From the Desk of Guest Editor

Karon Shaiva
Chief Impact Officer & MD, Idobro Impact Solutions; Managing Trustee, RISE Infinity Foundation

Gender Parity: Facts, Figures, and Fast-track Actions!

Women hold up half the sky, as the Chinese proverb tells us. Yet over 70% of the world’s population living in poverty are women. The disproportionate number of women or girls in any statistic you choose tells you that the world is failing the gender parity test.

The special edition of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals Report 2023: Towards a Rescue Plan for People and Planet reminds us that there is still much work to be done, especially for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 – Gender Equality. The annual report points out that with only seven years remaining to accomplish the SDGs, a mere 15.4 per cent of SDG 5 indicators with data are “on track”, 61.5 per cent are at a moderate distance, and 23.1 per cent are far or very far off track from 2030 targets.

Gender equality is also one of the three cross-cutting goals, which means it intersects with most of the other SDGs. Hence, progress on SDG 5 would result in gains in the overall Agenda 2030. The report’s Rescue Plan includes political leadership, investments, and comprehensive policy reforms, which are needed to dismantle systemic barriers to achieving the goal. The UN report insists that gender equality must be a key focus of national policies, budgets, and institutions.

At Idobro, we started the RISE World Summit as a platform to democratise opportunities and partnerships for a #BetterWorld and a #GreenerPlanet. The one-of-a-kind co-created and co-located convening of thought leaders, experts and learners aims at influencing action and outcomes for the SDGs. I also applaud the initiatives from The Bridge India E-Magazine in mitigating SDG 5 along with different SDGs. The magazine is dedicated to creating awareness through its content and panel discussions, where all stakeholders are brought under one roof. The flagship programme of the Bridge India Group, SDG Quiz – Kaun Banega Social Sector Champion draws participants from different NGOs and corporates and help everyone contribute their bit.

The current issue of the magazine carries interesting features on various social developments. It has an interview with Dr Khushal Yadav, District Collector and Magistrate, Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan who shares his thoughts on woman empowerment in his district. In another interview, SDG educator Ritu Malhotra underlines that all the SDGs are related and cannot be accomplished without education among people. The magazine also brings to its readers the latest happenings in the development sector from the length and breadth of the country.

Happy reading!

Committed to Women’s Holistic Growth for Progress

Dr Khushal Yadav, a dynamic young bureaucrat serving as the District Collector and Magistrate of Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, is a catalyst for change. Under his leadership, the district has launched a series of innovative initiatives aimed at bolstering women’s health and improving their access to healthcare services. Beyond simply implementing state government programmes such as the Shakti Udaan Yojana and Palanhar Yojana, Dr Yadav’s administration is also harnessing the potential of key Union Government schemes like Ayushman Bharat to ensure that women receive the healthcare they deserve. In a recent interview with Editor-in Chief, Seema Jairath The Bridge India E-magazine, Dr Yadav shared insights into the government’s vision for promoting women’s inclusion, empowerment, and representation in governance.Excerpts:

TBI: What specific initiatives has Sawai Madhopur implemented to improve women’s health and well-being?

Dr KY: Sawai Madhopur has spearheaded a range of initiatives to bolster women’s health and enhance their access to healthcare services. These include flagship programmes such as the Shakti Udaan Yojana and Palanhar Yojana, which not only empower women economically, but also ensure the welfare of children. By leveraging Ayushman Bharat, the district extends quality healthcare services to women and families. Additionally, awareness campaigns have been launched to educate women about their rights, while regular inspections of healthcare facilities aim to enhance childcare and maternity services.

TBI: How does Sawai Madhopur ensure equal participation of women in decision-making processes?

Dr KY: The district places a strong emphasis on awareness campaigns such as SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation), which seek to promote women’s voting rights and inclusivity in elections. Moreover, the implementation of one-third reservation for women in local governance bodies guarantees their representation. Through engagement with educational institutions, efforts are made to encourage women’s education, thus empowering them for decision-making roles.

