Pune-based organisation Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) is one of the 13 winners of the 2016 UNFCCC Momentum for Change Award for its work on Rural Community Women Leaders Combating Climate Change. Momentum for Change is an initiative spearheaded by the UN Climate Change secretariat to recognise innovative and transformative solutions that address both climate change and wider economic, social and environmental challenges. Under SSP’s award-winning initiative, rural women are involved as entrepreneurs in propagating clean, green practices in sustainable agriculture, protecting natural resources and adopting renewable energy solutions.
Prema Gopalan, executive director and founder of SSP, said, “In the year 2005-06, recognising the need for clean cooking and drudgery reducing options for rural women, SSP — in association with Bharat Petroleum — created a clean fuel cooking stove and a grassroot business model built on the strength of the existing women’s SHG network. As a result, month-on-month sales of over 20 tonnes of biomass pellets resulted in smokeless kitchen for over 70,000 households.”
SSP preliminary operates across 14 districts across four states in India, Maharashtra, Bihar, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. In October 2012, the programme on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Clean Energy (wPOWER) was awarded to SSP by United States Agency for International Development. The programme aimed at empowering women by engaging in economic opportunities related to better access to clean energy. During the programme, SSP trained and launched 1,010 clean energy entrepreneurs, also known as Urja Sakhis, and reaching out to over one million people through clean energy awareness activities across Maharashtra and Bihar. Out of these 1,010 Sakhis, 841 are from Maharashtra who are currently doing their clean energy businesses across six districts — Nanded, Solapur, Ahmednagar, Washim, Osmanabad and Latur. The award-winning project completed in March 2016.
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SSP, says Gopalan, is also focused on furthering the capacity of these women entrepreneurs as leaders by creating a cadre of “Super Sakhis” and incentivising them to create a peer learning network and mentor Sakhis. “SSP is now working on training women leaders in their community who are further training other women at the cluster level. Currently, more than 200 women are a part of the women leader network, working on various other social initiatives in their community,” she added.
So what kind of training was given to the participants? Women were given training on a 10-day module designed especially for this program. It included a crash course on entrepreneurship, renewable energy and climate change and clean energy products. This training were followed by quarterly refresher training which included training on both repair and maintenance, said Gopalan.
Talking about the response and success rate fetched by the project in Maharashtra, Gopalan said, “The success of wPOWER has reaffirmed our faith in the potential of women. We implemented this program in Maharashtra and Bihar and based on the outcomes of this project, we are implementing the similar model in Bihar again in Gaya and Nalanda and the response has again been overwhelming. Our Sakhis now tell us that earlier people in their own village did not know their name and now they are known in several surrounding villages as the Urja Sakhi and this has been uniform in all the districts across Maharashtra and Bihar. So far, the success rate of retention of women entrepreneurs in clean energy business is 90 per cent.”