A bootstrapped social enterprise is turning underprivileged women and youth into skilled professionals and leadersShruti Kedia
Lakshya Jeevan Jagriti has helped over 10,000 homemakers and youth. The organisation offers three programmes to bridge the gap of industry requirements that are not met by public education.
When it comes to providing livelihood opportunities and upskilling women from lower economic backgrounds with little or no education, we often hear the only options available are handicrafts, sewing and stitching apparels, candle making or soap making.
While many organisations are coming forward to equip women with financial and digital literacy, Summaiya Afreen of Lakshya Jeevan Jagriti was keen to “redefine skilling”. She wanted to equip women with graphic designing skills by training them in software like CORELDraw and Adobe Photoshop.
“Why are is a woman only given the choice of candle making or domestic help or stitching and sewing if she is not literate? Graphic designing is also a skill. Creativity is a skill set and women have the creativity - they can easily make rangoli and designs, but why can't they do it on computers?” says 29-year-old Summaiya.
With this vision, she introduced three-month graphic designing courses through a programme called Aao Saath Maa (ASMA). “They might not be able to speak English or have a degree - but they have a skill set. It took them four to five months to complete the three-month course, but they did it. Today, they work with small-scale businesses and design banners and visiting cards, and some even run their design firms,” she adds proudly.
To date, the organisation has helped over 10,000 homemakers and youth. As a social enterprise, Lakshya Jeevan Jagriti aims to provide quality education to individuals from underprivileged backgrounds. The programme has been recognised globally and Summaiya even won the ‘Best Social Enterprise Award’ from the Singapore International Foundation in 2017. The team also won the Cherie Blair Foundation Award in London in 2017 and was awarded the Fellowship Award from GGF, Washington DC in 2016.
To the beginning
It started in 2008 when Summaiya, then a student at Sikkim Manipal University, was working on a research paper with her professor Rahul Goswami on ‘Inclusion of Financial Literacy for Single Mothers’. The paper was presented at IIM Ahmedabad and won her team a sum of Rs 25,000.
She then decided to invest the money “in something good”. Along with professor Rahul, she spent the next one year in understanding the vulnerabilities faced by single mothers from low-income backgrounds. They conducted surveys in Karol Bagh, Delhi, and went house-to-house to interact with housewives and learn about their aspirations and limitations.
“And most of the women told us that they want to upgrade their current knowledge base and learn something,” Summaiya remembers. The survey also helped them realise the multiple challenges faced by these women, including domestic violence, mental health issues and financial problems. “They were not financially sustainable; they were in abusive relationships and not educated enough to go out and search for a living,” she adds.
In 2009, the team of seven founded Lakshya Jeevan Jyoti, meaning “Awaken the aim of life”. As a bootstrapped social enterprise, the aim was to uplift the status of women and youth by turning them into skilled, independent and productive contributors to their communities.
“It became apparent that children spend most of their time with their mothers and if we wanted to reach out to the mothers, we had to start teaching the children first,” Summaiya says.
They first started to interact with these women by building tuition centres providing educational support to children from classes 1 to 10 in all subjects. Slowly, they began to engage with their mothers and invited them to participate in workshops around financial literacy. The programme was sustainable since the children were charged for tuitions and the workshops were conducted free of charge. What began with only 15 students grew to 70 within two months.
With time, Lakshya Jeevan Jagriti’s credibility grew through word-of-mouth and their continued door-to-door publicity drive. Soon, many women began to flock to their two centres in Karol Bagh. This eventually led them to introduce their flagship program Aao Sath Maa by 2010.
Empowering through education
Summaiya herself was aware of how important it is for a child to have a role model in life. Since her own mother was a class 10-pass homemaker, growing up she always felt a lack of a role model in her life. During her teenage years, her notion of a role model was limited to a woman who was financially independent with a secure job - through her aunt.
She found a role model in her Maami (aunt), who worked in a bank.
“If you are a girl and you don't have a role model in your family, you end up with small goals. A child spends upto 90 percent of their time with the mother and I believe that she should be educated enough to guide them in a manner that they can live their lives powerfully.”
Her goal was to empower mothers and in turn, the children.
The organisation offers three programmes to bridge the gap of industry requirements that are not met by public education. They focussed on communications skills, reading, speaking, writing, listening, computer skills and building self-confidence through a Leadership Development Programme.
- Eklavya: An after-school support center for students from kindergarten to class 12 who need additional help with their studies. With activities like study buddy, self expression and leadership development programmes, students learn their lessons and engage with each other.
- Aao Sath Maa (ASMA): The year-long ‘mini graduation programme’, priced at Rs 500, consists of four levels and includes the basics of English, Hindi, mathematics and computers. At the final two levels, they are taught graphic and web designing. Targeted solely at women, it encourages them to earn a livelihood. For instance, the organisation has tied up with several small-scale businesses in Delhi for projects involving designing of banners, pamphlets and visiting cards.
- Premlata, a widow with a 5-year-old daughter, heard about the programme through the volunteers. Intrigued because it claimed to help even people who weren’t literate, she applied for the course with the help of her in-laws. “Within eight months I became skilled in computers and today, I work in a bank,” she says.
- We Connect: This “Women Entrepreneurs Mentoring and Fellowship Programme” was launched in June 2018 with an objective of creating possibilities and pathways for women entrepreneurs all over. Their partners include Women’s Era, Nurture Tree, Let The Women Speak, Delhipedia, Desi Entrepreneur, She The People and Nexus (Incubation Support).
“I joined the We Connect programme to improve myself and find answers to my questions such as, ‘what do I really want?’ and ‘what all can I have?’,” says Nikita Agrawal co-founder of Sanfe. “The programme involves a serious reflection of oneself and solving the problems from their root cause. We are learning about tools and philosophy to break our thinking pattern that constrains us.”
Going beyond limitations
Education is important but changing mindset towards education is equally important. Initially, when women enrolled for the programme, they were very keen to participate but soon started dropping out because of their mindset towards it.
“We changed our approach. We started dialogues around women and education, where roles models from the same community shared their success stories and it created an impact. There are several other organisations who are working for women literacy but changing the belief system is being ignored,” Summaiya says.
The problems faced by a married woman pertains to her responsibility towards family and society. Over the ages, women are trained with specific dialogues: “I am not allowed”; “I am not meant for it”; “I do not know”; and the most damaging - “I cannot do it”.
All this stop her from opportunities and resources meant for all. Apart from providing a flexible and women friendly environment with an all-women teaching crew, flexible timings, no requirements of any prior qualification, and a skill exchange club, the Lakshya Jeevan Jagriti team also conducts various workshops to work on their belief system.
A decade later, the team of seven co-founders continues to work together working to empower women and redefine the nexus between education and skill development. It is important to understand that one doesn’t need to be literate to be skilled.
“We want to grow bigger and reach out to all mothers and women. When we empower a woman we empower the entire family,” she says.
Lakshya Jeevan Jagriti is presently open to collaborations to expand its reach beyond Karol Bagh.
(This story is part of the #KindnessMatters series, a partnership between YourStory and UNESCO MGIEP)