TBI: What measures are in place to monitor and evaluate the impact of gender equality initiatives?

Dr KY: Regular meetings with District Level Officers are convened to review progress, while health initiatives undergo monthly stock assessments. Utilising data-driven approaches and engaging stakeholders facilitate impact assessments, thereby informing decision-making for sustained progress.

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TBI: Are there programmes to combat gender-based violence and ensure women’s safety?

Dr KY: Initiatives such as the Abhay Command Center and women helpline (1090) have been established to enhance responses to violence against women. Community engagement, compassionate policing, and CCTV surveillance all contribute to creating a safer environment.

TBI: How does Sawai Madhopur promote financial inclusion and economic empowerment for women?

Dr KY: The district actively engages with banks, facilitates self-help groups, and promotes digital literacy and entrepreneurship among women. Various schemes and initiatives such as Jan Dhan Yojana and MNREGA are employed to bolster financial inclusion and create employment opportunities.

TBI: Can you share details about skill development initiatives for women and how they address gender disparities in employment?

Dr KY: Tailored training programmes under schemes like Rajeevika and skill development centres provide women with vocational training and digital literacy, thereby bridging the gender gap in employment and fostering inclusive economic growth.

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Towards a Fairer World, with SDG Education

Ritu Malhotra is the co-founder of ARC, an educational social impact start-up providing print and digital teaching-learning solutions for integrating the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), climate education and global citizenship in school curriculum. Her Gurugram-based enterprise offers solutions such as student books on SDGs for nursery to eighth grade, workshops for teachers to help them integrate climate education and education for sustainable development in their classrooms, projects and activities for students outside of classroom to take learning to the next level, sustainable products, games based on sustainability, social entrepreneurship course (video based) of sixth to ninth grades, Sustainability Experience Center, and programs like Destination Portugal to explore sustainability beyond the school environment. In an exclusive interview with Seema Jairath, the Editor-in-Chief of The Bridge India, E-Magazine, Malhotra shares her journey from an editor and educator to a social entrepreneur.

TBI: The concept of SDGs in schools is very innovative. How did you conceive the idea of teaching UN SDGs in school?

RM: I was teaching middle school students at a private school in 2018 when I started feeling we are not doing enough in schools to prepare children for the challenges of tomorrow. Franklin Roosevelt’s words – “We cannot always prepare a future for our children, but we can always prepare our children for the future” – resonate deeply with me. I learnt about the UN SDGs and felt it could be a wonderful framework to prepare children for the real world. I created some worksheets and tested the content on my students. I was very pleased to see the engagement levels of my students and had the compelling desire to not restrict this learning to one classroom. I decided to launch a series of books for school children on the SDGs, and that is how ARC was born.

TBI: Please elaborate on ARC’s initiatives aligned with the UN SDGs and highlight some notable achievements to date.

RM: ARC has been relentlessly working on integrating the SDGs in school curriculum since 2018. We have undertaken several initiatives to date. To name a few, we have 10 books for students (pre-primary and first to eighth grades), teacher manuals, educator workshops, video-based online courses, and waste management programmes. We also host Global Sustainability Awards every year, where we recognise and reward efforts by schools, educators, students, NGOs and start-ups towards sustainability. I was invited by International Sustainability Academy (ISA) Germany for a nine-month fellowship programme in Germany in recognition of our work with schools. I was also awarded the prestigious Sarojini Naidu Award for Women Entrepreneurs in 2022. In addition to schools in India, we are working with schools in Portugal, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the UAE, and Brazil.

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TBI: Despite a modest improvement in India’s rank in the Global Gender Gap Report 2023, the country still lags far behind its neighbours in terms of gender equality. What systemic barriers do you believe hinder the progress of providing equal rights and opportunities to women in India?

