Will women apply for jobs, or will they remain housewives and always dependent? Neither; if Udyogvardhini of Solapur has its way. This is an NGO that helps and trains women to become entrepreneurs through self-help groups. It is the brainchild of Chandrika Chauhan, an award-winning entrepreneur, politician and an amazing success story in her personal life.
Chandrika was born and brought up in Ahmedabad in a family that was almost illiterate. She moved to Solapur after marriage to Shambhu Singh Chouhan, who has dedicated his life for various nationalist voluntary organisations. Ms Chauhan, known as ‘bhabhiji’ to those who work with her, had to become the bread-winner of her family due to her husband’s frail health. For several years, she worked with a consumer forum and the Jankalyan Samiti. Soon she began to take up tailoring work and catering contracts with the help of women in her neighbourhood. This not only helped turn her into an entrepreneur, but also exposed her to the problems and hardships that women from lower-income groups faced in their domestic lives. Over time, she built a larger network and also helped women become entrepreneurs in their own right.
The network that she built up, and the people she helped through her work, helped her enter politics. She was elected as a corporator and served the Solapur Municipal Corporation for two terms.
In 2006, she gave her work a formal profile by starting Udyogvardhini initially aimed at making rural women independent. Catering is an important part of its activities and core strength. The organisation is famous for its ‘kadak bhakari’ which it has managed to market as a packed local speciality from Solapur. It also made a name for itself for being able to deliver large food orders (hygienically cooked and well-packed) or chapatis (unleavened bread). On one occasion, it produced a massive 100,000 chapatis for a mass wedding organised by the Lokmangal Foundation.
Under Ms Chauhan’s leadership, Udyogvardhini quickly expanded its activities to a range of activities including stitching, making cotton handbags, files, purses, shopping bags, etc; running beautician’s courses. Women are encouraged to explore business opportunities and trained in all these activities. The focus on women’s empowerment includes running adult literacy programmes and even teaching women to ride two-wheelers to become independent. In fact, women who are capable of turning entrepreneurs are specifically trained in activities such as buying raw materials, marketing, billing, taking orders, supplying finished products and even filing tax returns.
Helping the old and needy through its old-age home and providing food to the destitute is also a part of its social activities. In an interesting experiment, it offered shelter to visually challenged girls and trained them to be self-sufficient. These girls were accommodated at the old-age home; many of them are now married and have moved away. Udyogvardhini aspires to set up a proper training centre to provide job-oriented training and also train self-help groups. It also plans to expand its old-age home and to set up an orphanage.
Asked about the challenges that the organisation faces, Ms Chauhan’s team says, “Solapur is a labour-dominated town and the per capita income is low,” consequently, raising funds and getting donations from people is one of the biggest challenges. It has to find donors from large cities and attracting their attention to its work is no easy task. Due to lack of funds, Udyogvardhini is not able to employ trained staff, as salary is the main concern. But the NGO and its founder have seen innumerable awards and honours come their way and got support from the local government for its work.
Readers who wish to donate to Udyogvardhini will get tax benefits under Section 80-G of the Income-tax Act.
157, South Kasaba,
Dutt Chowk, Solapur 413007
Mobile: 09370066670, 9422069455