SEWA is an organisation that has been helping women by providing them small loans, and teaching them how to read since 1972. The loans provided to women helped them build their business and help their families.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Saturday took to Instagram to share the inspiring story of SEWA founder Ela Bhatt. SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association) is an organisation that has been helping women by providing them small loans, and teaching them how to read since 1972. The loans provided to women helped them build their business and help their families.
The organisation, that is headquartered in Ahmedabad, was running with 140,000 members in 1995 and had given loans to many helpless women from some of the poorest and education-deprived areas of the country. Many of them lived behind ‘purdah’ till their husbands passed away, she wrote in the post.
In 2009, when Hillary visited one the retail shop located in Mumbai, the organisation had grown to nearly a million members. When the former first lady of US again reconnected with the organisation again this year, it had just crossed the two million mark.
Terming the modus operandi of SEWA as ‘microloans’, Hillary said, Ela and her thoughts were ‘ahead of their time’. She also recalled how thousands of women wearing colourful sarees were recalling how the organisation empowered them and changed their lives, and at the end of it all, sang ‘We shall overcome’ in Gujarati.
In the Instagram post, Clinton upheld Ela Bhatt’s inspiring work, saying it is “fundamentally about fairness”, as it has been giving shape and helping women achieve their dreams for 46 years now; and the women who have been fighting for their dreams with the help from Ela’s SEWA.
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Back in 1995, I met a woman named Ela Bhatt in India who was already 20 years in to a revolutionary experiment. In 1972, she started an organization to give women small loans that could help them find fulfillment in their work and contribute to their family’s well-being. It was called the Self-Employed Women’s Association, or SEWA. On my first visit to their headquarters in Ahmedabad in 1995, SEWA’s 140,000 members included some of the poorest women in India with the least access to education. Some had lived in purdah until their husbands died, became disabled, or left. Many had struggled day to day to support their families. SEWA offered the women small loans to enable them to earn their own income, taught them how to read, and gave them lessons in running small shops and businesses. We now think of this model as “microloans.” Ela and SEWA have always been ahead of their time. On that first visit, I’ll never forget the sight of thousands of women in every color of sari sharing how SEWA had changed their lives by giving them freedom and opportunity. When we finished talking, the women sang “We Shall Overcome” in Gujarati. Ela and I stayed in touch, and I’ve had the chance to see the organization and its impact grow even larger over the years. When I visited SEWA’s new retail shop in Mumbai in 2009, the organization had just over a million members. On a trip to India this week, I had the chance to visit Ela and the women of SEWA in the same place I first visited 23 years ago. Now they’re two million members strong and there are two or three generations of SEWA women, all of whom are working to improve not only their own lives but also to lift up their families, their communities, and their country. Once again, when we finished talking, the women sang “We Shall Overcome.” Ela’s work is fundamentally about fairness. Every person should have the chance to achieve his or her dreams and make the most of their God-given potential—no matter how rich or poor and no matter whether they work in a factory or a home or on the side of a road. I’m so inspired by these women and I can’t wait to see all they continue to overcome and achieve.