RM: The progress of its women is essential for the progress of the country, and education is the key to that. As the famous saying goes: If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate an entire nation. It is important to empower women to break the cycle of poverty, to provide them nutrition and education, to give them sanitation facilities at home and at school – then only we can prepare them for equal job opportunities. The government and many NGOs are already working towards providing these opportunities. We all have to work towards breaking the gender stereotypes in order to accelerate these efforts. SDG education is an important aspect of women empowerment. All the SDGs are related. When you talk about providing equal opportunities to women and girls (SDG 5), you cannot achieve that without addressing poverty (SDG 1), hunger (SDG 2), good health and well-being (SDG 3), education (SDG 4), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), economic growth (SDG 8), climate change (SDG 13) and strong institutions (SDG 16). At ARC, we are doing our bit through SDG education. Similarly, all organisations, government bodies and individuals should contribute to this cause at different levels.

TBI: In spite of the fact that all corporates and NGOs work on different SDGs, India still lags behind in the areas the goals address. How can collaborative efforts help India to improve its SDG ranking?

RM: As a world, we are facing many challenges: war, pollution, hunger, corruption, disease, climate change. However, the biggest threat to the world is our belief that someone else will save the planet. It is not solely the responsibility of governments and NGOs to solve the world’s problems; collective action is crucial for progress on the SDGs. In my opinion, this is the biggest reason for our poor SDG ranking. This mindset has to change, and it can only be achieved through education and sensitisation. SDG education should be made mandatory in schools and SDG campaigns should be run in communities to raise awareness and action. The day we realise the importance of individual action, our SDG ranking will improve. We must understand that every small action matters, and when 8 billion follow this principle, the world is set to change.

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Driving Gender Equality: Impactful Initiatives by Indian corporates

From boardrooms to grassroots, laudable initiatives by the India Inc. signify a shift towards a more equitable and progressive society.
By Karan Bhardwaj

In India, the pursuit of gender equality remains an ongoing challenge, with women facing barriers in accessing opportunities and resources across various domains. Recent reports highlight the country’s ranking 127th out of 146 nations in the Gender Gap Report 2023, underscoring the urgency of addressing gender disparities. However, amidst these challenges, Indian corporates are leading the charge in driving progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Gender Equality. We explore the unique initiatives of three influential corporates – Asian Development Bank (ADB), Birlasoft, and Hindustan Unilever (HUL) – in promoting gender equality and empowering women across India and beyond.
In this evolving narrative, a few Indian NGOs take center stage. Their stories are not just individual sagas but emblematic of a broader shift in the paradigm of social financing.

HUL: Fostering Economic Independence via Project Shakti

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) is stepping up its efforts to address the concerning decline in women’s participation in the labour force in India. Project Shakti emerges as a crucial intervention in empowering rural women amidst this challenging scenario. Introduced in 2001, the Project aims to empower rural women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Focussed on small communities with a population of no more than 2,000, the initiative operates through Self-Help Groups (SHGs), striving to elevate living standards in rural India. At the heart of this project are the Shakti Ammas, women entrepreneurs who receive training in distribution management and product familiarisation. These women are mentored by HUL’s team of Rural Sales Promoters (RSPs), and are equipped with essential skills in sales, problem-solving, communication, and negotiation.
Empowered with product training, Shakti Ammas procure supplies at discounted rates from the company’s rural distributor and distribute them to village stores and consumers directly. This entrepreneurial model not only ensures financial independence but also enhances the sense of empowerment among rural women.
This programme has made significant strides, with nearly 120,000 female micro-entrepreneurs across 18 states. Over the past four years, the network has doubled in size, now reaching half of the villages in rural India. The initiative has uplifted the living standards of participating families, with a typical Shakti Amma earning a sustainable income of approximately $14 per month, doubling their household income.
Looking ahead, HUL plans to expand the Shakti network by adding up to 25,000 Shakti Ammas every two years. The company is leveraging technology to enhance the efficiency of the initiative, with initiatives such as providing access to smartphones and direct commission payments to Shakti Ammas’ accounts.
The success of Project Shakti underscores the transformative potential of empowering women in rural India. By investing in initiatives like Project Shakti, businesses can play a pivotal role in advancing gender equality and socio-economic development.

