The Economic Empowerment of Women: The Case of Working Women's Forum, India

Article excerpt

Abstract

Dr. Jaya Arunachalam, recipient of Padmasri founded Working Women's Forum in 1978 with an objective of social and economic up-liftment of poorest of poor women in Tamilnadu, India. Now WWF has more than 7,00,00 women members. This case study deals with how technology has helped these micro entrepreneurs to accomplish their business more effectively and efficiently and how it has introduced drastic changes to their lifestyle.

Keywords: microenterprise, social entrepreneurs, women NGOs India

Introduction

The United Nations (UN) has declared 2005 as the Year of Micro-Credit. More than 20 million of the poorest households around the world now have access to micro finance services enabling them to survive the onslaught of poverty. The Working Women's Forum (WWF), an NGO and a Society located at Chennai, has reached more than 700,000 women using appropriate information technology to create a massive database of its members and managed their details of social background, borrowings and refunds, family particulars and continuously upgraded their members details. The database management consisting of data warehousing and data mining to retrieve any information at the shortest time helped them to serve their members efficiently. Such a massive operation of maintaining the details of nearly half a million members and their progress calls for fault less technology adoption. The outstanding feature of this intervention is that the women who are not all that highly educated have adopted the technology. They have been trained and they effectively disseminated their knowledge to the members who have developed confidence in the system. It's no doubt that the technology has definitely served their cause and also proved to be of low cost and easily adoptable.

The challenge before WWF today is to obtain funds to help in the growth of the existing micro-entrepreneurs by giving them the needed training and also attract new micro-entrepreneurs by giving those loans.

About the Organization: WWF

The Working Women's Forum (WWF) was created in Chennai (named Madras at that time), in south India in 1978 in response to a need to organize women living in slums and working as small-scale traders and vendors. The idea started in mid-70s with a small group of 30 women petty traders organizing themselves as a group with the help of Jaya Arunachalam, a political/social worker in Madras. They met a bank manager and received a loan of Rs.300 (US$33) each. The group elected a group leader and every day, she collected money from the members to repay the bank. The idea worked: repayment was 95%. By April 1978, 800 women had been organized into 40 groups and received loans. The Working Women's Forum was born.

To keep a broad socio-economic and political perspective, the WWF was set up with the following objectives:

* To create an association of women employed in the unorganized or informal sector;

* To improve the entrepreneurial skills of working women through training, material inputs, credit and extension services; and

* To organize support for social services necessary for working women and their families (e.g. child care, education, health, family planning) etc.

About the members of WWF

Women in WWF are involved in 165 different enterprises both in the urban and rural areas. The characteristics of occupation of these members vary with different cultural contexts (Table. 1).

List of Businesses of WWF members, as recorded on loan applications:

Vegetable vending , Rice Trader, Snack food maker, Sari/cut cloth trader, Waste paper shop, Meat shop owner, Fruit seller, Beedi roller, Junk shop owner, Junk smith, Biscuit maker, Scrap iron shop owner, Carpenter, Bead stringer, Footwear shop owner, Ready-made garment seller, Sari block printer, Wood box maker, Fish vendor, Goldsmith, Toothpowder maker, Stationery Shop, Mat Weaver, Cycle Shop Owner, Brush Maker, Mobile Ironer, Cardboard Maker, Incense maker, Groceries seller, Leaves Plates maker, Silk trader, "Idly"(Boiled grinded rice) shop, Gold thread garland, Pandal (Ornament) maker, Flower seller Sweet stall owner, Plastic flower maker, Wire bag maker, Snack shop owner, Tea stall owner, Tailor, Wood Utensil Maker, Pottery stall owner, Cart loader, toy maker, etc. …