Kudumbashree is the poverty eradication and women’s empowerment program implemented by the State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM) of the Government of Kerala. The name Kudumbashree in Malayalam means ‘prosperity of the family’. Kudumbashree is essentially a community network that covers the entire state of Kerala. It consists of a three-tier structure with Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs) as primary level units, Area Development Societies (ADS) at the ward level, and Community Development Societies (CDS) at the local government level.
Under the initiative and support of Kudumbashree, in 2016, a woman named Asha had initiated a Neighborhood Group (NHG) with 15 neighbours from my village (Kuravanthery , Alayamon Gramapanchayth , Anchal Block). They named their NHG ‘Thapasiya Kudumbashree Ayalkoottam’. And the group elected me as their secretary. This was Asha’s first journey in the community movement as a leader. After devoting one year, we started a ready-made cloth shop and a tailoring business with the help of a bank linkage worth Rs. 50,000. The group didn’t want to stop there. They group had a bigger dream and wanted to transform our villages. They took a keen a step to clean and reconstruct an ancient 2-km-long road from Kuravanthery to Madvoorkonam. In 2008, in the first election of Kudumbashree under bye-law, Asha was selected as a member of the Area Development Society (ADS). During that period, she got various opportunities to help poor people through different types of government schemes (Pensions Yojana, IAY, SGSY, etc.) and also to improve the health and hygiene of my village. Under the campaign, they had started working for chlorination of the whole village along with members of ADS. They conducted a health camp and orientation program on Cancer with the help of Anugrha Charitable society.
In 2009, their NHG got Rs 1,25,000 as a subsidy under SGSY scheme. At that time, Mrs. Sreekala – Micro Enterprises Consultant – visited the NHG shop as part of her training assignment. During the interaction she asked Asha to apply to the job of Micro Enterprises Consultant in Kudumbashree. She had called her seniors from Kudumbashree district mission and they suggested Asha to meet village extension officer of her Gram Panchayat. She met him and gave an application of her willingness to work as MEC (micro enterprises consultant) in Kudumbashree. VEO said to me that it may not be easy for her to become MEC as she has to pass through rigorous training and have to travel and stay without family. But her husband gave permission and supported her to attend the training and fulfill her dream. This training was the turning point of her life. The training made her realize that she was born to be a social worker and that wants to work for community development. And from there, she found a goal in her life to do something for her village and for her state with the support of Kudumbashree.
In 2010, she successfully completed MEC training. The Kudumbashree district mission assigned her the charges of two-gram panchayats. One was her own Gram Panchayat and the other was her neighbouring panchayat.
2011 onwards she became an Independent Micro Enterprise Consultant (MEC). In 2012, Kudumbashree mission gave her the permission to start her own MEC group. She and six of her friends started Micro Enterprises Consultant group named ARMS for entrepreneurs. She was elected as secretary of the group. The Kudumbashree District mission assigned 26 Panchayats under our MEC group. Asha got a lot of opportunities to provide training to entrepreneurs and engaged them in Micro-Enterprise development under Kudumbashree.
She organized the program of tribal micro enterprises development named (Unarv). She provided ME development training like General Orientation Training (GOT), Entrepreneurship Development Program (EDP), soft-skills training and start up support to the tribal colonies of Kulathupuzha, Ariyankavu and Chithara GP. She supported 6 tribal women under AdugramSmagra project with the help of Indian Bank Kulathupuzha. Apart from that, they have worked in 11 Sbamagra projects under Kudumbashree in Priavanthoor, Kulathupuzha, Ummannor, Vettikavala, Chithara, Perayam,Punalur and Kollam municipalities. She supported over 500 women to set up their livelihood under Kudumbashree ME development scheme.