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Birlasoft: Pioneering Empowerment in Rural India

Birlasoft has rolled out a series of impactful programmes aimed at advancing gender equality and supporting women’s empowerment. These initiatives span across education, skill development, and healthcare, with a particular emphasis on uplifting women from marginalised backgrounds.
One cornerstone initiative is Project Disha, designed to empower underprivileged meritorious girls by providing financial support for bachelor’s degrees after schooling. Additionally, the programme offers soft skills training and exposure visits to enhance the scholars’ capabilities. To date, around 90 scholars have graduated with support, while over 360 girls have benefited from exposure visits and mentorship.
Another noteworthy endeavour is the e-Vidya programme, targeting final year graduates and unemployed women from underserved communities. Over 170 women have received training in courses like Data Analytics, Java full stack, and Python, enhancing their employability prospects. So far, the initiative has reached over 2,200 underprivileged girls and women, providing avenues for economic empowerment.
Birlasoft’s commitment to promoting women’s health is exemplified through its Cervical Cancer Awareness Campaign. This campaign addresses the pressing public health issue of cervical cancer among Indian women by focusing on increasing screening through capacity building and targeted campaigns. Over 23,000 women have been screened, with more than 1,000 receiving pre-cancer treatment. Additionally, over 350 Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers have been trained on cervical cancer screening and prevention.
At the heart of these efforts lies a profound belief in fostering diversity and inclusivity. The company aims to cultivate a culture based on care, consideration, collaboration, and coexistence, where individuals collaborate while demonstrating consideration for diverse working styles and care for special needs.

Asian Development Bank (ADB): Catalysing Change across Asia-Pacific

ADB’s dedication to eliminating gender-related disparities resonates with the core principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is evident that their approach extends beyond mere lip service, embedding gender-related targets and indicators across the spectrum of its projects and initiatives.
Economic empowerment stands as a linchpin for gender parity. Recognising the multifaceted challenges hindering women’s integration into the global economy, the Bank channels its efforts into initiatives aimed at leveling the playing field. From tackling the gender wage gap to bolstering women’s entrepreneurship and STEM education for girls, ADB’s projects prioritise dismantling barriers that stifle women’s economic potential.
In the realm of climate action, there’s a transformative approach that recognises the intertwined nature of gender and environmental vulnerability. ADB spearheads initiatives to promote gender-responsive climate finance and amplify women’s participation in the renewable energy sector.
Urban development initiatives prioritise inclusivity, ensuring that women’s voices are not only heard but actively shape the urban landscape. The goal is to enhance access to essential resources and foster safer, more accessible urban environments for women. While in rural landscapes where poverty and food insecurity loom large, ADB’s interventions seek to empower women as key agents of change. Women are integrated into decision-making processes concerning food security which amplify their role in agricultural value chains.
In the mosaic of India’s corporate landscape, the hues of gender equality are becoming increasingly vibrant, as Indian corporates emerge as champions of change. Their efforts are perceived as a hope in the journey towards a more inclusive and equitable society. As we look to the future, let us draw inspiration from their initiatives and work together to build a world where gender equality is not just a goal but a lived reality for all.

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Transforming Societies: NGOs Leading the Path for Gender Equality in India

Through collaborative efforts, innovative interventions, and a steadfast commitment to empowering women, NGOs are leading the charge towards a more equitable and inclusive society for all.
By Karan Bhardwaj

In India, where the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) of gender equality is a pressing imperative, NGOs are at the forefront of transformative initiatives that uplift women, challenge societal norms, and foster inclusive development. We delve into the pioneering initiatives of three such NGOs — ActionAid Association, Spectra, and the SM Sehgal Foundation — and their transformative impact on women’s lives and societal progress.
While giving away the Awards, Rajesh Aggarwal, Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), Government of India complimented the awardees for doing incredible work in promoting the accessibility and supporting the role of assistive technology for creating a conducive ecosystem for persons with disability.

