Sitara turns dreams into reality for women working in the informal sector
“I lost my husband pretty early in life… I faced huge challenges while claiming the property which we both had built together. I had to prove that I am a co-owner of the property to the co-operative societies. Some of his family members wanted to have a claim on that property… so the struggle of a woman to establish her rights over her assets led me to understand the hardships other [under informed and uneducated] women…,” says Shruti Gonsalves, MD and CEO, Sitara (a SEWA initiative), as she speaks about her inspiration behind working with low-income families, especially women working in the informal sector.
Shruti is among the entrepreneurs whose stories are captured in Omidyar Network India’s newly launched video series titled ‘The Bold Ones - Innovating for the Next Half Billion’. A compilation of 11 short videos, the series captures power-packed stories of entrepreneurs who are building for the 500 million-plus Indians coming online for the first time via their mobile phones, a segment often referred to as the ‘Next Half Billion’ or NHB.
Empowering the underserved
Offering small-ticket loans to low-income women borrowers in urban India for home-improvement and construction, Sitara primarily serves those who are doing informal jobs as domestic workers, street vendors, vegetable vendors, sweepers or those who are providing services from home. Sitara helps them to gain access to formal documents and processes that enable them to lead more meaningful, economically empowered lives.
“The struggle of women to be identified as someone who is gainfully employed and is contributing to the household economy as a worker… I understood that struggle and it got deeply ingrained in me,” says Shruti in the video.
The percentage of women workers has increased exponentially over the past few years, thereby making them a large productive part of the urban Indian workforce. However, due to lack of formal documentation of income and living in informal settlements, they are unable to avail housing loans. Sitara is India’s only housing finance company that facilitates upgradation, modification and formalisation of the available documents through a progressive tenure model to balance the risk of lending to this consumer base.
Reaching the next half billion
As of March 2021, Sitara has helped over 10,000 customers, impacting 60,000 lives.
“We support them like a guide, a friend, who holds their hands and takes them through this whole journey of owning a house or property,” adds Shruti.
In the coming years, the company is looking at creating tangible financial assets for not only women, but also people who are now coming online owing to digital literacy.
“We want to provide homes to as many women as possible and help them achieve the dream of owning a house… and do this in a more sustainable and dignified way,” says Shruti.
The personal and professional challenges and success Shruti has faced on her journey can be seen here.