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The Success Story Of This Tailor From Karnataka Shows Why No Skill Should Be Ignored

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By Lavanya Garg and Snigdha Shahi: 

Lakshmi Devi came from her village Somalapura, in Karnataka, to work in Bengaluru at the age of 18, as a tailor. Four years later, at 22, she is one of the youngest supervisors (employees that oversee the work of tailors on a production line) on the factory floor across all factory units of her employer, Shahi Exports Pvt. Ltd., overseeing the work of eighty tailors. She has undergone two periods of training at her workplace – P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement) training as a tailor and STITCH (Supervisors’ Transforming Into Change Holders) training as a supervisor.

P.A.C.E. is a soft skill training program designed by Gap Inc. that trains women in areas of time management, communication and financial literacy. Lakshmi believes that undergoing the P.A.C.E. training was a turning point in her life- she learned how to imbibe agency, communicate effectively, save money, budget smartly and make optimal use of her time.

I now feel like I could’ve saved some money during my 1st PUC (11th grade), given that my family had limited resources. I couldn’t even afford to study beyond 1st PUC so I had to take up a job. As an earning woman, I’m happy that I’m able to provide for my family- they are at least now eating well. My younger sister is even going to college!

P.A.C.E. did not just improve Lakshmi’s social outcomes but made her a better worker. Through randomized control trial, our team found that nine months after program completion, the net rate of return on the company’s investment in P.A.C.E. was 250%.

Currently, Lakshmi is undergoing the STITCH training, which is a soft skills training program for supervisors, that covers topics such as self-esteem, gender sensitivity, problem-solving, effective planning, and harassment at the workplace. STITCH was born out of GBL research that looked at ways in which managerial quality interacts with learning by doing within the firm. The study found that qualities such as vocation-specific experience, managerial autonomy, cognitive skills, personality (e.g., risk aversion, time preferences and psychometrics), and demographic relatability to workers significantly impact productivity on the factory floor. The modules were hence designed to address the qualities that were most deficient across all supervisors at 44 factory units of Shahi, to mitigate tensions between workers and supervisors (highly critical when over 80% of supervisors are male while over 80% tailors are female) and generate returns on investment for the firm.

Ever since Lakshmi has started attending the training, she has seen herself and her fellow supervisors change before her very eyes. She recalls a video shown to them during one of the training sessions- while carrying water to the car, an old man’s utensil breaks down and the water is spilt all over the ground; a couple of days later, he sees a plant growing in the side cracks, where the vessel broke, highlighting that the water isn’t wasted after all. For supervisors, it holds that no tailor is a waste of time and effort- they might not excel at one thing but that doesn’t mean they are of no use- they could excel at something else. Following this session, one of the supervisors near her line, who used to speak very rudely to the workers and would often lose his temper, started interacting with the workers in a friendlier manner. Her own line, which lacked discipline, now conducts two meetings every day to assess targets for the day, ties pieces into bundles and arranges stools before leaving – generally working in a more systematic manner than before. As per Lakshmi, attendance, as well as productivity, have improved in her line. While anecdotal evidence like this provides further motivation for the trial, we at the lab, are keen not to draw any conclusions till the final results from the trial have been analysed.

Our conversation with Lakshmi concludes with the next step of her plan at her workplace- “Well, there are no female Floor-In-Charges in my factory till now, so that’s what I want to be – and set an example for all the other girls!

While our experiment on P.A.C.E. and inspiring stories of women like Lakshmi highlight the importance of soft skills training in manufacturing environments, the current capacity for skilling workers even in core operations cannot meet the vast needs of an idle and under-skilled workforce in India. With the need of over 15 million people by 2022 just across basic skills in the textile sector, stories of hope and change like Lakshmi’s serve to reiterate that skilling the workforce, in soft skills along with vocation specific skills, is indeed the way forward for worker welfare, good businesses and economic growth.

This article is part of a three-part series that aims to highlight the Good Business Lab’s three focus areas – freeing up female labour force, improving job quality and skilling the workforce – by bringing to life the voice of young female garment workers, on the occasion of International Youth Day. By sharing the hardships, triumphs and everyday lives of young women in the garments sector, we wish to build a dialogue on #WorkerWelfareIsGoodBusiness.

The other two articles can be read here and here.

Lavanya Garg is a Research and Communications Manager at GBL, and Snigdha Shahi is a Research and Communications Associate at GBL.

You can find more stories like these on Good Business Lab’s annual magazine here

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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