In October 2014, She got a chance to work as a mentor in the Micro-Enterprise Consultant Project of Kudumbashree National Resource Organization (KS NRO). KS-NRO selects and assigns resource persons with experience of working with Kudumbashree in Kerala as mentors in partner-states. The mentors provide day-to-day hand holding support to local communities and partner-SRLMs for the implementation of the project. Asha had been appointed as a mentor in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra. Her roles and responsibility were to guide the community cadre and Micro-enterprises consultant (MEC) selected by Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission (Umed). In Osmanabad district, she has supported 47 Micro Enterprises Consultants (MEC) in their capacity building process and implementation of ME-development at field level. Initial days of her journey in Maharashtra was challenging for her. The community people with whom she needed to work know no language other than Marathi. Hailing from a Malayalam speaking state, it was tough for her to pick up Marathi and Hindi within a short span of time. Most of the MECs speak in Hindi but the SHG women speak in local Marathi. After six months, she started to learn Marathi. It helped her in support at the village level with many cadres (MECs).
In Osmanaabad, she supported MECs to identify business opportunities, business plan preparation, organize weekly markets and festival markets. From her previous experience of Kudumbashree, she introduced a goat-selling market (buying and selling of goat for a fixed price of kilograms) in villages of Osmanabad. The whole beneficiaries of the market are the village women who are the members of NRLM community organization. The objective of the goat market was to avoid the middlemen commission in buying and selling of goats and to help the SHG members to increase their confidence in the organized market.
In March 2015, she supported many cadres to open the weekly market at Mangrul Village, Thuljapur block. It was an ancient market, it had shut down 20 years ago. She had motivated her cadre and SHG women to re-start Mangrul market with the help of Sarpanch. They had successfully started Mangrul market in March with 75 entrepreneurs selling different products. The turnover of the first week was above Rs 1,16,000. In her 47 micro entrepreneurs consultants (MECs) supported above 2,000 SHG women to develop their livelihood activities all over Osmanabad district. In Osmanabad district the MEC supported above 5,000 enterprises under SHG members.
In her three years’ mentor experience in Maharashtra, Asha spent her time to learn about innovate projects like the by-products of soyabean, making rangoli colours, lemon syrup, etc. This is a wonderful and inspiring journey of Asha Rajendra hailing from Kollam district of Kerala, who is a role model for the grassroots people of Kerala, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
“I am the passionate social worker who has been working for community development from the last 8 years. I am speaking on behalf of all the community leaders who have been working in the field like me and are never being recognized and never been appreciated at the national platform. We, the people who work with the community with selfless motives, have never been exposed to any learning exposure and never got the opportunity to showcase our talents and skills to the outer world.” – Asha Rajendran.
I am a community leader who has been working for the marginalized community, underprivileged people, illiterate youth, etc. for the last eight years. I always feel proud of myself for the effort which I am putting in for these people. I see myself as an empowered and dignified woman when I see myself in front of the mirror. “Their strength is my strength”- the line which I always keep on remembering and repeating in mind. Since the last 8 years, I have been representing a group of people who are marginalized, who are underprivileged, women who have been dominated by their husbands, women who are in need for basic livelihood, etc. For them, I am a grassroots hero who has been motivating and supporting them in various ways.
Currently, I am working in the remote villages of Palamu district of Jharkhand. People from outside usually avoid coming to this place as it’s a Naxal affected area. But, this simple reason couldn’t stop me from coming here and staying with the community. Now, being part of Kudumbashree NRO, I am trying to improve the livelihood of SHG women who are from the marginalized community, widows, illiterate, those who have been neglected by government etc. Every day visit the village and listen to their problem is the daily activity of life in Jharkhand. There are nearly 50 women whom I have met from the Palamu district of Jharkhand who is having excellent skills in preparing various daily use products from bamboo and waste paper & clothes.
My next journey is to mobilize all these women who have never been recognized by others and upgrade their skills by providing professional support. Jharkhand is one of the major diversity canters of bamboo species but it has never been explored. My focused interventions would be promoting cultivation of bamboo, the creation of new design of innovative products in the handicrafts sector along with appropriate skill development, promotion of bamboo-based modern industries supported by technology adaptation and development. It is expected that these measures will help create greater employment opportunities in the villages especially among women, and improve the living standard of rural people. In order to achieve this goal, this award would be a really great help for me as well as for the people for whom I am working.”