but had to put her dreams on hold, first for her siblings and then for her family that had migrated to the city in the hope of a better life,” Deepa says as she recalls the interaction. “I not only empathize with the anguish of the unrealized dreams of these women but also the massive untapped potential in the community. Almost 99 percent of migrant women in India are uneducated, have no formal training or work experience, and are often not allowed to venture out of their homes due to patriarchal norms.”
This reality drove her to launch SVATANYA India Foundation, a social enterprise, in 2018. The foundation crafts innovative, high-quality, and conscious products for consumers and upskill & financially empower underprivileged women. SVATANYA has impacted over 15,650 lives so far.
Another powerful example of the impact Pragati by Meta and The/Nudge CSI are driving can be seen in the work done by Foundation for Mother & Child Health (FMCH) and its CEO and Co-Founder, Shruthi Iyer. As a part of the program’s accelerator—the organization bridges access and awareness gaps around malnutrition and maternal health in vulnerable communities.
FMCH got launched in 2006. And, Shruthi came on board as the CEO and Co-founder in 2019 and helped to scale its work, significantly. Under Shruthi’s leadership, the organization moved to a tech-enabled platform and quickly scaled up to serving 20,000 women annually. It achieved 5x growth in three years, despite the disruption caused by COVID-19.
FMCH is a Mumbai-based organization. They work with families in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life to provide contextual, timely, actionable information. The company also supports them design the right nutritional choices for healthy mothers and children, reducing malnutrition, and breaking the cycle of poverty.
Explaining how the Pragati by Meta accelerator is different from similar programs, Shruthi says — “The combination of access to mentors and unrestricted grants are both rare in the sector. While we have the passion and the commitment to communities, scaling and running a large organization is a different skill - especially in these dynamic times. This is where the program played a major role.”
“The mentors we work with are a perfect mix of empathy and efficiency. They trust us with the work and look at us as true partners who know what the best thing to do on the ground is.” Shruti continues. Since its inception, FMCH has impacted over 5 lakh families.
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