April 2, 2011
School of Business, Coimbatore
“Among all the challenges facing humankind in the 21st century, few are more pressing than climate change and global warming,” shared Sonia Gandhi at the 14th annual Commonwealth Lecture in London.
Gandhi’s lecture titled, Women as Agents of Change, emphasized how the maternal instinct of women and their inherent empathy for nature can play a crucial role in finding solutions to the climate crisis.
However, Gandhi also remarked that this is difficult when women have limited opportunities to voice their concerns and contribute their perspectives in climate negotiations and management plans.
In order for women to lead the way in environmental protection advocacy, women first need to be able to protect themselves, she intimated.
When a woman can ensure her own livelihood, she can protect herself, her family and the environment, suggested Gandhi.
Citing that India is home to nearly five million Self-Help Groups (SHGs), she explained that poor women receive financial aid and training from these Micro-Finance Institutions.
SHGs are comprised of groups of 12-20 women who join together to generate income through empowering self-employment activities.
SHGs uplift women by renewing their strength, self-confidence and self-expression.
Aligned with current social welfare themes, R. Ravi Mohan, R. Anitha and Madhusudanan S., under the guidance of Assistant Professor M. Nagalingam, from the Department of Social Work at Coimbatore conducted an SHG study.
These first-year students of Masters in Social Work sought to identify factors that cause SHGs to fail.
The study revealed problems such as inadequate knowledge of market facilities, poor training in vocational skills and absence of financial discipline.
Five SHGs were studied, with an emphasis on Harijan colonies of Ettimadai town Panchayat.
In one case study the marketed product, soap, did not sell. Lack of market knowledge, improper business model and insufficient training were determined to be the causes for failure.
Yet, in another case study, when expert training was available, participants were not interested.
Notably, in all five cases, the loaned money intended for business entrepreneurship, was instead applied to family expenses, like school fees.
One researcher made an interesting observation, “They are not easily persuaded to start a business. Everyone is already engaged in work.”
When the team examined how SHGs can be sustained, they discovered thorough preparation, continual monitoring and motivation were all necessary. Social workers were also found to play an important role in guiding their success.
In this day and age, it’s imperative that initiatives such as SHGs succeed. More than ever before, the world needs the compassionate hearts of women to inspire society and protect the environment.
“Investing in women is the highest-return venture,” emphasized Gandhi.
When we invest in women, we invest in society, nature and the world.
Let’s take this advice and invest wisely.