ActionAid Association: Empowering women entrepreneurs for lasting change

ActionAid Association (AAA) has emerged as a vanguard in the battle for gender equality, deploying innovative strategies to empower women entrepreneurs within marginalised communities across India. AAA aims to recognise economic empowerment as a potent tool for challenging systemic inequalities and fostering social change.
Through conscientisation sessions and capacity-building workshops, the NGO fosters solidarity among women within marginalised communities, equipping them with the skills and resources to embark on entrepreneurial ventures tailored to their needs. From dairy farming in Jitpur village to paithani sari weaving in Shirdi, from incense making in Lucknow to boutique setups in Kashmir, AAA’s interventions empower women to generate income, build social capital, and reclaim agency over their lives. Central to AAA’s mission is the promotion of sustainable agriculture and livelihoods, with women farmers emerging as frontline champions in environmental conservation. By adopting agroecological practices and participating in community-based initiatives for natural resource management, women mitigate the adverse effects of conventional agriculture, safeguarding soil health, water resources, and biodiversity.
Moreover, AAA’s commitment to skill development extends across generations, from basic literacy and vocational training for young women to job-specific and advanced business training for working-age women. In Bihar’s Nalanda district, for instance, the NGO provided training in operating non-electric-based cold storage facilities, enabling women to preserve agricultural produce and mitigate post-harvest losses, thereby contributing to food security and income generation in their communities.
The Beti Zindabad campaign, for instance, focuses on addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls, challenging harmful social norms and practices. By providing survivors with legal aid, counseling, and medical assistance, AAA ensures access to justice and redressal mechanisms, enabling women to reclaim their rights and rebuild their lives free from violence and discrimination.

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Spectra: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs for Societal Transformation

Spectra, another stalwart in the fight for gender equality, is committed to reshaping societies from the ground up by empowering women entrepreneurs. Through innovative initiatives that transcend traditional boundaries, Spectra is driving societal transformation and fostering inclusive development across India.
The NGO is dedicated to fostering economic and social independence among rural women in India through the establishment of savings and credit-based women’s institutions. These institutions serve as platforms for women to share experiences, participate in decision-making, and address issues relevant to their lives. There’s a focus on promoting community-based organisations that empower women. These institutions are instrumental in reshaping power dynamics within families and communities, enabling women to assert their rights and enhance their control over resources. Spectra’s three-tier institutional architecture, comprising Self-Help Groups (SHGs), Clusters, and Federations or Manch, forms the foundation for various programmes aimed at financial inclusion, livelihood enhancement, girls’ empowerment, and rights advocacy.
Through the establishment of federations such as Udaan and Parvaj, registered as Trusts, Spectra provides autonomous platforms for women to consolidate their efforts and amplify their impact. These federations operate with a degree of independence, supported by the NGO’s guidance and mentorship, empowering women to drive positive change in their communities.
Moreover, their commitment to digital literacy and legal awareness ensures that women have the tools to navigate today’s digital landscape and exercise their rights effectively. Through workshops, seminars, and training sessions focussed on legal rights, Spectra empowers women to realise their rights and responsibilities under the law, fostering a culture of justice and equity.
Spectra’s holistic approach to empowering women entrepreneurs embodies the spirit of inclusive development, one that recognises the transformative power of economic empowerment, skill development, digital literacy, and legal advocacy in driving societal transformation.

S M Sehgal Foundation: Championing Gender Equality in Rural India

Established in 1999, the S M Sehgal Foundation stands as a beacon of hope for rural women in India, championing initiatives that uphold human dignity, protect the environment, and advocate for social justice. Through innovative programmes like Community Radio Alfaz-e-Mewat and e-Poshan Kendras, the foundation is fostering gender equality and empowering women across rural landscapes.
Community Radio Alfaz-e-Mewat serves as a powerful platform for advancing gender equality in rural areas, disseminating crucial information and fostering dialogue on women’s health, education, and livelihoods. Featuring interviews with successful women entrepreneurs and community leaders, alongside local folk songs celebrating rural women’s achievements, the radio programme has garnered praise for amplifying women’s voices and providing a space for their concerns and experiences to be heard. Through initiatives like e-Poshan Kendras, the foundation promotes healthy eating habits and lifestyle changes, addressing the pervasive issue of malnutrition while enhancing community health and well-being. Offering nutrition counseling, cooking classes, and community gardening, alongside a digital platform for information dissemination, these centers empower individuals to make informed choices about their health and nutrition.
The Foundation’s initiatives are not just about fostering gender equality; they are about empowering women and communities, paving the way for a brighter, more equitable future for all.
Innovative Collaborations and Collective Action: A Path Forward
As we reflect on the transformative impact of NGOs in fostering gender equality in India, it becomes evident that innovative collaborations and collective action are essential for driving sustained progress. By leveraging partnerships with government agencies, corporate entities, and civil society organisations, NGOs can amplify their reach, scale their interventions, and maximize their impact on women’s lives and societal progress.
Furthermore, investing in grassroots initiatives and community-led development projects empowers women as agents of change, ensuring that interventions are contextually relevant, culturally sensitive, and sustainable in the long run. By prioritising the voices and priorities of marginalised women, NGOs can foster inclusive development processes that leave no one behind, advancing the principles of gender equality and social justice at the grassroots level.

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Social Sector Movement

In recent times, Yasmin Riaz has made a notable move in her career trajectory. Formerly serving as the Director of Resource Mobilization at Save the Children, she has now assumed the esteemed position of Head of Development at British Asian Trust. In this new role, she plays a pivotal part in fostering strategic partnerships and driving fundraising efforts. With her extensive experience and dedication to catalyzing positive change, she is poised to make significant contributions to the British Asian Trust’s developmental endeavors.

Development Happenings

American India Foundaton to Breaking Barriers, Building Futures: Empowering Women Across Rural India

In India, women from rural and marginalized communities face profound challenges including societal prejudices and economic barriers that limit their personal and financial independence. The lack of profitable marketplaces further impedes their ability to overcome poverty. Addressing these issues, the American India Foundation Trust (AIFT) in collaboration with the National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation (NBCFDC) under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, has launched the Skilling and Livelihoods Enhancement project to foster empowerment and economic independence among these women.

Sparking Culinary Magic: Kitchen Champion Season 12

The Kitchen Champion Season 12 – 2024 organised by Rich and Nutrition Khana Khazana cookery contest recently showcased the culinary talents of home chefs across 12 cities. Under the guidance of Ms. Sarita Khurana, Nutritionist, food writer & cookery expert, Chef Sunil Soni, and Hotelier Sushil Joshi, participants presented an eclectic range of dishes, from traditional favorites like Dal Baati Churma to innovative creations like vegetable-infused Firni. The event, held at the elegant Wedding Opera venue in Delhi and powered by Borges Olive Oil Company from Spain, not only recognized winners with trophies but also celebrated the collective passion and dedication of all contestants.” The competition, buzzing with excitement, saw judges sampling each dish with meticulous attention, evaluating both taste and presentation. Winners Kusum Lata,1st Runner up Archana Dave, 2nd Runner up Smriti Rana were announced amidst applause, yet every participant received acknowledgment, fostering a spirit of camaraderie and encouragement within the culinary community. Through events like Kitchen Champion Season 12, the art of cooking is not just about competition but also about sharing knowledge, inspiring creativity, and building lasting connections among food enthusiasts.

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